Saturday July 30, 2022 – La Minute Monocle

My colleague Nolan and his girlfriend, Hyo, invited us to dinner at their flat in east London. Over the past 30 years, this part of town has changed dramatically as young creatives flocked from neighborhood to neighborhood, starting the cycle of gentrification. Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Hackney have all succumbed to an influx of sourdough bakeries, trendy cafes and fun bars. And while gentrification gets bad press, many of the changes have been real improvements (and, yes, the communities that created those pockets of the city in the first place are still very much around). While I wasn’t looking, the spread of new developments, start-ups and people looking for cool new places to live continued.

Nolan and Hyo live in a large canal-side apartment, and from their third-floor balcony you can see Olympic Park, brownfields about to be redeveloped, and old factories turned into coworking facilities. Years ago, I used to walk our Weimaraner near here in Victoria Park, but I never made it the extra distance to Fish Island, where Nolan and Hyo now live. There was no reason to do so.

After dinner we walked along the canal, past people drinking beer and chatting on its banks, to Hackney Wick. Again, it felt like I had walked through a portal to another dimension – hundreds of people in bars, queuing for clubs, filling pubs and restaurants. It was a carnival atmosphere. Suddenly I realized that I really didn’t know London.

When I was in my twenties, I lived in a part of town where there wasn’t a single cool thing to do. If you wanted a great night out, you’d head to the West End or one of the few up-and-coming areas like Brixton or Notting Hill. But now? Well, you’d be hard pressed to find a place that doesn’t have great restaurants, a barista-run cafe, and all the other hallmarks of hipster life (all dandy by me – those are my people).

The downside is that you simply can’t keep track of every new restaurant opening or every change that takes place in every desirable outpost in town. In short, London has become increasingly unknowable. You just have to accept that the scale of a modern metropolis will eventually defeat you and all you can do is find your village within it. Yes, you will always miss something… but who cares?

I like Aēsop, especially its approach of employing a wide roster of architects to design its stores – even though it’s shocking that it can’t fill its bottles in-store. But someone pointed out to me that a lot of these used bottles aren’t sent to be refilled for an unusual reason: there’s a healthy trade in empty containers. On Ebay, people ask £10 (€11.90) for a used bottle of soap; it would cost you £35 (€41.60) filled with ointment. Of course, this allows the buyer to fill the container with a cheap alternative, which is either great fun or a take on our warped bathroom snobbery. But it shows that Aēsop has elevated its packaging out of the disposable zone.

Maybe that’s a way to go. Ilse Crawford’s design company Studioilse has worked with Ikea for many years and the Swedish giant is currently selling a candle she created that comes in a jar designed to have an afterlife. I wonder what I could get for my stash of empty wine bottles? Judging by our vast recycling bags, I could earn a small fortune if all goes according to plan.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Wish me good luck. The drive to Spain with the dog starts on Monday, so by this time next week I’ll either be driving around Palma de Mallorca with an overgroomed fox terrier or divorced. I’m hoping for the former but because we share the driving and I’ve often been accused of having poor concentration on the road, I’m ready for either one.

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