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July 17, 2017 | by  | in From Within the Fallout Zone |
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From Within the Fallout Zone

In London, and coming from a city like Wellington, it’s easy to fall into a routine. Things aren’t so different to be shocking for long. Eventually you get on the same train to work, go to the same pub for the same guitar rock, with the same Kiwi mates. Contrary to those travel-inspo-insta blogs, you can’t be in a constant state of culture shock, and routines are one way of normalising and controlling it all.

Another of these same routines is my running route, which has stayed North and East since we finally found a permanent flat. The route winds from Highbury through the burgeoning gentrification of Stoke Newington, on to the Orthodox Jewish enclave of Upper Clapton, finally along the River Lea to South Tottenham, and back again. The route cuts through a large swath of London’s class boundaries. While Britain’s class system can be seen through almost every demographic category, the geographic boundaries of communities are stark reminders of the much more extroverted class system here. Parked cars go from Porsches to push-bikes very quick.

At first it was shocking to be running past *la fromageries* in Highbury, and ten minutes later be dodging flaming pig carcasses as they were blowtorched at Ridley Road Market in Dalston.  Now I hardly notice the smell of burning pigskin — an altogether different smell from crackling under the grill, involving butane and burnt bristles.

(As it turns out, the lack of any rail link between the two areas was the force behind their divide, and the recent opening of the Overground line will continue the “middling” of North East London.)

Similarly, the smell of potpourri wafting out of rows of mirror image terraces in Upper Clapton doesn’t catch me like so many piles of rubbish in this city. And I now expect to be run over by 100 identical Bedford school buses, driven by 100 identical men, bouncing as they pull into private school driveways. I know, now, also to give plenty of room on the sidewalk. Otherwise you’re likely, at best, to wipe a sweaty arm on a passerby. It is an unsettling thing to be accidentally so physically intimate with someone and then incredibly relieving to be sent on your way with a smile, and a mutual “sorry” — the crux of every anonymous interaction in the UK.

This route of mine no doubt misses the extremes in London’s class divide. The poorest have been forced into Tottenham proper a long time ago, and London’s ostentatious wealth seems to be fairly well hemmed-in to Western City postcodes. Even so, it is bizarre to be able to see such dramatic change in circumstances by travelling only a few short blocks.

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