When I first moved to London, I lived in South East London for a good few years, for reasons unknown to anyone but my flatmate Kerry. She bought and sold houses and flats in the area, and I traipsed behind, mainly because I was lazy and because she under-charged me on rent. Over the years, especially during the change in the millennium, I watched new Jubilee line tube stations sprout up as it was extended all the way to Stratford; and everytime I went for a run along the Thames path, a new building seemed to have emerged, almost overnight, in Canary Wharf. They were exciting times- London was changing, the City's domination as the epicentre of Europe's banking world was over as companies moved their headquarters to the fashionable E14, and a whole new city within a city emerged on the bank of the Thames.
I, as a nerd, went to visit Canary Wharf when the tube first opened; the station was hailed as the most aesthetic in London, the architecture was new and innovative- long gone were the grubby, box-like stations on the older lines- this one was all shiny metal with lots of light and a huge ticket hall.
After that, I didn't have a reason to visit Canary Wharf for about eight years. Until this week.
And it's an odd place. Completely self-contained, impeccably clean, running on a minute-schedule. Flashing screens, clocks, market updates everywhere. Every inch of the area is covered in CCTV's, and people waving cameras are treated with suspicion. Hence why I only took a few photos. People stride confidently; no-one lingers, everyone has a purpose and a destination and they're in a hurry to get there. I, wearing a purple dress and green tights, stood out in a sea of grey suits and black leather high heels. And I stood and looked at the gleaming buildings which in itself was an odd thing to do. And I felt creepy; there were no beggars, no litter, no graffiti, nothing out of place, nothing that didn't match with the rest of the surroundings (but me) and it all felt just a bit too orwellian for me.
My friends, Sam and Sue, work in Canary Wharf, and although they both like it, they agree that it's all just a tad odd. We went to a few restaurants and bars, all with slightly identical menus, full of fashionable ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes and goat's cheese. Big cocktails, imported beer and of course champagne is set on most tables. There was a slightly forced feel to everything, even the after-hours drink. Under the highrisers, there's a whole shopping mall- you can buy at least 50 different black suits, but you'd struggle to find a pair of jeans. The offices have gyms in the basement and all the necessities can be found, the big post office, the traditional pub and of course the banks. Tons and tons of them.
I would hate to work in Canary Wharf. Despite it's fantastic view over London or safe streets (there're police patrols in every corner), it's completely soulless. What I've always loved about London is the fantastic diversity- you can walk down a street for ten minutes, and you'll cross a busy high street, a grubby housing estate, a million-pound mansion. You'll see the African ladies in flamboyant head gear, the indian girls in bright punjabi dresses, the Jamaican boy in his bling-bling, and then, almost as an afterthought, your stereotypical middle-aged white man in a tweed suit. And to me, that's what London is about- it's unpolished, mashed-together, loud, diverse and with music pumping from every corner. It's alive.