London: A Different Camden Locks

     I remember Camden Locks being dirty and dangerous. Not dangerous to me, because I had the look, and walked the walk. But dangerous to those uptight Thatcherites in their public school clothing.
     This was almost 20 years ago now, but I remember the leather jackets, (which I wore), the alternative band t-shirts (I had Jesus and Mary Chain and Sisters of Mercy) Doc Martin’s boots, (which I had) and piercings on the face and body (which I didn’t have) before it became somewhat socially acceptable to have piercings in those places.
     I remember the people lounging about smoking cigarettes, and giving off that attitude of nowhere to go and nowhere to see, something akin to “Waiting for my Man” by Lou Reed.
     It had been a long time since I had been in London, and even longer since I had been to Camden Locks. This Saturday afternoon I was headed to see a friend’s band play on Caledonian Rd. So after perusing the map, realized that I could come up from the tube at Camden, take a short stroll through my University years, and then follow the canals to the afternoon gig at the pub.
      When I stepped from the tube, it felt as I remembered, a mass of people standing in front of the exit of the tube, blocking the way as they looked up and down the road. By the curb where a couple Jesus sellers, who announced that my sins would only send me to hell. ‘At least it’s more exciting than heaven’ I –being more mature- only thought to myself, rather than announcing it to the preachers as I used to.
      Walking up the street, the sidewalks were full of Saturday morning shoppers. Ahead of me was a man with “Made in England” tattooed on the back of his neck.

      There were tattoo parlours, piercing places, and the usual collection of black t-shirts of alternative bands. But then I noticed someone selling tourist British flag t-shirts. That was a little off, there were never people selling those sorts of things. The only t-shirts like that, that made it up here, were ones that were found, or stolen, and ripped to be like the Sex Pistols.
      Then I noticed the people. They were middle aged, looked middle class, seemed polite and held cameras. Some of them also had their children with them. Respectable families never allowed their children near Camden back them.
      Then there was a second group of people, they looked early 20’s –wore colors other than black- and spoke random European languages. This was definitely not the Camden I remembered.
      Once over the canal, there was a collection of permanent booths selling food. It was not the greasy fish and chips, or kebab takeaway that I remembered. Now it was international cuisine. Clean and nice and well presented, and I accepted that the Camden I remembered was long gone.

     Across from the cuisine, were the plastic scooters. There was a counter overlooking the canal to eat your pleasant lunch. Rather than stools, there were permanently mounted, plastic replicas of scooters to sit on. There must have been 100 of them, all sticking out their little fake taillights in a perfect row.

      Written on the side of each of the scooters, in modern repeated perfection, are the British Flag, the British Lion and ‘Camden World Famous Market.’

     The world changes, places become hip and then fade away. I can accept that. But it’s the plastic tacky attempt to be like it was 20 years ago that bothers me. It will never be like it was, but please don’t try to make a Disneyland version of that time and place, because the essential thing that made it what it was, the thing that made it alternative; is an attitude not a look.
     Later while talking to my friend’s band, none of them could remember the last time they had been to Camden.
      I guess I’ve been away from London too long, I need to find my way in this city again.

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