Monday, December 08, 2008

How To Be Alone in Dalston

I was re-reading Jonathan Franzen's excellent collection of essays How To Be Alone last week - in which he touches on the difficulties of maintaining subtlety and complexity amidst the deafening clatter of the information age, of the paradox of needing to be alone, while fighting capitalism's tendency to atomise us into lonely individualism. Technology, the theory goes, merely drives us further into what situationists thought of as capitalism's suffocating pod-like lifestyle (home-pod to work-pod to social-pod, then back to home-pod).

And then I went out shopping in Dalston.

As I returned with my weekly grocery haul from Ridley Road's wonderful market on Saturday afternoon, I came across a substantial huddle of people gathered around the Islam stall opposite Dalston Kingsland station. You will almost always find Christian, Muslim and socialist evangelists on Kingsland Road, standing behind their pulpit-like trestle tables hawking inky flyers, gamefully hectoring amidst the chilly weekend bustle, each hoping to save us in their own way.

You will always find them there, but people usually don't listen to what they're saying. Religion and socialism are equally hard sells in 21st century London, little more than evocative relics from the era of ideology.

But on this occasion, the Islam stall had somehow morphed into Speaker's Corner. "What's going on?" I asked the west African guy next to me. "Theological debate" he said, grinning broadly. We chatted a bit, then tried to turn back to the locus of the debate - but there wasn't really a single focus anymore. Initially everyone was watching as three Christian women debated with one of the (male) Muslim stallholders about Islam and gender ("if you respect your wives and sisters so much then why aren't they here?"), but already the crowd had started having their own debates among themselves. 20-30 people of all different ages and races - an ageing corduroy-hippy guy, a few Brit-Turk teenagers idling away their weekend, several mums carrying bags of shopping - having at least five or six different discussions about religion, politics, gender, and god knows what else, with people they'd never met.

This cracking open of our hermetic pods brought back memories of the summer in Dalston, when a group of us spent some wonderful evenings at the Fenerbahce Social Club supporting Turkey with our 'fellow' Turks, dancing in the street afterwards, banging on bus windows, and so on.

It says 'MEMBERS ONLY' in big blue letters outside the Fenerbahce Social Club. And we ain't members. Or even Turks. But you know what? We asked - slightly nervously - if we could join them to watch the game, and they said yes with more enthusiasm than we could ever have imagined.. "here, please have my chair! Can we get you a beer..?". At its best, London proves you don't need to look very far to find a sense of community with people you've never met. Atomised? Little Jonny Franzen needs to get out more.


Blogger Hoxton Youth Council said...

Good piece man. Dalston is a mess. A beautiful mess when you put it back together correctly though.

9:48 PM  

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