These towers may have been designed to be a city neighborhood extended upward, but they don’t feel like a neighborhood. In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve often been struck how little contact people make with each other. There isn’t even the cautious (or furtive) appraisal ghetto residents make of each other in New York – there is just this sort of blank. A family went by the night I was looking out on the fog and even the kids hardly registered my presence. And they live right next door.

Sometimes, when I walk home down New Kent Road at night, looking up from the ground at the vast bulk of the building, I can’t believe I live in a place this vast. It’s like approaching a d

London Fog

Came home last night and the fog was so thick it covered everything – even the grey mass of Hannibal House which sits on top of the Pink Elephant shopping mall was so wreathed in fog that I could barely make it out. I stood on the gangway drinking wine and looking out on it all – you don’t see many fogs like this in London anymore, and you get a sense of how this city must have looked up until the 50’s, when the last pea-souper blanketed the city. The fog hung about everything, making the whole city look like it was deep underwater – features like Big Ben, the dome of St. Paul’s looked like little yellow bumper lights far off in the distance. The fog muffled sound: the traffic in the roundabout seemed to churning through the bottom of the sea. The trees dripped water and each time someone came up the concrete gangway down below, their footsteps echoed up the terraces as if they were the only person in the city.


The flatmate says our building is still Band 4, but will be upped to Band 1 in April. The behemoth behind Heygate Road is already Band 1, which explains why so many of the flats have been sealed off by metal barriers. Band 1 is slated for demolition. Technically, the entire estate has been slated for demolition since 2003, with an estimated start time of 18 months. So the flatmate calls the council to find out how long he’ll have past April.
The answer? 18 months.
They’ve demolished at least one of the buildings thus far, a small wing of the estate on the corner of New Kent Road by the overhead railway. Now the concrete gangway which connected the building to the rest of the estate (and, if memory serves m

Dawn On The Heygate

Woke up at four-thirty to the sound of two black girls hanging out on the ramp below, their black London girl accents filling the air outside the window. Directly over that ocean-liner sized estate which greets me every time I look out the window was a crescent moon with a star underneath like the crescent moon and star in Islam.
I fell back to sleep with the sound of the girls still chattering on the ramp, the faint whisper of the breeze through the tree branches.
When I woke up again the sun was just breaking across the sky behind the estate, yellow around the edges then faint blue darkening to purple. It was maybe seven-thirty. By the time I’d gotten up and gone into the kitchen, sunlight was sparkling off the mirrored face of Hannibal House, the London College of Communication tower, making those two remarkably unlovely buildings seem almost beautiful – shining in a dozen different points about the buildings leading to the river, narrowing in on the tower

Cancer Support – Part II

Morale at the Cancer Support didn’t seem that great. On my last day, maybe a half-dozen people told me how lucky I was to only be there for a week.
Certainly in the post room they weren’t happy. They were mostly older folks, Londoners with that cheerful London thing of enjoying a good joke, appreciating little courtesies. The second week one of the Londoners was replaced by Hank, a hangdog American, originally from Brooklyn, who’d been living in London off and on since the 70’s. He wasn’t particularly friendly at first – he had that laconic NY thing but e warmed up quite a bit after I’d done the post room a few favours.
He said he’d lived in Gramercy Park and drank at Pete’s Tavern on 18th – he seemed like a Pete’s Tavern kind of guy. He’d lived in the area in the 60’s, when the area must have been prime real estate – the beautiful Manhattan before the 70’s crash. Until recently, he’d stayed at the Gramercy Park Hotel, across the stree


Sunday morning. Ten am.
Two men walking below the back of the train station. Sparse beards, green army jackets. Look more Slavic than English. Very drunk – one guy staggering ahead, the other following holding his camera phone backwards in front of him as he walks, looking into it very carefully through narrowed eyes as he films himself lurching down the deserted Sunday morning street behind an elevated train station.  

I wonder if he’ll put it on Youtube?

The flatmate, who would know since he was living on the Aylesbury at the time, said the original raver clubs used to be in the tunnels built into the side of the elevated, now occupied by a furniture store, a Latino music shop/ caf

Temp Jobs – Cancer Support – Part 1

Cancer Support is a 15 story building across the Thames from the Tate Britain and next to M16. On the 14th floor, where I was based, I could see right into their windows, and the patio on the roof with the little tables. ‘Spying on the spies’ I said to the guy who was showing me around. Comic Relief, which does regular fundraisers for Cancer Support starring Lenny Henry and other bigshots, as well as other linked organizations, have their offices in the building, as do a couple of non-related companies –but mostly it is CS.
As far as I could tell, a good part of the CS operation was about fund-raising. Events, marketing, direct marketing. The post room was the prison laundry of these kinds of places, where everything pass through on it’s way in or out. A good deal of incoming mail involves cheques and pledges – CS provides grants to cancer sufferers who can’t pay their rent, etc. Yet so much revenue must go into paying rent, paying for staff, for the reams of

Gunfire ??

I heard gunfire the other night. One loud pop, ricocheting all about the estate then a police siren, the car wailing up Heygate Road and coming to a sudden stop somewhere below our building. Two more pops in close succession, as loud as depth charges with the echo off the neighboring buildings, then another police siren then another.
Then nothing. A lot of noises bother me, but gunfire isn’t one of them. It says a lot about how long I lived in Brooklyn, where the sound of gunfire was such a regular occurrence it became part of the background noise of the city, that I couldn’t even rouse myself out of bed to have a look. I fell asleep moments later.
I’d heard a lot of stories about the Heygate before I moved in. A guy I met who used to take his karate class up on the roof of one of the larger estates (no, I don’t know why either), told me crack houses dotted the council flats on the upper stories. Friends who lived behind the estate near the Old Kent Road talke