Sitting in a bar in South Manchester, where I now live, I recently mentioned to an acquaintance that I was going out in Brixton the following weekend.
"Oh really," Imogen* said, eyes lighting up suddenly. "I've never been but I've heard it's meant to be good. There's a couple of hot yoga studios there, right?"
This sort of thing pisses me off incalculably, and at the time I did what I do best and tweeted about it. This morning, as I was about to vent on Twitter yet again about how frustrated I was with some sign or another of London's super gentrification (I get pissed off so frequently in the course of a single day in the capital these days that now, writing in the evening, I can't even remember what this morning's particular annoyance even was), it dawned on me - I cannot possibly lambast all these green juice drinking, lobster loving, would-be yogis that do their weekly shop in Waitrose or, better yet, Wholefoods - because, er, hello, look at my Instagram account (I'll save you the hassle: it's filled with photos of me drinking green juices, eating lobsters, and coming back from my yoga classes via the farmers market.) There is no denying that I am a hypocrite. I claim to hate gentrification, and yet I can't seem to get enough of many of the things typically associated with it. Gentrification pisses me off only insofar as my finger isn't deep enough in the proverbial pie.
Let me explain.
Completely innocent comments like the one I have mentioned above about Brixton, or about Pimlico where I grew up, piss me off so much because (whether right or wrong) as a once-local person I do feel like I have some ownership over these areas. Even though a SW postcode is thought by some to be practically synonymous with a Made in Chelsea lifestyle, Westminster (of which Pimlico is a part) has plenty of 'normal' residents too. One such staple of this side of Pimlico is a pub called the Pride of Pimlico, which is most certainly not the pride of Pimlico. It is a typical Irish 'old man's pub': dark, dingy and so unpretentious as to almost be an anomaly of the area. Five years ago I witnessed a couple of Japanese tourists on their way to the nearby Tate Gallery came into the Pride. They sat down, were stared at suspiciously, and promptly walked out again. I'm not going to claim I ever really liked the Pride, or would have ever gone for any other reason than the big Irish family parties we invariably held there, but still. It's one of the last of its kind, and that annoys me.
It also annoys me that house prices in London are the most inflated in the world, and that so many working class Londoners have been priced out to surrounding counties like Essex or Kent, and that so many people born and bred in this city who for entirely legitimate reasons are in need of social housing are forced to either move to far flung parts of the country where they know no one or else are declared as 'intentionally homeless' (and yes, I have first-hand experience of all of these things.) It is in this context that excited comments about hot yoga studios in Brixton that cost about £12 a class piss me off.
My boyfriend and I are currently house hunting (in Manchester) and I recently sent him this text:
For those of you not in the know, Levenshulme is an up and coming area of South Manchester where houses are still dirt cheap compared to London, and indeed compared to nearby areas such as Chorlton and Didsbury, which by all accounts are already well and truly gentrified. If anyone local to Levenshulme read the above text I sent to my boyfriend, I'm pretty sure it would piss them off way more than the Brixton comment pissed me off. Given that I basically want to buy a property in Manchester so that in the future I can cash in on it and go back down to London, am I any better than the super-rich investing in luxury flats/houses (sorry, 'apartments/townhouses') in London and inadvertently pricing out local people in the process? Well, sort of. My meagre salary is hardly enough to price anyone out of anywhere, but I can't help but feel there is still something depressingly parasitic about my intentions.
Are my feelings of anger, sadness and frustration, then, really anything more than jealousy in disguise? Clearly what moves me is my own sense of displacement. I pray for gentrification where it will benefit me, and resent it where it does not. This is quite hard to admit, because I would like to think that if I won the lottery and could afford to move to a huge house in London, the issues outlined above would still be issues that I care about (aka I would still be Sadiq Khan's biggest fan.) Does the basis of my 'solidarity' with the anti-gentrification protestors stem from the fact that I am just a (sore) loser of the zero-sum game that is gentrification?
The answer to this is probably yes. But are there actually any winners of this game? Sure, people who bought a house in Peckham thirty years ago might now be rolling in it. But what about all lucky people who can afford to throw 80% of their wages on living in an ex-council flat where the lift still stinks of piss, or those lucky enough to have parents in London and so can live rent-free - for now - in their childhood box bedrooms? Many of gentrification's 'winners' are also it's 'losers.'
*This is not, in fact, her name.