My Very Own Carnival

image by Maria Kristin Steinsson on flickr
image by Maria Kristin Steinsson on flickr

On Saturday I had gone to Covent Garden to get a few necessities and had to stop for a street performance. I never do this, having come to hate the bovine crowds they attract and the general baseness of the spectacle. But there was a tall, handsome man in a pinstripe suit on a giant unicycle, and he was about to juggle. With a little girl. Not juggle the girl, but the little girl from the audience was going to throw the pins to him. He’d asked her to catch him, and when she put her little arms out you could see his heart melt. What followed was a kind of sentimental physical comedy like I imagine true clowns could do if, you know, they weren’t terrifying. I haven’t laughed so hard or been so fleetingly happy for a very long time. I threw a lot of money in their hat.

On Sunday I went to Camden. I met my friends Amanda and Liza and we lost ourselves in Camden’s labyrinth of desire– there is no other place I know in the world that is so full of the phantasmagoria of hippie-gothness. And there is no other place that is also so very crowded, perpetually and inscrutably, with muggles.

Which brings me to the Dev, or the Devonshire Arms, the center of the London Goth universe until a recent pubco takeover. We were meeting Poggs for another friend’s birthday thingy there. Poggs had to give me directions to the Dev– I know, I lose serious goth points for that, but I hadn’t been in years. In fact, I had not been to the Dev since its takeover and reinvention as the Hobgoblin. It was a disappointment. The cider was off to begin with, and when I asked Poggs what is that smell? He clarified, “That’s wee.”

We sat at the kiddie table next to the main party’s table, and behind us were a group of crusties which momentarily gladdened me in a superficial way. I thought, foolishly, that this proof that someone was keeping it real in Camden. Not long after this fancy occurred to me, a seven-foot tall mohican entered with a dwarf in a box.

Yes, you heard me.

With an obvious sense of theatre this pair went about tussling, the dwarf not wanting to get into the box again and the mohican trying to pack him away. At some point the dwarf visited Poggs in an intimate and rather canine way and then later became fixated on a member of the party who he decided looked like Bono (the gentleman did share certain eyewear-choices, it’s true). Dramatic taunting and impromtu chants about the third world ensued. I was impressed with the restraint of Mr. Not-Bono, who was very Zen about being bullied by a crowd of crusties and a very angry dwarf, and this seemed to piss off the dwarf and his drunken friends even more, until the dwarf decided he was going to throw his beer on Not-Bono to make his point. I saw this about to happen, and I knew it was going to land on us, the cute goth girls in the party, and completely miss Not-Bono…but it was one of those stop-motion moments where you think you can stop it, get out of the way, avoid disaster somehow…but no.

All over Amanda ‘s skirt and my Sanrio purse…I think it was Staropramen, too. What kind of crusty-loving dwarf drinks Staropramen? Poggs had summed the night up nicely…life’s rich tapestry. Indeed!

A wrecking ball to the heart of Camden

Alienate Design, Camden Stables Market. (photo from the store’s website).

Herein continues the quixotic endeavor where I rail against the inevitable encroachment of the inane monoculture and property-development-land-grab into all that I hold dear.

The Camden Stables Market is slated for the wrecking ball. What will be built in its place? A modern shopping mall with more high street chains– H&M, Boots and Topshop.

Friday I ventured from the little converted church where I live in the sleepy village of Hanwell, to the vibrant streets of Camden to meet Cecile. She lives in Camden, and I heard about the development from her. We talked about the absurdity and the sadness of it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t live in London at all– and what I love of London is just being taken away from my friends and I and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

When I first came to London in 1999 it was Camden that really caught my imagination, while everything else– Carnaby, the King’s Road– had already been turned into an outdoor mall, but Camden survived. It was the last days of raver culture, and Cyberdog was going strong. That synthetic aesthetic that is now a cliche was exciting to me– it was done with such exacting verve and daring.

Camden has changed– most notable is the horrid modern development by the canal that is supposed to be stores and flats. Little by little the stores look more like high street clones selling sweat shop club clothing that’s more Coyote Ugly stripper stuff than trad goth or 80’s mix-n-match vintage style. (For Angelinos who remember, it’s like the transformation of Melrose from a fascinating subcultural landmark in the 80’s to a cheezy shopping venue in the 90’s).

The Stables Market’s catacombs, the dank stone labyrinth with its random stalls, was one of the only places I’ve found decent vintage in this town. A place where you could feel like you were discovering something. It is the place where I would eat on the cheap from one of the steam table stalls and people watch. Now what will be there? Another Starbucks and McDonalds?

I imagine the corporate culturemakers with their patronizing vision, taking this place and selling it back to us as trusted brands, now with a mohawk. Not unlike the ironically named Lab/Anti-Mall in Orange County California– a few years after its development it fell into a perpetual identity crisis, with an Urban Outfitters as the anchor store, and everything else an experiment in economic failure. The only difference is the anti-mall, even though it was designed for the “indie” target market, didn’t destroy something that worked, and that was historic and loved by many.

Eviction notices have already been served to the vendors in the Stables, and in a week come the bulldozers.