Mornings Into the City

Up at six am. Out the door, looking out on the dome of St. Paul’s rising blue and white from the end of the gangway and out beyond Hannibal House and the jumble of buildings between the Elephant and the river, the two towers of of the Houses of Parliament, still glowing golden yellow in the dusk –
Down the concrete stairs, the lights of the glowing beyond the terraces, to the gangway which sticks out like a snaking concrete limb from the bottom of the estate – down to the muddy path across the green where the old man plays with his dog every morning, throwing sticks so his dog runs back and forth across the green. I said hi to the man one morning but in true London fashion, he just looked at me blankly then looked away . . .
Up to the back end of the elevated railway, through the concrete concourse with the fluorescent lights, up to the platform where the whole of Claydon House spreads out across the purple dawn sky, floodlights glowing in the gangways. The train

Crossroads


Had to go to work in Mayfair yesterday. Left the Elephant at five am for a six am start. No tubes, a twenty minute wait for the bus in the cold London dark. The busses were packed. Not quite standing room only, but close. All Latins or Africans, on their way to cleaning jobs in Victoria, Mayfair, Belgravia. These people make up a significant proportion of the Elephant’s population now . . .
The afternoon before, I watched as four men (maybe one was a woman) roamed up and down the terraces of the big estate on Heygate Road. Dark-haired, dark-skinned – Latinos probably. One guy leaning over the balcony keeping watch, the others checking behind the metal grating covering the windows, looking for a way in. Edging up a

How I Came to the Elephant

The first time I lived in England as an adult was in the fall of ’87, when I came here with my girlfriend, who I’ll call Molly. I’d met Molly in Vancouver, after she’d come back from a year in London, and she’d told me about her London squatting life which seemed very exotic, hip and slightly scary to someone like me whose idea of a big metropolis was Montreal (where I’d just spent a year) and eventually she dragged me back to London with her. We ended up on the Elephant because Molly had friends who lived on the Bramwell Estate. We didn’t know enough about squatting to break our own place so when somebody found us an empty room, we moved in.

I’d been to England often enough as a kid, passing through London on the way to see my grandparents up in Leeds. I’d been into punk rock for a couple of years, liked all the English bands like Joy Division, the Stranglers, the Jam, GBH, the Exploited; Canadian cities had skinheads, hardcore, mods, styles

My flatmate told me about an old lady who’d lived down at the end of the terrace. She had osteoperosis and was bent over and stood barely four and a half feet. She and her husband had lived down near the docks in Rotherhithe. The big ships would come in and be pulled up right onto the shore so they would wake up and find some huge freighter parked not fifty yards from their front door. Once, when a timber freighter came in, they woke up and found the logs stacked in huge squares fifty, a hundred feet high – the longshoreman had been unloading all night and they hadn’t even heard them! She was one of many residents who remembered the area before the estates were built “And look at the state it’s in now . . . “
‘She went away to see a relative and some little toe-rag kicked in her door and knicked all her valuables. She came back and found her flat all smashed up, and she was quite the same after that. I think it broke her spirit – she went away not long after

New Year’s Eve on the Heygate

NEW YEAR’S EVE:

Didn’t go out last night – I much prefer to stay in most years. Watched the director’s cut of ‘Bladerunner’ then went outside to watch the fireworks. At night this estate is like the set of Bladerunner in some ways, the same tall, anonymous gloomy buildings. Even from the terrace, I could feel the city’s energy, rising from the lights and the mass of blocky building piled up south of the river, the great golden squares of the House of Commons towers rising behind the Eye. The people streaming out from the heart of the estate behind our building, up Walworth, disappearing into the blur of traffic swirling through the roundabout in front of the Pink Elephant shopping mall while the ever-present police cruisers, sirens wailing – they’d started wailing by in earnest, going in all directions, around eight pm and hadn’t let up since.
Some kids were already out high up on the 12th floor. On cue they did the countdown: ’10, 9, 8. . .

Journal Notes

NOTES FROM THE HEYGATE:

Early November:

I am ensconsed in one of the many ocean-liner sized buildings that make up the Heygate Estate. Years ago, when I was squatting on one of the old brick estates north of the Old Kent Road, I used to look out at a section of the estate I’m on now and wonder ‘who the fuck would live in a place like that?
Now I know – people like me.
Out back you can see a long stretch of trees, the leaves all turning color, and rising here and there like the peaks of some slightly menacing mountain range, the other buildings of the estate – as oblong and massive as beached aircraft carriers, seamed by lines of gangways and doors with iron grilles on front and floodlights that click on at three pm like lights in a prison yard. On the other side, beyond the gangway, you can see the peaks and spires of the House of Commons, shining gold at night, spread out so it seems like many buildings instead of just the one. From the gangway, you

Live from the Heygate

Hi there, 

   This is an attempt at describing life on the world-famous Heygate Estate in what might be the last few months of it’s life, as the whole Elephant and Castle area is due to be redeveloped in the same way as the rest of London. Or maybe not – the council has been promising/ threatening (depending on your point of view) these estates for the last five years and they are still standing, in all their socialist-realist glory. 
   I’ll post when I can. Enjoy.