Over the last year or two I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the 97 bus which runs from the end of my road to the Westfield in Stratford. I’m no great lover of the place unlike the ex-Mrs shrugged who regularly calls upon me to push her around in her wheelchair but it does have a Vue cinema that does early screenings. Old Father shrugged was a cinema manager in the 50s and 60s so I grew up with films, I enjoy the experience of sitting in the dark without any distractions, just the story unravelling before me on the vast screen, infinitely better than sitting at home watching a DVD where the narrative can be interrupted by the pause button while you answer the phone or get another cup of tea. Imagine going to a gig and asking the band to stop halfway through a number while you went to the toilet or popped outside for a fag.
The obvious problem is that some cinema patrons seem incapable of simply switching off, letting go and fully immersing themselves in the experience, they need to chat, keep their mobiles on and eat the noisiest food available. Thankfully early screenings are not particularly well attended so I am able to watch films with little intrusion from the philistine herd and there have even been a few occasions when I’ve been the only person in the room.
But I digress, back to the 97 bus. A while ago the route changed, rather than going east from the bus station it now goes west around the shopping centre, past the Olympic stadium (we’ll never fill it), past Stratford International station and then up to Chobham Academy, a veritable tour of area currently under development. Sitting on the top deck looking out at the new landscape I got the distinct feeling that something was wrong and it took me a while to work out what it was.
Everything is new.
London is made up of a mixture of old and new, we’ve got buildings from the last 100 years snuggled next to the Victorian, the Georgian and in some case the Medieval but everything in the E20 postcode has been built in the last few years, not a single scrap of anything pre-Olympics to be seen over a vast area, history has been eradicated. The roads are wide and worryingly straight, with spacious pavements and plenty of green open spaces, it just doesn’t feel like London, more like someone has dropped Milton Keynes or some other new town in the middle of East London (not the East End, it’s the wrong side of the River Lea). It’s alien, unnatural, it isn’t London.
It’s only when the bus crosses the bridge by Drapers Field and I’m confronted by Edwardian terraces that I feel as if I’m back on native soil. There were no pubs that I could see although there are spaces for shops at the bottom of the developments around Chobham Academy, one of which was emblazoned with a banner inviting onlookers to imagine a wine bar there. I tried and the results were somewhat less than awe-inspiring but I could imagine that the rents on those retail spaces will be slightly more than those on the High Road so we won’t see them filled by anything like Pritesh News, the Eccentric Pearl Hair, Beauty and Health Studio or the Leyton Foot Clinic.