Generally speaking, there are two different levels of gentrification going on in London at the moment. The first, less visible kind is generally carried out by mega-rich foreigners, who sashay through tax loopholes to use property in London as a kind of bank, parking their personal wealth in houses and flats that they're essentially seizing from the local community. The other, less dangerous but arguably more irritating kind is when bourgeois businesses pop up in working-class areas, being twee about cupcakes and other things that seem irrelevant to people who are struggling to pay the rent.
You have to wonder if whoever decided to open a shop called “Champagne + Fromage” in Brixton did so to take the heat off estate agents and spiv landlords by creating a perfect anti-gentrification lightning rod. With its snobbish name, grating catchphrase – “Let’s bubble!” – and glasses of champagne starting at eight quid, it's no surprise that the deli provoked the ire of the Yuppies Out protest group, who organised a demo against it and everything it represents for Friday.
It wasn't the best day to pick for an al fresco protest, given that it pissed down with rain all afternoon. As such, it must have been encouraging for the organisers to find 50 or so hardened protesters in berets and army jackets braving the weather outside Brixton Village.
The demo’s Facebook event page was apocalyptic: “A dark cloud is ominously looming above the once pure skys [sic] of Brixton," it read, "this cloud is called CHAMPAGNE AND FROMAGE and from the 15th of October it will rain on us until we drown in a sea of estate agents, champagne swilling yummy mummies and the so called 'fizz fiends'… cunts! WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. DEATH TO CHAMPAGNE AND FROMAGE! YUPPIES OUT!”
So, it was weird to find that when I talked to them, everyone there seemed to agree that they had nothing particularly against the owners of Champagne + Fromage. They all said that they were using it to make a point about economic attacks on the poor generally. "There's a class war raging but only one side's fighting," grumbled one guy.
On the whole, they were a reflective bunch: “This is a symbol of something bigger, nothing about cheese and champagne; Brixton is a place with a history of working-class resistance and these cunts want to move everyone out," one earnest, shaven-headed bloke told me, referring to the landlords who are bumping up rent prices and moving in the middle classes. "I just literally want to be able to afford to live somewhere nice.”
Even though it wasn't really about cheese, he'd decided to put a cheese slice – the fromage of the proles – on his head to show his disgust at gentrification.
Others drunk cheap cider. I'm pretty sure Marx once famously called White Ace "the champagne of the masses".
This guy thought it would be a good idea to reference the anti-gentrification protesters in Berlin who have been criticised for drawing heavily on Nazi imagery. "Schwaben Raus" often appears in spraypaint on the walls of the German capital and means, "Get out, people from Schwabia [who often buy cheap houses in Berlin]".
Unfortunately, it sounds disconcertingly like "Juden Raus", which is something that Nazis used to shout at Jews. Good work, mate. I've always thought that the best way to protest about a perfectly valid grievance is to imply that you might have neo-Nazi sympathies.
One very enthusiastic little girl who was there with her parents told me her reasons for coming, "There used to be a sweet shop, and now it's gone! Now they don't sell biscuits! And anyway, I don't like yuppies because they destroy culture!" she told me.
I passed the heavy security presence on the entrance to the market to have a word with the owner of the bar, Stefano, an Italian guy who seemed both perplexed by the fuss that his choice of name in particular had caused, while also being glad of the publicity. "I do understand the issues," he said, "what we're doing is like other businesses. We just called it after the products we sell… I'd be happy to show them what we do." The protest seemed to be having the desired effect of keeping the yuppies at bay, however, as the bar itself was conspicuously empty.
As the rain continued to put a dampener on proceedings, I got chatting to Saul and Lias, brothers from Galway who had organised the protest and have become a staple of the South London squatting community with their band Fat White Family. Saul told me that he was being forced to sign on every day of the week at different times to continue claiming benefits. He was angry at plans to make claimants work for their dole money at less than half of minimum wage, and told me, "Living in London's like starving to death at a feast. I'd rather be in the pub than standing out here holding this banner."
Which was presumably where people started drifting off to, as the crowd thinned and people left to find dryer, warmer places to bemoan the state of the nation and the ruthless wankers who run it. The protest hadn't succeeded.
Follow John on Twitter: @jwsal
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