15 June 2008

Quiet Expropriation

I was out shopping the other day. Not in the normal sense. For me, when shopping feels like shopping it instantly becomes a chore – an unpleasant one at that. I tend more to shop as a sideline, some other task or occupation predominating concurrently. If I were active in hunter-gather times, I would've always needed an alternative excuse to be out there – researching wild life for the next cave paint or some other pre-emption. Shopping comfortably occupies the space of jobs best done when not thought about too much category. My excuse this time was photography – I was out taking images. And I came on my bike, as usual. Nothing strikes you as problematic there. I was with a friend too and we had an (expensive) but delicious lunch at Carluccio's. Oh, and the suit I purchased cost the best part of £300. Still nothing obviously awry. Bike, camera, lunch, clothes shopping. Expenditure in the region of £350. All normal activities on a London afternoon.

But we weren't in London, not any more, not as you expect. We were in the new half western half of Spitalfields. And apparently this is a private estate. Ok, fair enough. Yes, fair enough indeed. For them. You are most welcome on the estate to impart some of your wealth to the businesses there; be they sartorial providers or one of the very nice but rather-too-predictable-to-be-exciting restaurant chains (when did you last see an independent catering business open in a new development?) You are very welcome, as the potential client of all these businesses and hence ultimately The Estate itself. But despite the fact they would be bankrupt without you, you'd better obey their rules.

Every single form of post or railing or any vertical appendage of any kind is emblazoned with its Cycles Forbidden, Private Property sign. There are certainly hundreds of these notices installed; how painful. When the plans were drawn up for this contentious development, and somebody was cooking the deal for the private estate, which turkey in the local authority (presumably the City of London) thought it wouldn't be necessary to oblige them to be bike friendly? At least to compel them to install sufficient bike storage on The Estate. There are pitifully insufficient bike racks in the area, check it out.

So here we are. It's not that charming corner of your city that you love to wander aimlessly around in any more. You are now a visitor on someone else's estate. You must come and spend. Then leave. There is something in this titular reality that is undeniably tainted. Renovated in an impressive style on one hand, albeit too monochrome, this cherished, historical, public district has been ruined on the other. Duly infuriated by all this irrational 'for fuck's sake, don't you get it yet?' antibikeism, I eventually found a suitable lamppost adorning a pavement of an estate-bordering street. Safely on public land. Not so simple. When I returned to my bike, The Agents of The Estate had decorated it with a lovely sticker. My bike was about to be clamped! Bike, clamped, yes that's right. Now near apoplectic, I removed said sticker and stormed upstairs to the Estate Management Office (do these people think they are Sandringham or something?) The agent was, to be fair, more friendly than you would expect nowadays and tried to assure me that my bike was on a private part of the street, not the public zone. The what? He even tried to visually demarcate some invisible border. Unaware I couldn't care less if it belonged to Big Liz herself, he was on and on about the private bloody estate ad nauseum, ad infinitum, ad up your arse-eum. What nonsense is this? Who let this happen? Spitalfields is Spitalfields. It's an old market with a new bit added on. It's full of shops, cafés and restaurants, walkways and piazzas. It's criss-crossed with streets, ancient thoroughfares and rights of way. It's a very strange form of private property indeed.

Irritating, sure, but all a bit predictable really. London 2008 is an increasingly great place to cycle but the antis cling on like some desperate, ousted, huffing aristocracy. The security guard of The Estate actually told me they won't allow people to secure bikes to posts and railings because the owner ... doesn't like the look of them. I was sober. There was no chance of an auditory hallucination; he actually said it. So, sod it, we don't let them get to us with our impermeable duck backs etc. Loving photography, I try to shed the all too familiar feeling of harassment in our fair city and wander off to take photographs. 'Excuse me sir,' came the polite Nigerian accent. 'I'm sorry sir but you cannot take photos in this place.' Gulp. Swallow. Sigh. 'This is a private estate.' I immediately have one of those visions of someone committing spontaneous murder with a heavy frying pan that you see in films. That moment when your characteristic cool is suddenly annihilated by pettiness and it all gets far too much. Fortunately I didn't quite lose it so; at least I had no suitable Le Creuset in easy reach. But I wasn't having any of this nonsense either. You just, sometimes, have to fight back. 'I'm sorry, what are you talking about? Of course I can take photographs here,' I calmly, politely reply. 'No sir, sorry you can't. Well, it depends, it depends on the camera. You need to write in for permission.' I'm starting to wonder if I'd taken the wrong turn and unwittingly biked to Narnia. Or Berlin, circa 1940. What the flock? By all accounts, if you have a small camera then it's fine, but if we're talking an SLR then we have a problem. Some mobile phones have cameras not significantly inferior to my SLR these days, but that's not the point. I didn't give in. I stayed polite and full of smiles but carried on taking photos.

