Still ten minutes north of Mare Street and the gradual creep of redevelopment. The chain supermarkets replace the Turkish cornershops, the golden arches replace UKFC and Chick King, the skinny fixed gear bikes chained to skinny black balcony railings replace slowly drying laundry: a tide moving north that you can track in the crime reports in the Hackney Gazette. The closing of the nightclub 'Chimes' off the Lea Bridge Roundabout seems to have marked the turning of the tide, and the reputation of Lower Clapton's 'Murder Mile' has been declining since then. While I lived there the first branch of Tesco Metro opened outside the Clapton Pond bus-stop. The windows were smashed every weekend for the first month or so, but gradually it seemed to knit itself into the fabric of the area. On one of the last times I visited I heard a woman reprimanding a blond mop-haired child named Gideon, who was knocking over a stack of easter eggs with his mini-scooter.
"'Driving,' Joe says, 'frees the mind.' He's unshaven. That easygoing independence uniformed specialists manage. He is able, at whim, to decide when to allow rain-soaked supplicants on board and when to steer those huge wheels through the puddle. Slim specs perch, pilot fashion, in wiry hair. Joe steers and chats, as I sway with the stuttering momentum, recovering my bus legs.
'They calls this the "old codgers" route,' he explains. Across the neck of Mare Street, Amhurst Road, into bandit country. Foothills of crack craziness: Clapton, Millfields. Sink estates like islands occupied by pirates. It's a Conradian voyage to bring the bus through, back to the garage. 'Africans and Poles, they don't mix.'
I move away to the deserted upper deck, to let Joe concentrate: a panoramic view on discriminations of blight. Pete Doherty would be the titular figure, holed up in a one bedroom flat, after collecting his methadone at the Homerton. The jellyfish-white romance of urban squalor: Rimbaud on Ritalin. Pete should have stuck with the buses. Every time he slides into a car, he is pulled."
Iain Sinclair, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire (2009)
20 minutes walk south from the church of The Clapton Messiah, five minutes from Clapton Pond, where the Agapemonites had been forced to flee with their Messiah from the angry mob that were disappointed when he proved unable to walk on water across the pond. That was barely a hundred years ago. The spiritualism of Upper Clapton still thrives and reaches down to Hackney Downs, where bookshop windows ask if God can help with your immigration case and the Salvation Army still turn out their stalls onto the pavement every Sunday.
"The idea that security will keep people safe sounds so obvious that it should be true. A twelve-foot high iron gate should prevent a criminal from breaking in, in much the same way that capital punishment should lower crime. Yet in the same was that capital punishment does not lead to lower-crime societies, high security does not guarantee safety, and the experiences of people who live like this are far more difficult to unravel, with complex emotional consequences.
[...The] sense of well-being at being able to retreat into a snug, safe, almost womb-like environment is problematic on a number of levels, practically and emotionally. Practically, although it seems reasonable to expect that a more boundaried environment would offer a greater sense of psychological security, often the opposite happens, as residents get very agitated when territorial boundaries are crossed - which inevitably does happen."
Anna Minton, Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City (2009)