And once-honest local retailers sniffed the air. A café on Ridley Road bought a packet of Darjeeling and some soya milk. Turkish restaurants on the Stoke Newington Road put their prices up a bit. But despite all this exciting ‘progress’ Dalston was still Dalston. Until.
Until Wednesday, March 8th, 2006. March 8th, 2006 sparked the sequence of events that was to reduce Dalston to the hellish midden of despair we all know today. [editor’s note: Lionel and I debated, at some length, the phrase ‘hellish midden of despair’. I, naturally, felt it to be a bit strong, but Lionel is a man of formidable resolve and would not be persuaded to soften his choice of words, bless him.]
What happened on March 8th was this: a travel writer from Azerbaijani Vogue, exhausted after twelve hours in an Aeroflot economy seat and having taken full advantage of the complimentary in-flight vodka, fell asleep on the tube and awoke at the Angel. He was supposed to be in Dalston. He believed himself to be in Dalston. Unable to locate the traditional London street market he had been tasked to write about (the one several stops down the line in Dalston), he simply wrote what he saw: that ‘Dalston’ was full of stylish, affluent people, its shop windows fecund with consumer durables of unimagined diversity and gorgeousness, its streets a carnival of youth, confidence and innovation (which, to be fair, is what most places must look like after a lifetime spent in Azerbaijan).
His piece, though written in error, was published in full the following month. It hailed Dalston as ‘The Coolest Place on Earth’. [editor’s note: This is true. I’ve checked.] A writer from Italian Vogue read this and, being short of both inspiration and three thousand words that week, repeated it verbatim. Other fashion magazines followed suit until eventually a writer from British Vogue, travelling deeper into east London than any other writer for British Vogue had travelled before [editor’s note: This is also true.], went to take a look at Dalston herself.
It just so happened that as her cab pulled up outside the Pound Shop (the one diagonally across the road from McDonalds), Keira Knightly rode past on a Brompton bicycle. Keira Knightly was, in fact, lost. She had never been to the area before and would not return for many years, but her presence was confirmation enough for British Vogue that the place was now ‘edgy’. The resulting article doomed poor Dalston; doomed it to the hipster apocalypse. [editor’s note: ‘hipster apocalypse’ will be viewed by some readers as an unnecessarily pejorative phrase. Again, Lionel was not to be moved.]
Three days later a red, plaid shirt buttoned all the way up to the top was spotted on the Kingsland Road. The day after that a man went into Superdrug to ask whether they stocked moustache wax. And just like that, it was over; the levee had broken and the ‘beautiful people’ flooded in like a foul tide of human putrescence. Damn you Keira Knightly. Damn you Azerbaijani Vogue.
In the year that followed, other events conspired to ensure that Dalston would never return to being simply an obscure, heroically egalitarian corner of east London. No, Keira Knightly’s passing buttocks had just been the beginning. The face of Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, but the buttocks of Keira Knightly released something far, far worse into the world. Because, shortly after those pert orbs churned prettily past on their bicycle seat, Superdrug gave-in to the weight of customer demand and actually started selling moustache wax. Then somebody called Alexa Chung was spotted at Bar d’Artagnan. Bar d’Artagnan was an airless basement with no alcohol licence and no ladies’ toilet. It was, though, equipped with a refrigerator full of duty-free lager and a unisex urinal located behind a shower curtain in the kitchen. This kitchen – inexpertly staffed – produced only cheese toasties served on paper plates, but they were good enough for Alexa, apparently, because next week she was back, this time with Lily Allen and Madonna, whoever they are.