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Life on the Geezer Strip

Kellie Arthur is a New Zealander living and working in London.

I own a pair of Puma trainers. Deep, weathered grooves have warped the leather. The sides are scuffed and the rubber soles worn down from madly dashing to buses/tubes/minicabs around London. These shoes tell so many tales from my first 2 years in the UK - dancing under the stars at music festivals or in run down London clubs, mountain biking around a wee island off the west coast of Scotland, or just hanging out down 'the local' on a bleak winters afternoon. Even though these shoes should have been sent to the great wardrobe in the sky a long time ago, I can't seem to throw them out. I look down at them and they remind me so much of my journey so far.

Like I can't get rid of my Puma trainers, I can't get East London out of my blood either. So after 4 months living south of the river, I've packed my bags and moved Eastside - back to life on the Geezer strip.

London at Night

London on first glance can seem like one enormous, unapproachable city. But on closer inspection, the areas within London, like any large city, are so distinct that it is merely a collection of many smaller communities. And once you find an area that suits, it is hard to find another that fits you in the same way. Like my Puma trainers, the Hackney borough is comfortable - it just fits.

For the majority of my stay in London, I have always had a foot in both camps - working in Richmond in the South West and living in Hackney in the North East. Richmond is beautiful in a cover-of-a-chocolate-box type of way. An expansive park with frolicking deer. Expansive homes with frolicking aging rock stars. Grand old buildings overlooking the Thames. Lots of perfect blondes pushing their perfect Burberry covered babies in pushchairs. All terribly, terribly nice. So much so, that I have often been asked why I travel 1 1/4 hours to a home which is amongst housing estates, street markets, cheap ethnic restaurants, run down bars and a barrage of "Alright, Princess, need a cab tonight" mini cab drivers.

Hackney Flower Markets

But to me, the Hackney borough has always been more than that - it is like Neapolitan to Richmond's Vanilla. Now, vanilla has a certain appeal, but its inherent homogeneity is the defining factor. In Richmond, like vanilla, everything feels the same. No great mix of ethnicities, no great mix of social classes. Even the majority of the cafes and pubs you'll find in Richmond are exactly the same as ones you'll find in other areas of London - Pret a Manger, Coffee Republic, The Slug and Lettuce, The Pitcher and Piano - the ever present rife of franchised eateries and boozers.

Whereas, Hackney is so far (touch wood) deemed unworthy of franchised cloning and as such retains a sense of uniqueness. Like Neapolitan, different sections exist side by side. The Mosque is down the road from the Church of England. The Halal butcher is across the road from the Caribbean 'Jerk Chicken' Take-away. Each element of the mix retains its integral distinctiveness. Like strawberry ice cream will never be chocolate. They both have their place, both have their worth.

The pubs and bars I go to in Shoreditch, Hackney have a relaxed feeling. Chilled out, unpretentious, intimate. Everyone is there to have a good time - chatting over a vodka or pint of Guinness before dusting off the dancing shoes in a club after 11pm closing. Down the road, are shop front after shop front selling imported shoes and handbags. The whole area has this strange sense of juxtaposition. Parts of the wholesale, slightly industrial Hackney of years ago and parts of the recent burgeoning nightlife scene.

Hackney Nightlife

It's sunday as I type this. Hoards of people are filing past my window, armed with orchids, lilies, lavender and tulips from the Colombia street flower markets around the corner. Chris Knox's distinctive 'Not Given Lightly' is playing in the background. I can vividly picture him in his stubbie like shorts, jandels and patterned shirt strumming away at the Grey Lynn Festival years ago. Hackney has a taste of that for me. In a London way, it has some of the same laid back feeling. More Grey Lynn than Remuera. More Cuba street than Karori. More a home, than just another suburb in some foreign city.