Usually one of the first questions a Londoner will ask another Londoner upon meeting them is "So, where do you live?". This is not merely part of the standard "And what do you do?"-type polite conversation at which most Brits excel. If you are a Londoner you can tell all you need to know about where the conversation is going from the answer to that question. Where does this new person call home? The instant that you reply to such a query, the asker's brain begins computing. East? West? North? South? Well-connected transport-wise? Safe and middle-class or cool and slightly dodgy? Do you prioritise shopping facilities or boozing establishments? If they know the area even vaguely they will follow up with a series of street-specific queries to glean even more information about whether they are likely to have anything in common with you.
|The London Postcode Map (by South London Maps)|
The East's development is newer. As illustrated by the characters of the popular soap opera "Eastenders", lower class London typically has held these trenches, but the new instant wealth of the City has begun to drag the area into modernity. Expensive penthouses, all steel and glass, mushroom up within old warehouses. Edgy fashion designers run studios off Brick Lane, and send their angular models down catwalks though disused industrial buildings. Whilst Brick Lane itself holds firm as the city's premier venue for Indian cuisine, restaurants of a more exclusive and expensive nature have begun to spring up among the curry houses, catering to the rich bankers with fat wallets who make their millions around Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street. The old docks and water-front markets are undergoing regeneration, no area more so than Stratford; a long way out east, and the site of the upcoming 2012 Olympics. Billions of pounds of investment promise to improve infrastructure in the area, once reliant on heavy industry. Its industrial, and hence now somewhat stagnant, economy has left East London less developed and more impoverished than West. Crime rates are higher here, and the area contains many scenes of turf war and gang clashes, often between horrifyingly young children, which hold back economic investment and further development of the area.
Similar divisions differentiate North and South London too. Whilst those in the south may deem themselves more civilised than those in the north, many North Londoners (stereotypically music, film and arty types, more bohemian, although often no less wealthy, than the bankers and lawyers in the south) regard southern London as boring. Proper south - "Sarf of the river" - is for many North Londoners a hell-hole of sink estates and all that is wrong with British society. The irony is that every area of London now has its shiny, plush Starbucks, and also its dodgy alleys with discarded rubbish it is best not to look at too closely. Where one lives and feels an affinity to is entirely personal. Every Londoner thinks their area is best, safest, cleanest, the most fun for a night out, has the greatest pubs and the most reasonable rents.
But I am about to cross the divide. Having lived in South-West London since I moved to the city almost three years ago, I am going north. Leaving the safety of upper middle-class Putney, and decidedly upper-class/who-cares-about-class-when-you're-this-rich Chelsea, I am moving to North London. I relinquish my SW postcode for a simple N. (I have also relinquished, no doubt to their owners' immense relief, numerous Accidental Family spare bedrooms, for which I remain eternally grateful.) I gain a shorter commute to work, lots of trees, the Regents Canal, Hampstead Heath, and most importantly a place of my own. Just nobody crush my dreams by mentioning the word 'mortgage'.