My novel Frightgeist is set in an alternative London of the very recent past where an election for Mayor of London is approaching amid an atmosphere of anxiety, conspiracism and unrest. The Labour incumbent is facing an increasingly credible challenge from an independent candidate best known as a reality TV show star.
One of the story’s key secondary characters is a man who lives alone in Biggin Hill, a place famously associated with British resistance during the Blitz. Early in the story, he decides to take a walk through Whitechapel, informed by questionable opinions he has picked up online:
Colin Sockman considered himself to be a moderate man, as he believed all true Englishmen were, including the ones who were women. As such he had been moderately surprised by the ease with which he’d entered the East End, chatting about the weather with the London cabbie – a Kentish chap like himself, it had emerged – who had dropped him at the start of Whitechapel Road. There had been none of the Sharia checkpoints he’d read about on the internet.
It was raining steadily. Colin, his head sheathed by the hood of his cagoule, advanced past the Blind Beggar pub, the first landmark on the historic walk he had devised for himself and a name that took him back to simpler times. He noted the dark-skinned market traders already open for business, lying quietly in wait beneath dripping awnings, proffering vegetables, clothing and fancy goods.
Their presence induced sadness in Colin for the poor old cockneys, long since driven from their native lands. But he found a kind of comfort in the drizzle, a feeling of being more rightfully at home than the hawkers of mangoes and gaudy fabrics as he pressed on with his pilgrimage to a house of God.
Colin reached Whitechapel station and saw, to his surprise, that many of those emerging from it were quite openly white, as were the handful of men on bicycles who hurtled by on a grubby blue track. He passed a Starbucks and his reflex disapproval of café chains – why, the wretched things had even popped up in Orpington – was mingled with surprise at the presence in this place of so stark an example of American consumerism. He felt sure it wouldn’t be there for long.
Further on, Colin, emboldened by the ease of his passage so far, acted on a whim. He turned right on to Osborn Street, which he knew from his research morphed into Brick Lane and the heart of Spitalfields which these days – dear, oh dear – it seemed had been renamed Banglatown. He noted the curry restaurants and the mosque he had read about, but also, to his surprise, a large building up ahead which announced it was a brewery. Half of the pedestrians seemed to be tourists. Colin hadn’t expected that either.
Still nervy, he glanced over his shoulder and turned left down a little side road past a clamour of strange graffiti, upping his pace as he neared the Square Mile.
A startling young Asian man crossed the road in front of him. His big hair was protected by a raised umbrella. He wore an ostentatious raincoat and a girlish bag swung from his shoulder. Colin was drawn with thrilling disapproval to this popinjay display. It induced in him an oddly exciting spasm much like the type he experienced when imagining himself detained by bearded flagellators in some basement in Baghdad.
John Vane is a pen name used by On London publisher and editor Dave Hill. Follow John on Twitter.