Wednesday, February 25, 2004

East End London - a tribute to its lost culture

I live in Newham, which together with Tower Hamlets and Hackney formed the bulk of the pre-War East End of London. There aren't many native English people here these days. Most of the original East Enders moved out to Romford and beyond, or died off, or retired to Spain. For over ten years, the British born children of recent immigrants have been the visible majority in all the schools. New immigrants, legal or not, never stop arriving and most of the time it's difficult to believe you're in England.

When I moved here in 1987, I admired a lot of the qualities of the EastEnders that were still here. And since then I have seen them ridiculed and maligned, particularly by West and North Londoners. The Guardian and the Independent liked to portray them as National Front and BNP boneheads, and accorded them no respect or intelligence. The BBC still churns out Eastenders, the ridiculous soap on TV, which deserves to be castrated for its part in the genocide of a noble people.

The upshot of all this unfair publicity is that even in 2004, I have to explain to a friend in Brighton that the East End is NOT crawling with racist white supremacist skinheads. It never was, not in the 17 years that I have lived here: there are only a few bigots, lonely and unhappy, in such numbers as you would find in any part of the world. The reputation of East Enders as inbred marauding West Ham thugs causing trouble for new immigrants was hyped-up news fodder by pompous journalists claiming to uphold the British values that won the Second World War. And nowadays, not only is the reality of the new East End distinctly opposite to the outdated perceptions of these mouldy-minded people, but the new reality is still hush-hushed.

Thus the East Enders that were bombed to hell in the Second World War later suffered another bombing from their own countrymen, and whenever they tried to find a voice to fight back, they were censored and crushed, by those erudite spectacle wearers that did a lot of reading but never did a day's manual work in their life.

I learned years ago that I felt safer with the honesty of East Enders than with the hypocrisy of those that attacked them. Mile End Park includes a tribute to the East End culture that has disappeared, but what a paltry compensation that is, for the Reichmann family's Docklands office blocks, and for decades of insults....

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