13 July 2008

An Isle of Joy

CW in the smoke by waltz4aidan
The main drawback of working at Canary Wharf is that too many of us spend too many hours doing just that ... (working).

In the back office of an investment bank 9 to 7 is probably standard; it's longer at month ends and when working on a big project .. and when there's an R in the month... in any language.

For the increasingly neeky traders it's more like 7 to 6, while salesman work, say, 9.30 till dinner and if there's a deal on it's 10am to 2am and takeaway pizza at your desk for the self-important bankers and lawyers.

But no matter what your department the culture's the same: if your team hasn't finished its day's work: then you're not going home. You stay until the job's done1. No doubt it's this finish-the-job culture in the banks (yes OK, and at the consultants and at the lawyers) that goes a long way to explaining why we have pay 18 year school leavers £21,000 pa to reconcile spreadsheets and newly qualified accountants £65k to do much the same: not many people have the stamina, or the desire, to do jobs like ours once they can see an alternative.

All of which is simply by way of explanation of how little time I get, really, to blog, and that's my excuse to taking five days to respond to Old Fogey's broadside last week.

Now don't get me wrong: I like working in Canary Wharf, and I've run - and walked - often enough and far enough abroad to be familiar with the sights that Fogey mentions (and I can tell you that his nameless bar on Narrow Street is called Booty's and that it's remarkably empty of a Friday lunchtime considering it has a fine river view, a nice pint, and Coq au Vin, and the the old Barley Mow is no more, now a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, F*** me, eh?) But the thing is: I've been to Manhattan, I've worked in Manhattan, I know Manhattan, and Old Fogey, Canary Wharf is no Manhattan.

To be honest it's unfair to even compare the two: to do so is to make what logicians call a 'category error' for they are not same thing at all: Manhattan is an enormous space that contains the beating heart of the magical city of New York, while Canary Wharf is tiny thumbprint of architecturally ordinary development on the geographical, political and cultural fringe of modern London.

It's true that London and New York are (non-identical) twin cities, and so it's really not unreasonable to look for similarities, but our Manhattan is not the Wharf...... it is, rather, the Cities of Westminster and London combined. And then some more! for where is Westminster's Central Park? Well throw in ancient Richmond Park then, and where is its Harlem? Shall we lob in (not entirely convincingly) Brixton, Notting Hill and what? Peckham? and where are the City's skyscrapers? Yes, indeed: to the bustling twin hearts of London, we must add dear Canary Wharf and now the sum of the whole to finally hints at the scale, the diversity and the excitement of the island of Manhattan.

Now, Canary Wharf is a fine place to work in: you can any type of shop, restaurant and bar here (more shops within 10 minutes walk than I ever had when I worked on Fleet Street, or Angel Court, or Broadgate) and all the major chains, but that's the problem: it's too planned and so there's exactly one of every type. And three Starbucks. We have an All Bar One, a Davy's and a Slug and Lettuce, all full of slick-suited twenty-somethings, and we have a Gap a Monsoon and a FCUK, a Carluccio's a Gaucho and an Itsu Sushi.

What we don't have is an eccentric and charming Pavilion End on Watling Street, or a secret and hidden Wynkyn de Worde in St Brides (where I once saw Will Carling dining out, flush-faced and chubby with reflected Princess Di fame) or unique and historic Meson Don Felipe at Waterloo, or the little greengrocer I used to visit off Ludgate Hill with 20 different kinds of wild mushroom and tattered order books from all best hotels, or even the a bustling Broadgate Arena where the old pensioners arrive from the East End at 11:55 to grab the best seats for the lunchtime Jazz, or an Old Doctor Butler's Head, or even a New Doctor Butlers let alone a luxurious, but comfortable Leadenhall market or even a Roux brothers like Finsbury Circus. Of course, a quick bit of Googling confirms that neither does the City have most of these things now, either. Perhaps the world has moved on.

But, sigh, neither do we have a street of Korean restaurants, or an Avenue of South Indian ones, or restaurants that serve entirely raw and vegetarian foods, or Mortons where the steaks weigh 24 ounces and the hash browns are the size of a pizza. And we don't have an Irving Place or a New York library or a JP Morgan museum and we certainly don't have a super-sized China Grill where I remember the leader of our bid-winning team taking us all, on a whim, Table-for-23-please no-problem-sir, margaritas-all-round, coming-right-up, back in the heady, wealthy 1990s.

Sigh, yes give it time! Give Docklands an age. Perhaps one day Canary Wharf Management Ltd will quit spending their time and effort sawing off and removing the cycle locks of its hapless office workers and rent out a shop or a bar to an independent trader with an innovative idea. Perhaps one day the buskers will climb the elevators and ply their trade outside of the tube station, and maybe people will play softball leagues in barren Mudchute.

But until then... I'll take Manhattan.

1 Unless, that is, you are lucky enough to be on what is (astonishingly) known as 'flexible working' in which case you'll be leaving no matter what at 5:50 to pick up Felix from the nursery.

No comments: