London Calling


Maybe it's the Olympics or the Notting Hill Carnival or the terrific new Zadie Smith novel NW, but London is rather rocking at the moment ― especially the inner city.

Yet so many parents seem to want to flee it. They zoom off to the suburbs or market towns or leafy boroughs or peaceful shires – anything to avoid that Inner City School. There’s much chatter about gangs, knives and riots. That area. You can’t get to Russell Group universities, if you stay in this “moronic inferno”. So off they go. White flight. Paranoia.

They’re wrong. London does well academically. The inner city is often rather nourishing. It could well up the IQ. Let me persuade you. Let me take you down the streets of London... like this one, like Goldbourne Road W10, part of the catchment area in which I taught for yonks.

Let me take you past the old Moroccan men puffing on hookahs sipping on their herbal teas and the Lebanese grocers chopping huge watermelons and the Nail Bar technicians tarting up extremities and the West Indian barbers fixing the locks and extensions and Lennie, the broken nosed boxer, flogging mangos and a street scribe selling his stuff for “a pound a poem”.

There’s hijabs and top hats and hoodies and berets and baseball caps and a man with the dusty dreadlocks, who must be at least a hundred sitting in an illegal cloud by the leftie lawyers at legal aid. There’s every kind of music like salsa and zouk and Nigerian and Turkish Rap and King Tubby and Fred Astaire and Dub and perpetual reggae.

Onwards! Past a store selling anything 24/7 and a Polish café peddling cardiac arrest sticky buns and then a burned out hippy taxidermist flogging birds of prey and “George’s Fish Bar” with photos of Kate Moss – “his chips keep you thin!” And, finally of course, the “youth” with those baby bikes and trousers half way down their calves, doing wheelies and joshing and texting and talking trash and flirting with some blonde, swearing Trustafarians from Godolphin and Latimer – and winding you up something shocking. Shouldn’t they be at home meeting an educational target? Probably.

This street stuff’s all very vibrant, but it’s not conducive to success in the more formal confines of academe. Well, I’m not sure. It’s certainly a fabulous teaching aid. A rich mix of culture. A mash up of living stuff, not available in the moribund malls of those market towns. It helped make my pupils fast, sharp, sussed, open and clever – and academic.

So stay. That inner city just might be good for you. Every day’s a carnival of learning.


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