Welcome To Smallpoxville


This comes via the ever-excellent Skip’s Acorn Treasury – Skip’s not his real name but I’ve forgotten what it is, although I did meet him at a dinner. I think he probably thought I was overexcited and annoying, as I become when I meet people I instantly like.

Near King’s Cross is an area called Somerstown. It’s quite nice, and mainly comprises an award-winning real ale pub, a French gastropub, a great bakery, some flats and houses, a street of pretty good Indian restaurants rather like a mini-Brick Lane, and some bored kids who congregate on corners. The kids are lost in their own world and move politely out of the way as you pass.

This is the area portrayed by Shane Meadows, director of painful British neo-realist films (ie relentlessly glum and impenetrably accented) as violent, crime-riddled and slum-like, in the same way that lazy journalists still refer to the streets of King’s Cross as ‘sleazy’. OK, it’s true that our local sex shop shares its loo with that of the elegant cake shop next door, but there is a sign on the door warning you.

The point is that the area’s transformation into a pleasant neighbourhood is still at a fairly fragile stage. So of course, it will now house a giant biochemical unit where the world’s deadliest diseases will be stored, probably by teenagers listening to death metal on their iShuffles. You know – like in ‘Return Of The Living Dead’.

To be fair, the area has long been associated with exotic diseases. A local cinema commercial that used to run in Camden famously had a voiceover on it that said ‘Come to the Rupal Indian Restaurant, next door to the Tropical Diseases Hospital’, because everyone was familiar with that big red-brick building.

So the architects put out a CAD-photo making the proposed centre look like a cross between a second-rate university and a suburban Toys-R-Us, artfully hidden by trees. ‘Oh,’ the couple bottom right are saying, ‘let’s pop in and see if our flesh-eating virus vaccine is in stock.’

Now they’ve come clean and posted a follow-up shot which reveals the monumental size of it and the Auschwitz-style corpse-burning chimneys on the top. Look for future references to Somerstown as ‘Outbreak Epicentre’ on Sky News.

Not content with the ruination of Camden Market and proposing that a needle exchange be placed beside an international railway station, Camden Council is clearly maintaining its image as London’s Greatest Urban Threat.

I used to live in the neighbourhood, and when the terrace opposite me was torn down, Camden proposed building a vast corrugated steel wall to replace it. Their reasoning: ‘You’re in an urban neighbourhood and we wanted to reflect this.’
I had to explain that we didn’t all want to be reminded of the area’s grim Victorian factory roots every time we looked out of the window.

So, thanks a bunch, Skip, you’ve turned me into a NIMBY.

9 comments on “Welcome To Smallpoxville”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Vancouver is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary and today’s paper features a selection of the great theatres that were torn down during urban planning initiatives plus the last (almost) of the old ones which is now slated to be torn down after years of neglect which left it a ruin. Plus ca change and all that.

  2. I.A.M. says:

    Does anyone remember which recent B&M the Tropical Diseases place was featured? Was it …off the Rails or was it …on the Loose?

    Speaking of which, I ought to do maps for the two of them for the other site.

  3. alan griffiths says:

    “Overexcited and annoying”. Unfortunately – so true.

    My Guv’nor is that way – enthusiastic about everything. Me – I’m Eeeyore – just plodding along. Major fight looming.

    Just reread “Spanky”. Again. Mr. Fowler – you have a nasty mind…


  4. Steve says:

    I love the way Admin finds the most horrifying things in the most banal places. I’m envious.

  5. Chris Lancaster says:

    I often walk through Somerstown on my way from a client to Kings Cross station, and it’s interesting what you say about the youths congregating on street corners and politely moving out of the way as you walk past. I normally feel slightly nervous walking through the area carrying laptop, etc, probably because of where it is rather than how it is.

    Being so close to Kings Cross, you expect it to be somewhat dangerous! If the bakery is the one that I think you mean, however, I do sometimes sit on one of the benches just outside, and enjoy the sun. So maybe, at some fundamental level, I do know that I’m not about to be mugged for my laptop.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Not knowing that King’s Cross was supposed to be dangerous I rather enjoyed a morning walk through it last year but I wonder if I would have felt differently had the weather been grey and drizzly with everyone feeling a little crabby.

  7. Alan Morgan says:

    You’ve nothing to worry about from gangs, just wear neutral ‘colours’ – try a green hanky half tucked into your back right pocket.

    Ho, ho.

  8. admin says:

    Ian, it was ‘On The Loose’ and I’d love you to do more maps!

  9. I.A.M. says:

    Hmmm… In which case, I shall get to that… erm… soon… (looks at stacks of MS and other papers to be read and considered) soon-ish…

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