Saturday, 10 July 2010

No inner cities in Romania

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Childhood: those so very long, empty days. I don't think everyone's childhood is the same. For some it is bucolic rural life, some Belgravia. 'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere' but in retrospect Westcliff-on-Sea Essex still feels unliterary and not very interesting. On the other hand, twenty-five miles further up the Thames, Tilbury and Gravesend which I passed through as a child once a year on my way to see an uncle in Kent are truly eery place places, settings for a gritty film noir. East Tilbury too and especially Stanford le Hope the most depressing place I ever set foot in. Much more so than the forests of jerry-built tower blocks in Bucharest. Gravesend cries out to be written about by Peter Ackroyd except I think Peter Ackroyd pretty talentless. I suppose Joseph Conrad did it on the first pages of Heart of Darkness. Not a place I would like to live (unlike the rather cheerful council estate in Woolwich which I enjoyed living in).

The great difference between tower block life in England and in Bucharest is not the width of the walls (paper thin in Romania) but that Romania like Eastern Europe in general doesn’t have an underclass. Not much street crime or drugs though both are becoming more common. There are still child beggars who make a decent income for those running them and some children are preyed on by foreign or native child molesters. No yobs or hoodies though there are plenty of sad soft faced boys burying their faces into plastic bags filled with glue. Until a few years ago, almost everyone, except the secret police,senior party members and lucky remnants of the old upper middle classes, lived in tower blocks. They are not class ghettoes but places where Romanians preserved the gentility of pre-Communist life. The children are well brought up, play in the street and are unafraid to tap the arms of passing foreign suit-clad bloggers and say ‘Ghinion’ which means ‘You’re it.’ A good country to bring up children. They also usually grow up to believe in God.

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