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Stumbling Upon Nitrous Oxide Balloons

Was Nick wrong about the three ages of gentrification?

In the Last Director of Shoreditch, Nick Carter plots a novel in his head based on what he calls the "three ages of gentrification."

It would kick off with student squats reaching critical mass in abandoned housing, edging out the heroin junkies. 

Helped by a few gushing features in cutting edge magazines, we have the arrival vegetarian cafes and plastic sachets for Class-A drugs. The blockbuster would end with terminal gentrification, meaning chain cafes and hen nights, with disgusted hipsters decamping en masse to start the process all over again.

But do the arrival of "balloons" and vegan restaurants herald a fourth, post terminal age?

By balloons I mean the stubs of shiny steel that contain nitrous oxide, or laughing gas as dentists have called it for over a century. It is also (legally) used by chefs for whipping cream.

It becomes a cheap, two-minute high by filling a real balloon with the gas, making it easier, and safer to breathe in.

NO2 has become the second most popular recreational drug in England after cannabis.

The result is hundreds of steel fingers littering the streets after weekend binges across Shoreditch, like dystopian banana skins, catching the sun as they wait to trip someone up.

I doubt that much of the gas was used to whip cream given the vegan 

restaurants springing up, making it a no animal product zone.

One morning as I was leaving my building, I noticed that the plant vigilantes had been patrolling overnight, writing "If you love animals, don't eat them. Be vegan" in pink chalk on the doorstep. Far easier to clean up than hundreds of steel cannisters.

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Listen to a podcast I did with the amazing which casts a spotlight on London, its people and history. I spoke about how my neighbourhood inspired me to write The Last Director of


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