No Longer Cool? Thank God!



In the Sunday Times this morning, a ‘nightlife entrepreneur’ (I guess he runs clubs) called Alex Proud releases a wail of anguish about how London is ruined and it’s cooler to be at the coast in places like Margate. I see he has a flat in Primrose Hill.

The last time I’d read almost the same article it was by pop writer Julie Birchill, who’d moved to run-down Brighton, home of the cheap-end stag party. Every now and again someone looks at their address book, notes that a few friends have moved out to start families and writes about the Smoke not being cool anymore.

I agree London’s prices are insanely high but a few brightly painted buildings don’t make Margate cool either – look at Camden. A rule of thumb; will two men walking down the street holding hands feel safe there? If not, there is no ‘cool’.

The former working class towns of the Kent coast were Brexit strongholds (quite a few people have changed their minds down there now, according to the latest YouGov poll) and are most definitely not comfortable places if you’re black, gay, or anything other than a 2.4 kid family unit – tolerance and freedom are required to create a cool town. Margate still has down-at-heel B&Bs, boarded-up shops and lousy food, but at least it’s trying to escape the poverty trap that has cursed such towns for the last fifty years.

The Times article is right, to a point; London clubs have closed, restaurants are overpriced, properties are owned as investments, but the real problem is that no major cities – I mean those above 5 million – are cool anymore.

If you want a comfortable – nay, glamorous – life in a European city, pick one of 2m or below. Oslo: 0.6m, Rekjavik; 0.1m, Dublin; 1.3m, Vienna; 1.8m. Barcelona’s population is a measly 1.6 million and it’s one of the most relaxing places I know. Only cool Berlin (certainly not a relaxing city) breaks the pattern at over 3 million – but London is now heading for 9 million.

We think differently about how we live in big cities now. ‘Cool’ is no longer a word you hear used. Students are the children of the rich. Artists are entrepreneurs. The once cool clothing shops have all gone. Soho is dead and buried. Hackney and Camden are filled with tourist tat. Selfridges is a half-empty building haunted by Chinese tourists. And who in their right mind goes to Knightsbridge?

But Paris and New York are the same. Once I loved New York for edgy theatre, crazy nightlife and street markets. Now I could go and shop in a chain or see the show I already saw in London. I’m a hardcore townie, I confess. The English countryside makes me itchy to be near concrete. I’ve tried weekending with friends but by Sunday I’m online.

What do we want from a city? I made a list of all the things I like and it’s not very cool, I’m afraid.

Lots of bookshops.

A good arts scene.

Somewhere to sit and relax.

Good pubs, music, theatre.

Decent affordable food.

Interesting people.

So maybe ‘comfortable’ replaces ‘cool’? If so, that’s a pretty good thing in my book.



18 comments on “No Longer Cool? Thank God!”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    Glasgow has most of the above-though I’m quite so sure about the bookshops. And it’s not “Fashionable” like Edinburgh which makes the latter uncool.

  2. Jackie Hayles says:

    Hastings, where I live, has most of the above. What is hard to find outside London is something indefinable, though – the magic of a big city with its wonderful buildings, parks and sheer scope. I also miss the theatres and art galleries, but they are within reach, and will be more so if we ever get a high-speed rail connection.

  3. Roger says:

    “And who in their right mind goes to Knightsbridge?”
    Especially not the people who own it.

    ‘Comfortable’ replaces ‘cool’, It always does. It’s called “growing up” or “growing old”, depending on your perspective.

  4. Vivienne says:

    Was in Greenwich Park yesterday, by Gen Wolfe looking over the fantastic riverfront and beyond to Canary Wharf and the City. Where else can give you that, right next to the meridian giving instant history? Behind me, the Park and Blackheath to relax in.

    I know Margate is improved and doing its retro thing, but it’s not easy to get to. Parents used to be in Ramsgate and I’ve done that journey countless times.

    Cities give you choice and anonymity and I like that too.

  5. admin says:

    The Gen Wolfe statue was a spot I grew up beside, and the little park at its back. I’ve always favoured the comfortable over the cool, despite being pushed into the ‘cool’ category for a while by style magazines – which I hated.

  6. Steveb says:

    Like London, Berlin is sprawling.
    No mention of Sofia pop

  7. Steveb says:

    ooops population about 1.5 mill i think. 70s London with shopping malls! And lots of green spaces by the way. I reckon Sofia could well be the next cool city.

