At the time, it was the only moderately affordable part of the city in which a student could find digs. That was before the area's pre-Olympics makeover. It was still a real neighbourhood then. There were no chain stores on the high street. There were still anarchists' and artists' squats in the neighbourhood. The Turkish guys who ran the off licence around the corner where we bought our milk and tomatoes would lend us money for the bus if we were running short. Every Sunday, this big group of Jamaicans who frequented the pub down the street would set up an old steel drum, light a fire, and serve jerk chicken right there on the pavement from their improvised BBQ. It was - at least in my mind's eye - idyllic.
(There were also three times in the two years I lived there that crime scene police tape prevented us from entering our flat four hours on end. The particular stretch of Hackney we occupied became notoriously known as the Murder Mile. It really was 'inner city', with all the connotations that term evokes. Well...I said it was idyllic, not perfect).
Anyway, at the time it was just barely becoming the haven for arts that it is today, and at the end of a derelict old dead end street the artist Martin Creed had chosen to place one of his now famous light installations on the portico of an abandoned building.
It read: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT
The building, which has an interesting history in its own right as the 19th century home of the London Orphans Asylum (oh, the historical irony!), was a sight I passed every day on my way from the train station. Sitting at the end of that street I walked past, it's pale blue light would catch my eye at an oblique angle as the twilight was setting in. Located in a forgotten and dingy part of the city surrounded mostly by poor tenement blocks, I was never sure if that neon sign was being ironic. But there was a whimsy to its placement as well, and I have always had a soft spot for the beauty to be found in small, forgotten corners and encounters.
Still, at the time I found something eerie about that work's glowing neon presence. Now I kind of realise, in a whole new, deeper, more grown-up way, that it was true.
Everything is going to be alright.