Two years on The Magic Roundabout

Day to day you never notice the cracks forming. The wrinkles never appear with a ta-da! But over the years the changes are obvious. This column began reporting from the front lines of the ugliest gyratory in the world two years ago.  The incremental evolution of the area is hard to recognise. But over 24 months the transformation is clear.  Here’s what’s going up and what’s on the way down. 

Accidental Car-jacking ↑ – The Toyota Prius was a relative rarity when it came out. Film stars drove the electro-petrol hybrid to signal their eco-friendly credentials and soon enough cool urban greenies aped them. But still you didn’t see many  in Old Street. 

Until Uber. And now they choke the streets because Uber drivers love the fuel efficiency. So closely associated is Uber and the Prius that civilian Prius drivers barely raise an eyebrow when, as they stop at traffic lights, pedestrians open the door and wordlessly slip into the back seat to fiddle with their smartphone and rate the driver. Millions have now travelled the roads of London in a Prius without ever knowing what it is like to actually drive one. Previously, this was only true of planes, trains, buses and tellingly, London cabs.

Sacks of coffee beans and buckets of skin ink ↑ – The coffee business continues to defy economics. There are now even more coffee shops than there were when it was already unbelievable. The reason that Shoreditch coffee consumption has abandoned economic theory can only be that it has become a quantum physics experiment. To consume all the flat whites and cortados  being frothed at any one instant requires that drinkers must be both in one coffee shop and in another at the same time. The same demand-and-supply weirdness also levitates the tattoo business. Tattoos are a Marmite affair. Those that like them love them and have inked all their available dermal real estate. Those that don’t are ink-free. But all the fields that can be ploughed have been ploughed; The supply of tattooable skin is afinite and it is exhausted. Nevertheless, tattoo parlours continue to flourish. In the quantum mechanical style of Marie Antoinette this can only be explained because those who want tattoos are both keeping their skin un-inked and having it inked contemporaneously.

Wires ↓ – We are barely at the beginning of this trend. Apple has declared the end of tangled headphone cables. If one part of town is going to embrace the wireless earbud and embrace the life of Theodore, the protaganist in the movie Her, it is Shoreditch. Alas, the  sheer volume of discarded headphones in the litter bins of Old Street will shortly become an infinite overflow that transforms the pavements into a mangrove swamp of knotty dirty white wires. 

Moving the meat sacks ↑  – On the roof of the White Collar Factory, the new  building that dominates the south west corner of the magic roundabout is a running track. A few hundred meters south is the Alphabeta building whose key feature is a cycle ramp. As the haptics on your new Apple Watch tell you hourly, while we are not yet cyborgs we must move our flesh and blood bodies to be in good shape for the next startup. Moving the old meat sack around a rooftop running track, a yoga mat or bicycle path has become all the rage. Obstacle course races such as Spartan runs and Tough Mudder have become commonplace. And now we have Pokemon Go which, in Old Street like elsewhere, allows pre-corpses to run around the streets while still really focusing not on their bodies but on their beloved smartphones. 

Unfeasibly large back packs ↑ – Deliveroo, Jinn, Uber Eats and Amazon Restaurants are in a bitter battle to deliver restaurant food to your East London office or crash pad in under 30 minutes. At night, the little road space unoccupied by Priuses is claimed by delivery cyclists with grotesquely huge thermal-control food boxes strapped to their backs. 

Restaurant dining areas sq ft ↓; Restaurant kitchen sq feet ↑  – see above

Carefree walking ↓ – Walking along pavements used to be such a simple task that you could simultaneously turn your mind to idle contemplation. But over the last two years walking has come to command your full attention. Especially at rush hour. As you approach Old Street roundabout the underground station disgorges hordes whose lives have been temporarily made horrible through the loss of internet connectivity. As they surface from the depths their smartphones are cluster-bombed with rolled-up notifications and they lose their sense of self, their sense of space and their sense of direction. And yet their legs keep walking. Consequently navigating the streets at this time is like playing level 20 in the Asteroids arcade game. For carefree walking try doing some laps on a rooftop running track.