Thursday, February 09, 2006

my neighbourhood


This is a rough neighbourhood. The only bank branch here had an armed robbery last month. A while before that, a pyromaniacal psychopathic customer started squirting lighter fluid on a staff member during a business meeting. The flat opposite mine had a break-in during my first month here. There was a second robbery two days later, also on this floor. Both times a hole was made through the front doors to open the locks from the inside. It turned out that the thief lived on this floor too, a high-school dropout whose mother was paying his rent presumably so he wouldn't stay at home. The other day I was on the first floor, and noticed dried red stains on the floor. Maybe it really is paint and not blood, but I also noticed there is no red in the interior colour scheme. Once a man dropped dead across the street, but the papers said it was only natural causes.

It's not all about crime though - there is plenty of legitimate economic activity happening. They have opened a new super department store nearby. I hadn't heard of it before, and went along to have a look. Those coca-cola bottles seemed an amazing quarter of the usual price, but a closer inspection revealed this to be a new brand altogether: Classic Cola. In fact, the whole store turned out to be full of items like this: brands you never heard of with packaging exactly like those that you have, but at a fraction of the price of the real thing.

What other shops does a dodgy neighbourhood have? There are a lot of booze shops - they are always the last shops to close at night. The local corner shop has all the tabloids and porn magazines, but nothing with any news content. There is a laundry for those with a strange fondness for clean clothes and a bookmakers for those who don't realise they are the losers of society. The post-office guy is the only one in the area who wears a tie, and he drives an expensive car as well. Why or how he is doing so well, I don't know, but he is a desi, so there's probably an illegal sideline. The local takeaway's USP is one kilo donor kebabs, and their culinary specialty is deep-frying ; they can deep-fry with almost anything into that greasy tasteless consistency they pride themselves on. Actually, there is a chinese takeaway here as well. They have slot machines in the waiting area.

I sometimes get breakfast from the nearby cafe on my way to work. The little lady behind the counter call everyone "me duck". When the scary and muscly construction men come to the cafe, I have seen her say to them: "hello duckies!". Breakfast is usually burnt, and customers are told off if they don't finish everything on their plate before leaving.

The local dress can vary a lot - all the way from shabby to trashy. I am usually dressed badly enough to fit in with the natives, but sometimes there is the odd lapse. In the supermarket wearing a blazer and chinos, everyone kept giving me odd glances. Then a little kid pointed to me and tugged his mother's arm: "Look, Mom, there's a rich man!" I haven't worn the blazer around here since.