Ficklish Blog

Saturday, January 31, 2009

January: Hoxton

Frankie and I have a project for 2009. Each month will have a theme, with corresponding activities, study and excursions planned accordingly throughout the year. The purpose is twofold: firstly, to mark the passage of time so that we don’t get to the end of another year gazing around in bewilderment, saying ‘hey! Where did that one go?’ The second goal is about experience: learning, doing things, going places we’ve never been. I’m going to record our progress here.

January is a tough month, both in terms of energy levels and finance, so we’ve started slowly. The focus this month was our local area: Hoxton.

We’ve lived at the Pickle, on Old Street, for two years now. We have plenty of favourite haunts that we visit regularly. There are plenty of gaps, though, and it’s about time they were filled in.

Hoxton/Shoreditch has a reputation as a too-cool-for-school, super-trendy area, full of bars and clubs and galleries, infested with hipsters. It’s noisy and crowded and as I lie in bed at night the drunken carousing of revellers floats through my window from the street below.

It hasn’t always been this way. Old Street, as the name suggests, has been around for a very long time. Hoxton was an industrial, poor area in the 19th century and has retained a gritty, dirty urban feel. Our balcony looks out over blackened rooftops. The northern part of the area is packed full of council housing, big grey ugly blocks of box-like flats crammed full of people.

As part of the January project, I read a book called Not Expecting Miracles, by Alice Linton. Published by a small local press, it is autobiography of a woman growing up in Hoxton in the early 20th century, telling stories about her poor, working class childhood in the years after WW1. It’s not great literature – she has the dry, no-nonsense voice of an old lady, recounting matter-of-fact memories of her parents struggling to survive, her brothers and sisters playing in the streets, making their own fun, enjoying occasional treats. It was nice to be able to walk a different way home from the bus stops and explore the streets mentioned in her story.

Frankie and I went to the Geffrye Museum one Saturday afternoon. Sir Robert Geffrye was a former Lord Mayor of London who built several almshouses in the area for the widows of former ironmongers, and the museum is housed in one of these buildings. It focuses on homes and furniture throughout the centuries, with each time period represented by a replica of a typical living room from that era. It was interesting to watch the evolution of function and style throughout history. The 21st century room contained lots of Ikea.

We spent an evening wandering around the area, having a pint in several of the bars and pubs that we had not yet visited. In the last pub, we made the acquaintance of a local who happens to be a guide with a London tour company. He was very good company and I’m hopeful he will be a useful resource for future explorations.

To round off the month, this afternoon I went to the White Cube gallery on Hoxton Square. The square is literally a block behind our house and there’s really no excuse for my not having visited the gallery before. I saw an exhibition called Texas Crude, a series of works by American artist Rosson Crow - giant, dark, dramatic paintings inspired by moments in history. I liked them a lot and would very gladly have one in my home, if, you know, the Pickle was about four times larger. Check out the link here – my favourite was ‘New York Stock Exchange After Bond Rally 1919’. The second exhibition was paintings and sculpture by German artist Andreas Golder. They were amazing and profoundly disturbing.

So, there you go. It wasn’t much – a book, a museum, a gallery, some minor exploration and a pub crawl – but better than nothing and very good fun. I’m looking forward to February already.