My first ever gig in London some 17 years ago was the very same place I now do my Sunday DJ gig, The King’s Head in Crouch End. On the late summer day I first ventured into that venue, I remember looking at the surrounding area and thinking “I could live here.” It only took me 13 years to finally get there, but I was sidetracked by a nearly continuous 10 years in the Eastern working class suburb of Dagenham, or its more formal name the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Odd that it uses the words “London Borough” as it’s in Essex County, but I imagine because the London Underground system runs through it, the borough feels entitled to attach itself to London. Otherwise, it is to London as West Covina is to Los Angeles, or maybe as Burlingame is to San Francisco.
A little background, at least as I perceived it. During my time there, I met exactly ONE ex-Pat American living there. People who would detect my accent would ask first where I’m from originally, and the next question would usually be, “So what the hell are you doing HERE?” Yes, long term residents thought it was a shit hole, and for good reason. When I was married and living there, my stepson’s primary school had people moving their children to other schools after there was an influx of African and Asian students. That should have been no surprise, as Dagenham was also one of the main stomping grounds of the British National Party, a further Right-wing racist version of the current UKIP. The town itself has a pretty strong ethnic mix now, much to the chagrin of many I’m sure.
I still have a few ties to this suburb, though nearly everyone I knew back then has long since moved out. However, I still have the same Kia Picanto my ex bought new in 2004 just before we got married, which she let me have as part of the divorce settlement. There was a mechanic not far from where we lived that I got familiar enough with that, even after I left Dagenham for good in 2013, I still felt obliged to let them continue to do repairs and maintenance. I also have kept the same dentist for many of the same reasons.
Because that little Kia refuses to die after 107,000 miles, I hang onto it, and on its last test, it was recommended that my radiator be replaced, so I decided Friday would be the day to take care of it. It meant taking the 45-minute (if there’s absolutely NO traffic, which is rare) journey and leaving my car for several hours while I amuse myself there for 3-4 hours, no easy task.
Once I dropped the car off, I wondered how to amuse myself on foot, especially with a pretty steady rain coming down. I managed to kill almost an hour in the library, then remembered the one diner that closely resembled the types of places I used to go in LA. I must admit I’ve gotten used to English cuisine, which took a while, but as long as you ask the cooks at whatever diner to not do things they might ordinarily do (like put some very greasy grilled onions in your burger, for example), you can have a decent meal most of the time. Suddenly two hours had passed.
I decided, since I hadn’t heard from the mechanic, to kill some more time and visit the charity shop I once worked. The person behind the counter was someone who was still working there after all this time. I found out quickly that if I’m looking for political allies, I really need to stay in my part of London. This is a very nice person, a single mom with a pretty positive outlook. I had to go and spoil it all by talking about Trump. I heard the words “Give him a chance,” and bristled, but remembered I liked this woman, so I merely commented that I’d done that already, and that he’s so far done everything I feared he’d do. When she mentioned voting in favour of Brexit, I brushed that off by saying I couldn’t vote here but would have voted Remain. And whew, made it through with no arguments!
But we weren’t done. Since it had stopped raining, I decided to walk to the big ASDA supermarket I used to always go to when I lived there, as everything there is a whole lot cheaper than at similar stores in London. While I was there, I ran into this lady who’s worked there forever, lived in Dagenham all her life, and whose son was a close friend of my former stepson, which was how I knew her. Another very nice lady, and when she asked if I’d been to America lately, and how I felt about things over there, I went into pretty much the same soliloquy as I’d started in the charity shop, and got pretty much the same result.
Now it was finally time to go back to the mechanic. With the car nearly done, there was just enough time to have small talk with the woman in reception, also a very nice woman who runs the shop with her husband. I’d have nothing to do with her under any other circumstances, but I chose to mention that I’d been to America a few weeks before, and how divided the country is. What was almost as gobsmacking as the previous encounters was not that she elicited any views of her own, but she did ask whom I voted for last November. I wanted to say either “Duh” or “Oh yeah, Trump all the way,” but thought better of it as she was just innocently asking, and sarcasm didn’t seem to be a good reply. I did the nice thing and casually said I didn’t like Hillary that much, I just didn’t think Trump was a good option, and she left it at that, thank god.
My car was done, I paid (much less than I’d pay in London I’m certain), and fortunately it was before 3:00, so no major rush hour problems to deal with. I could also breathe a sigh of relief that 1) I don’t live there anymore, and 2) I don’t have to come out there again until July to get my teeth cleaned. Hopefully my car will behave itself.