I tire of the "new" Camden versus "old"
Camden argument. Not because I think those who long for the
glorious heyday are wrong, but simply that it's a personal
and somewhat one dimensional view of the place. Which "old"
Camden? Graham Coxon's? Steve Strange's? Jonathan Miller's?
Walter Sickert's? William Blake's?
Peter Ackroyd sums it up well in his London Biography; the
city is a behemoth, an immortal monster, it out-manoeuvres
any town planning, any redevelopment, any attempt to sanitise
it or tame it. And, deep down, this is exactly why we love
it so much. Camden buzzes; the nature of the buzz may change,
it may continually evolve, sometimes it may be louder than
other times, but the buzz is always there, always audible
no matter what progress attempts to throw at it. And the progress
of Camden has always been a fascinatingly untidy one.
Right now, as work continues apace on the Roundhouse's new
annex, right next door work has recently been completed on
an utterly foul Barratt homes development, putting a residential
block right within earshot of the building that will hopefully
soon regain it's title as one of the greatest venues in the
world. We already know what happens next. Fashionable yuppie
couples, hip young things with too much money, will move into
the apartments so that they can be right in the thick of the
action. But within two years they'll get sick of being right
in the thick of the action, they won't be able to stand the
relentless pace of Camden's rapid heartbeat, or they'll have
babies, something will undermine their masterplan. They will
start to complain, realise they are fighting a battle they
cannot win, and bugger off to Brighton, while the Barratt
apartments fall into inevitable disrepair, until everyone
else gets sick of them, and they are redeveloped. The cycle
"We already know what happens next.
Fashionable yuppie couples, hip young
things with too much money, will move into the apartments
so that they
can be right in the thick of the action"
Camden, like a lot of London, but unlike anywhere else save
perhaps areas of Paris and New York, does not adapt to serve
us, but we to serve it. Camden doesn't obey, it commands.
Even the small changes are quickly noticed and assimilated.
For example, Pret a Manger moving into the old Olympic Café
building - there were squawks of protest at the idea of such
a generic chain shop should move into a part of the High Street
defined by it's uniqueness and individualism, surely such
endeavours should remain in their designated place, south
of the tube station? But its only a sandwich shop, it really
doesn't matter. I am sure that Jonathan Miller will vehemently
disagree with me, but then his take is no more valid than
my own. What of the Camden eatery where William Blake used
to stop off on his regular walks between Soho and Hampstead?
This was the time of Mad King George, when we might assume
the place that served Blake his favourite ale cake resembled
Mrs. Miggins' Pie Shop from "Blackadder". Who mourns
for it? Neither Jonathan Miller, nor myself. Yet if it still
existed I am sure we could both be found there.
To my knowledge, there is nowhere left that serves traditional
Camden Ale Cake, indeed the only place left that still sells
traditional Camden Cheese Steaks is the takeaway between the
station and the Electric Ballroom. But I've never eaten one,
and even if I did I wouldn't know if it was the genuine article,
We love it anyway. We love Camden precisely because, like
T.S. Eliot's Rum Tum Tugger, it will do as it do do, and there's
no doing anything about it.