LONDON FOREVER YOUNG – new ways to have fun for the boomerang generation
Cereal cafes, Disney karaoke in hot tubs, Christmas theme parks for hipsters… Have Londoners been hit with Peter Pan syndrome?
A weekday evening like any other on Brick Lane, east London’s trend capital. A new concept cafe opened its doors this morning – the Cereal Killer Cafe. As night falls early over London, we slip with some relief into the boutique. It’s a veritable little sweetshop full of surprise toys, multi-coloured tables and chairs, and round-edged screens taken straight from the 80s.
Gary Keery welcomes us with a tired smile. He and his brother have been up since 7am serving the already snake-like queue of customers come to grab a quick bowl of childhood and milk. To top it all off, he’s just fended off an attack from a Channel 4 journalist, who accused him of charging extortionate prices in one of London’s poorest areas (£3 for a bowl of cereal). The neighbourhood is certainly not wealthy, but it started changing a long time ago after being hit by the wave of hipsterfication which has been accused of driving up prices and chasing away the locals.
In his strong, Northern Irish accent, Gary explains the origins of the Cereal Killer Cafe, where 120 different cereals from around the world are served, accompanied by a choice of 30 types of milk (including almond, hazelnut and soy) and 20 toppings. “My brother and I were in Shoreditch one afternoon, and we were deciding what to eat for lunch. Chinese? Pizza? Burger? The only thing we really wanted was a bowl of cereal. We couldn’t believe you couldn’t get it anywhere! When we were little, cereal was fun, with a little surprise in the box. Today it’s all gone, swept aside to make way for healthier diets. Of course, we’re not asking people to eat cereal every day, but rather to come and try it out every now and then. With that in mind, we’ve tried to create a good atmosphere with boxes of all the old-school cereals. Some of them are more than 20 years old, and there’s still cereal in them! I wouldn’t dare try them though!”
Surrounded by toys, this bearded cereal dealer defends his choice to not grow up:
“It’s not that we’re refusing to grow up, it’s just that everyone’s a bit nostalgic and wants to reconnect a little with their childhood.”
We walk a little way down the street filled with double-take dress senses against a street art backdrop to reach an abandoned tube station. Here we find the Hot Tub Cinema, which offers its customers films while in a Jacuzzi.
Tonight it’s Aladdin, the karaoke version. The concept was dreamt up by two friends from university, Nick Pahl and Asher Charman (respectively the CEO and founder of the company), who started organising film nights with their mates for fun. Today the summer showings often take place on a rooftop, and in the winter in the abandoned tube station. Recently, the two founders have even successfully started exporting the idea to New York and Ibiza. New “pillow cinema” showings were also launched a few weeks ago, with a strict “no pillow, no entry” policy, and enormous beanbags for sprawling out in comfort.
We get into our hot tub and say hi to our two neighbours. One of them seems nicely tipsy, and knows all the words to the Disney classics, which she sings in the character’s voices. Even though her friend tries to calm her down, we start wondering if they’re part of a report entitled “I tried the Hot Tub Cinema on acid.”
“We’re here to celebrate our favourite films, so we offer the classics like Top Gun, Dirty Dancing and Gremlins. We know these films back to front, and we can have fun, sing, dance and drink”, says Nick Pahl, sporting an elf hat.
“Regression is really part of the experience…” says Asher Charman. “It’s good to not be an adult from time to time, to put work and stress to one side…
I think a part of us has remained in our childhood, but in a good way.”
Regression does have its limits, however. There’s no hot chocolate to be found here, but there is a mobile bar service for stocking up on beer, wine, champagne and Christmas cocktails without even getting out of the tub. The film plays out amid a genially childish atmosphere, during which we were surprised at our delighted, exaggerated reactions (“naughty Jafar!”). Afterwards, the hot tubs are churned up and filled with bubbles. They inevitably overflow and battle commences, with even the waiters joining in, using their trays to hurl huge quantities of froth over each other.
The Cereal Cafe and the Hot Tub are not isolated cases. In Hackney, slightly to the north, the first board game cafe has just opened. At Draughts, customers can enjoy hundreds of different board games for just £5… and food is served of course. Many bars have put money on retro gaming, with Sega Mega Drives, Nintendo 64s and other prehistoric consoles available. London is regularly host to open-air role-play games. And it steps up a gear at Christmas. Still in the east of London, Victoria Park is welcoming Winterville for the first time ever. Quickly rechristened Hipsterville, the theme park is open to both adults and children. Even Waterstones has joined with the new trend. A few weeks ago the landmark bookshop invited a few lucky competition winners to a sleepover. The idea was sparked by an incident, when a tourist was accidently locked in the shop overnight, leading to an unexpected barrage of Tweets from people saying they would “sell their souls to spend a night locked in the bookshop.” Waterstones granted their wishes. The Natural History Museum, which has long offered children nights at the museum amongst the dinosaurs, has been pressured into providing the same service for grown-ups. You can even enjoy fairy tales for adults with London Dreamtime, a service providing candlelit stories in abandoned housing estates, forests, cemeteries, and even in people’s sitting rooms.
Frank Furedi, a sociologist, wrung his hands at the sight of his infant son glued to the Teletubbies. But then he realised his students at the University of Kent were doing the same thing: “This nostalgia for adolescence, supposedly our golden years, is understandable for people in their 70s. But for those in their 20s and 30s, it’s a clear sign they’re unhappy with their lives as independent adults. This doesn’t mean they’re completely irresponsible, but that they can’t manage their maturity and that they’re fighting back against their responsibilities.”
According to the sociologist, young peoples’ sitting rooms look increasingly like the bedrooms of backward teenagers.
This is mostly an Anglo-Saxon phenomena, but can be observed to a lesser extent in Germany. “In England there is a culture of middle-class professionals, for whom the borders between masculinity and femininity are blurred. My generation wanted to grow up too fast and become independent before its time.”
“Today, growing up is associated with a dying social life;
You’re no longer a player. The danger is that people stop looking to the future to create new things, which is quite sad.”
“A quarter of people watching cartoons on television in England are adults. Adults without children”, says Furedi.
But it’s not all bad: childhood also means freshness and curiosity, and regressive events are reminders of happiness.
And after all, this search for comfort is lived alongside others and shared, instead of being nurtured alone.