The guard left me alone. But the problem lingered – it was hard to not let them ruin the day. In so many tiny but innumerable ways life in London is so controlled. In isolation, every measure is tolerable, often justifiable and easy to comprehend. Cumulatively, it's becoming insufferable. We are increasingly disenfranchised such that trying to enjoy our city is becoming a veritable challenge. Resist. It's your city. Love it as you want to. As it happens, I'm writing this in Barcelona. Chatting to an acquaintance last night who plans to move here without delay, I ask why. The answer simple: 'I'm over London, I can't bear all the rules any more.' Amen.


Simon McDermott said...

I had the same experience last year. The fuckers. They wanted to clamp my bike outside CarlucXXX's. I had breakfast, went for a walk, came back and the waitress came running up to me telling me to unclip my bike because it was going to get clamped. Then I looked around and this guy was coming along actually holding a fucking bike clamp!

I dont think many people know about this. Something needs to be done!

Julian Machin said...

Yes, for the greater good, in protest against the doom-laden and yet extraordinarily abstract idea that is clamping bicycles, I post my objection hereby.

Dan Brink said...

Hilariously written but a sad state of affairs. come to usa and bike all you want and picture all you want

Anonymous said...

paul harrison says,
# i bet you forgot to mention in your blog that your bike was bright pink with a wicker shopping basket on the front, we have banned wicker shopping baskets for the last 3 years in whaley bridge.consequently there has been a 45% drop in old biddies seen on our roads.

ault said...

If I lived in London, I would be sorely tempted to buy a container-load of cut rate Chinese U-locks, and whenever I found an abandoned bike (or shopping trolley, or whatever urban flotsam struck my fancy) chain it to the street furniture in the estate.

(This triggers memories of a bloke who locked a fridge to a fence a while back as they would not let him lock his bike there.)

bomon said...

On behalf of Spitalfields Estate Management:


I have spoken with the Spitalfields management team about your experience.

The no-photography policy originated not from the landlords but at the request of their tenants Allen & Overy and RBS, i am afraid i do not know the full background but the reasons are related to security and these high profile offices being potential terrorist targets. That said SDG (Spitalfields Development Group) have recently reviewed this policy and are relaxing the 'prior written permission' rule (which is really aimed at media filming requests) so that visitors / general public can use their cameras freely.

There are bike racks at the entrance to the estate on Lamb Street and Bishopsgate but not on the actual estate, i have strongly advised that SDG also consider installing some bike racks on the estate. I have also suggested that they add signs indicating where near by bike racks can be found alongside the 'cycles forbidden' signs.

I thought i should mention that are several independent restaurants on the estate Bedales wine and tapas bar on Market Street, Canteen serving modern British food, Scarlet Dot modern Indian and Spianata Italian sandwiches and salads http://www.spitalfields.co.uk/eating.php

kind regards

Simon McDermott said...

It still stinks of shit, no matter what the pr department tries to flower it up with.

At the end of the day, it's crazy to think that London is spending thousands on trying to get people cycling, only to have private estates clamp their bikes once they arrive at their destination.

Just the other day I saw 6 Community Police officers cutting through a bike lock which had been parked on railings near Westminster Station. Six of them. For one measley bike because there was no where else to park it.

I'm buying a fridge. There's no signs saying I can't leave my fridge chained up there.

maz said...

I agree!

Let's do a flash-mob with SLR cameras and push-bikes. That'll freak them out!

Failing that I'll bring that old washing that's been sitting at the end of my street and we can chain that to the rails.

contented_andy said...

flash biking - i like it !

overwhelm them with hundreds of bikes ... and film the event ...

contented_andy said...

i was flicking through the tv channels this morning, and saw that the House of Lords was discussing the issue of street photography !

bomon said...

On behalf of TFL Cycling:

Thank you for your emails of 22 and 31 July 2008 asking whether Transport for London (TfL) could speak to the Spitalfields Estate Management about the ban on cycle parking in the area.

Our Cycling Centre of Excellence (CCE) is tasked with developing cycling in London, including recommending changes to laws and regulations necessary to enabling greater use. The Mayor has asked us to strengthen the cycle parking standards for new developments and work is already underway to support this improvement, with consultation on proposals to be conducted later this year.

Your blog provides a very useful description, in effect a case study, of the impact of the current situation. This is that private landowners and developers are free to set their own rules as regards the public realm and cycling without being required to seek approval or to provide a reasonable alternative. This issue of unfettered private management of the public realm is something that we will take up with the appropriate government departments and national bodies such as Cycling England.

CCE provides funding to the London boroughs to install on-street cycle parking. You may wish to contact the cycling officer for London Borough of Tower Hamlets who may be able to assist further.

Unfortunately, it is not our role to intervene in the management or operation of local areas or private estates. You may wish to consult the cycling pages on our website for details of independent cycling organisations that campaign for improved cycling facilities.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Customer Service Advisor-London Streets
Transport for London
Surface Transport Communications

bomon said...

Absolutely no change regarding bike provision seen yesterday

contented_andy said...

Just saw about this ...