My friend came round the second day with cameras. He filmed me going into one of the decrepit lifts where the silver panneling had been ripped off the back and we rode to the top floor. Or tried to – the lift went down instead of up, reminding me why I’d almost never used the lifts when I’d lived on the estate. On the ground floor, a big black guy got on, glancing us over when he saw the camera, and as we rode to the top floor I grew self-concious about our accents and being on the estate with a camera. But as we neared the top, the guy turned to us again, curious rather than hostile.
“Are you with the tele or something?”
“No,” my friend replied, “just a private project.”
Then the guy told us, with the disarming forwardness Londoners can display with foreigners in certain contexts, that he’d been moved out of the estate just that weekend, and he’d come back to see his old flat. “Just to see where I’d lived for seven years.”
As we stepped out on the landing, my friend asked if we could film him and he said sure and we filmed him walking down the terraces. Like a lot of big men, he seemed like a basically gentle guy. His old flat had already been sealed off by heavy iron plates.
“I wanted to come back and remind myself I’d been here all these years – now it’s all sealed and blocked off. Didn’t waste any time, did they,” he said, then laughed. “I wondered if I’d left something inside. . . Funny to think I used to come in and out of this door.”
He agreed to let Brahm interview him in front of his old place.
“Most people here is glad to get moved out – some of us have been waitin’ years. Some pretty bad things have gone on here . . .used to be pretty bad with the nightclub just across the street (on Walworth Road, beside the bridge) – you’d get people coming on the estate, doing all kinds of things that weren’t even from here.
“Been here seven years – I’ll be movin’ to Peckham. It ain’t so bad down there. Like a lot of people round here, I had my flat broken into, so I put the bars on the windows and barricaded myself in. This estate wasn’t the worst for some reason. Big Hill and the other one on New Kent Road always had the most problems.
“It’s taken ’em so long to get us out, to do anything. First they took down the parking garage then left that empty so no one can find parking anymore. You remember the funny things about this place – how they’d turn off the heat in the winter so you’d be freezing all day, or crank up the heat in the summer so you could hardly be inside, or there’d be no water at all so you’d be sorry for the people what left their taps on when they went out to work forgetting then coming home to find their whole place flooded . . .
“Sometimes too, you’d find half the lights out on the block so you’d look over and the building past the stairwell was all dark. Or the lifts wouldn’t work so you’d wait forever for the lifts that did work and some of the old people especially had a hard time getting up all the stairs with their shopping . . . some people would say the council did it deliberate so people would just move out.”
“Would you have stayed if they fixed the place up?”
“No, no. Most people here, they been waiting years to get out. People from outside, they come here and say, ‘why do you live in an army barracks’? “I won’t miss it, not really. Best thing about living here is you’re close to everything – you got all busses, two tube lines, you can walk to Westminster if you want . . . ” Looking back at the iron plate over what had been his door: ” The council won’t wait now – they got this on before I’d even made it to the lift! They don’t want trouble with squatters. We had a couple of Polish next door, raising a ruckus and they had to boot ’em out. . .
“You can be sure, much as tennants here want to leave, there’s others who want to come in, like these Polish geezers.
“That mall will have to go as well. You look at other places, like the Bluewater out in Croydon, they got waterfalls, nice stereo . . .they got to do that here. They say when they’re finished, you won’t even recognize this place. They’ll have trams, big office towers . . . “