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National Geographic - OLYMPIC LONDON

East Side Story - FREE Feature Download

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The "other London" – gritty, graffitied, but with a rising cool index–gets ready for its close–up as the venue of the Summer Olympics.

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After the last customers had wiped the stray crumbs of meat pie from their faces. After the last jellied eel had slid down throats. After the last cup of tea had been swallowed, Fred Cooke, owner of F. Cooke’s pie and mash shop at 41 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2JS, flipped the hand-printed cardboard sign on the front door of the establishment his grandfather had founded when George V assumed the throne from OPEN to CLOSED.

"You bet there were tears," Cooke said of that day, February 11, 1997. Cooke, a thick-bodied man with thinning hair on top that gathered momentum to crest in a lush white wave at the back, stared wistfully at a case in the Hackney Museum. The display featured the net he had used to scoop eels out of the tank, pots for boiling potatoes for the mash, steel pie pans, and paper bags with F. Cooke printed on them for carryout. The kitchenware of a three-generation-old family enterprise had become a museum artifact.

"We were the Buckingham Palace of pie and mash shops," he said. The diamond stud in his right ear and a gold bracelet, thick as a handcuff, testified to the rewards. The pie and mash shop on Kingsland High Street, one of six owned by the Cooke family, had been the flagship of the fleet, but the ship had been scuttled in response to the changing social landscape of East London.

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Editor at Large Cathy Newman admires Brits for their wit and civility. East London reminds Alex Webb of Brooklyn, his home borough in New York.


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