The hell of neighbours who sing

Through the pillow over my head I can hear show tunes. I have a neighbour with a terrific seat of lungs. She should be a start up founder.  

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance” said Steve Jobs. 

The “most important quality in startup founders”, wrote Paul Graham, the founder of the most hallowed Silicon Valley start-up accelerator, is “determination”. 

But sometimes you really should just stop. If I ever meet my anonymous tormentor I will harmonise to her that some projects are doomed to failure and no amount of bloody-mindedness will win the day. Today she has started early. Outside, the birds suspend their chorus and wait. Their time will come but I don’t have their patience. I need a coffee and scramble to get dressed; A trusted barista is only minutes away. 

Mercifully, when I get outside the singing has stopped. The birds strike a tune and I hit my stride.  Immediately I cut through an alley behind Jamie Oliver’s flagship “15” restaurant where trainee chefs are puffing on cigarettes and bemoaning fondues, or customers, or the inadequacy of vaping. The restaurant is within a year of its 15th anniversary. It was one of the first, if not the first fancy restaurant to open in the neighbourhood’s current golden age. 

 A few paces further  and I find, across from the restaurant is a well-behaved demonstration. Squatters have inhabited one of the gazillion newly-built work-live buildings to protest against the shortage of affordable living space in the area. Coincidentally (or not) they have installed themselves in the premises  of a company called Camelot which inserts tenants into empty buildings to prevent squatters.  In keeping with the neighbourhood’s creative impulse Camelot has retro-invited the squatters to use the space for an art installation. I can tell you all of this, even though I walked past in seconds, because the windows are plastered with slogans and messages. It is skilfully done and I wonder whether they have read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of The Start in which he gives very specific advice on the number of slides a startup founder should use when pitching to the money men. His was the first book I read which went into such detail. There is a correct point size to use in your slide deck (20pt) and there is every other size which is certain failure. There is an order by which you should make your arguments. Anything else will reveal you are an unserious amateur who deserves the ignominy heading your way. 

The main sheet hanging on the largest window articulates the squatters arguments in terms which are easy to understand and are written in a hand-painted equivalent to 20pt which is easy to read for the passing pedestrian (or the traffic-jammed Uber driver).  The “call-to-action” isn’t clear to me but maybe I am not their target audience. I am, in any event, not paying attention because the absence of show tunes in the air is sending me into raptures.

I cross City Road opposite Moorfields Eye Hospital. Between here and Old Street tube station a green line on the pavement aids the partially sighted to navigate. You learn after a while that,  just like trams on rails, the human traffic on the green line doesn’t budge or slow down and you could be mown down while browsing your notifications. That said, there are patches where the paint has been worn away and at such points anything could happen.  

The coffee is close and I yomp on past The Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms built in 1898 by Sir Thomas Lipton (of tea fame). Here the workers of the early 20th Century ate together and caught up on Facebook-type updates. The Dining Rooms are now home to a Peruvian restaurant where workers sit together and silently bathe in the glow of their smartphones. Four minutes have passed since I left home and I have passed three coffee shops including the excellent Westland Coffee (whose tables were all occupied) but I am nearly there. 

 Behind the dining rooms is yet another significant development where media and internet companies are putting down roots. It includes the headquarters of FarFetch, a luxury clothes app, which is one of London’s $1bn+ valuation startups. The squatters should get my neighbour to sing outside the offices. It might do something to property prices. That would be what the call to action should have said. 

Nearly there. I pass the steamed-up windows of a wintery Starbucks and am now at Old Street Roundabout.  I duck inside one of the artisanal coffee shops (that is secretly a chain) and say the first words of the morning, “Flat White” and prepare for another day in Magic Roundaboutland.

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