    I just tried and failed to post some links to pictures. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I was startled to see the bullet damage on the statue of Wolf. WWII I’m assuming. (I’m Canadian, I had to photograph the statue.) Accessible parks will always make up for a lot of undesirable things.
    Reading that list I failed to see anything that required a large city. If you add privacy and choice you’re getting closer. A choice of live theatre requires a large supportive community and you need large numbers to provide public privacy. Publicly funded things like libraries can be put anywhere provided there is access, but book stores, I grant you, do require customers to survive. I live on the edge of a good sized place; I think it fits into your framework and it feels comfortable. Comfortable and cool are words to describe a place where you are happy to live. Calling it growing up is just an acknowledgement that feeling good is important.

  9. Jan says:

    Surprising amount of w World War 2 bullet/flak damage still about Helen. Exhibition Road just north of the junction with the A4 near the Cromwell Road Thurloe Place junction. On the E of the J/W with the A4 there’s a whole stretch of the Victoria and Albert museums wall where the damage has been left in situ. Or it was – I don’t suppose anyone would go and check because who in their right right mind would venture toward Knightsbridge or South Kensington?

    When was it exactly that style magazines shoved you into their “cool” category then Mr. F?
    This side of the millenium?

    Perhaps I have just woken up grumpy or there’s just something a bit annoying listening to the superannuated sixty +s discussing the concept of cool. Leave it to the youngsters time t o start enjoying being old farts!

  10. Jan says:

    I think Roger said it a lot more politely!

  11. admin says:

    Cheers Jan, you always make me feel so good. Sadly I can’t seem to locate any cool Youngs anymore.
    My evidence;
    1. Fidget toys intended for autistic children are now hot playground item.
    2. Disappearance of club scene.
    3. Popularity of Ed Sheeran.

  12. Brian Evans says:

    Who’s Ed Sheeran?

  13. Jan says:

    Sorry Chris I reckon i did wake up grumpy !!! It’s spending my evenings with the gent I e mailed you about the other night !!! It’s driving me out of my tiny mind!

    I’m such an old tart when I want to be x

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I’m with Brian – who is Ed Sheeran? Or are we better off not knowing?
    I went to Knightsbridge – to go to the V and A – but it was a day when there was a private showing of a new exhibit so I just saw part of the costume collection and had a fun conversation with a lady. It’s not a horrendous neighbourhood. You can sit on things and eat lunch. I refrained from feeding pigeons although some sparrows benefited.

  15. Jan says:

    No it’s not an horrendous neighbourhood ! Helen it’s just horrendously expensive. Which i think is the point old (!) Fowlerfeature is trying to make. And it has tippled from being a neighbourhood of old money, incredibly posh gels schools, graduate and under graduate students,grace and favour residences, lots of university buildings into being this multi national money box. I worked round there a good few years back and loved Kensington. Not as posh as Belgravia or parts of Chelsea but a really good standard of housing, just beautiful and still a neighbourhood where people lived properly, passed houses on down through their families. You could always tell old money cos you could could sprain an ankle on badly fraying carpets anywhere in the house!! When houses did change hands it was for eye watering sums of money.
    But theres been such a change now. Beautiful but largely empty.

  16. Jan says:

    O and Ed Sheeran – who I thinks is a lovely lad – is this little ginger singer

  17. Jan says:

    Chris did I ever tell you about the lovely Arab family who lived in a high storey mansion flat in one of the better bits of Earls Court. Which again Earls Court just fabulously wealthy now. Well this family were fabulously wealthy back then in the early 1990s. Oil money had catapulted these people from a relatively backwoods existence somewhere in Saudi into the home in three continents category and to be fair couldn’t have happened to better folk they were great. But can we say this spread of wealth was accompanied by a certain spread in girth. (This coming from moi a woman of some substance myself.) Think there were five adults and three kids in this household and the majority of the summer and spring which they chose to spend in the UK cos of the mild damp temps they used to spend on the balconies of their mansion flat sitting in the sunshine waving to passers by and to share their good fortune they used to throw sweeties, chocolates, toffess down towards passing pedestrians. A no lose situation you would have thought. Till my mate who worked in the locality area asked me to help him out with a problem – could we dissuade these good hearted people from their largesse. Why? Well when we went to see the householder downstairs he didn’t have to try to hard to point out the major cracks in his living room ceiling and the gradually mounting pile of plaster and concrete which on his balcony from the jumping up and down if the family on their balconies immediately above!!
    You couldn’t make this stuff up could you?

  18. Jan says:

    The grammar went west there again H

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