Easter in the Elephant and Castle

Slept a good part of the morning after being woken up at three am by some jungle/ techno blasting from somewhere on or near the estate. Went on for an hour, which surprised me – this estate is usually so quiet. Woke up to snow, sweeping past the window in great flurries our of an iron grey sky, just like snowfall in late winter Canada. Might have been pretty if any had stayed.

Went out around three to biting cold – even with the thick wool sweater the cold cut right through me. The mall was almost empty, muzak ringing about the fluorescent orange interior, maybe a half-dozen people staggering around, mobile phones clutched to their ears. Some black guy moved in on me so aggressively by the exit from the train station I thought he was about to hit me up for change, but he said:
“Do you know why we celebrate Easter?”
“Sure. I’m Catholic.”
Hesitating: “So you’ve let Jesus into your life then.”
“Like I said, I’m Catholic.”
He wanted to press it further but I kept walking. Anyway, I was protected. Catholics confuse Evangelicals – Christains but not quite Christain enough. Tainted somehow . . .

With the muzak and the milling people, the mall was as depressing as it had been in the early 90’s, when this would have passed for a typical shopping day. Outside, it wasn’t much better. A lot of black guys in padded jackets, either nattering into the mobiles pressed to their ear or glancing around suspiciously. The library was closed, just like everything else. Some crazed looking guy in front of the gas station doorway shouting ‘Change! Change!’ at everyone coming in and out. Three young black guys conferring then one splitting away to come up to me: “I know you won’t help me with the whole thing . . . “ he started before conveying some elaborate story about a train ticket and a journey home, speaking in a whimpering south London accent. He had a nice new leather jacket and when I gave him 20 pence he gave me a long whimpering look until I barked at him and he ran off to harass some middle-aged black lady carrying her shopping.

That’s who’s out on the cold on Easter Sundays: the druggies and the deranged. Could have been in Brooklyn.

I walked along the gangways through the estate. Some of the gardens on the smaller buildings between the towers are impressive, with tangled vines and what appear to be orchid trees, like the gardens in long-standing allotments. Iron grey slabs have been put over the empty flats on the big estate behind Heygate Road, sealing them off to maximum effect, getting the massive building ready for the wrecking ball. I wonder how they’ll take it down – level by level as they did on an 60’s office block by Victoria Station, or with a few well-placed explosions, bringing the massive building down in one big mass. From across the street, the slabs look like bands of duct tape, placed over the half the length of the lower stories in long grey strips.

From the walkway, you can see the backs of the empty flats. Curtains still in place, garish red or green interiors. Unguarded from the back – some of the windows have been left open. Back in the day, someone would have broken and squatted these places in a matter of hours.