Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Endgame - one more step . . .

Yesterday when I came home the welders were working in on three or four flats all over the building. The reverb from their generators shook through the walls like they were working right next door. When I went out, I watched them from platform four of the train station – the arc welders working three at a time putting up the big plates of iron, the blue welder’s flame flashing like sparkles from the gangways, a trio of council officals wandering in and out of the flats that had already been blocked off by the grey iron doors.

Soon, these iron bands will block off a third, then a half of Claydon House, just like they block off a third of that huge estate I see out the window. How will it be when the whole estate is empty but for one or two holdouts? How would it be occupy a single flat in a building this vast, to feel the emptiness spreading out through the building at night, to walk down gangways past sealed off flats, knowing no one else’s steps will tread the concrete stairwells – to know the building will soon be rubble?

For now, people are coming out again to enjoy the light evenings. Kids on the gangways, the Africans and Latinos who seem to make up most of the Heygate’s residents feeding on and off the rampways. Two young English girls, hair back in those ponytails young English girls seem to favour, one of them pushing a baby carriage with that stolid efficiency of young English single moms, as if having a baby has fulfilled their duty in life . . .the friend chattering and breaking into random dance moves – hip-hop hand gestures, a more obvious 80’s style sway of her hips and legs; the robot – moving as if to music only she can hear, describing to her friend through motion what is playing in her head.


Got home around five to find a lot of kids in the proverbial hoodies hanging around the estate. A teenage girl walking her well-muscled bull terrier on the walkway, barely able to hold it back as it strains on its’ leash. Some kids hanging a terrace halfway up thebuilding, and some more kids, mostly black, edging up the stairs to join them. Briefly, I considered catching the lift to avoid them, but when the lift didn’t come and went up the stairs – and as it turned out one of the black kids ducked his head around the stairwell when he heard me coming up then they all ducked to the lift before I got to the top of the stairs.

When I got to my floor, I looked down to see what all the fuss was about. Two bike cops in yellow vests had stopped someone on the street below and some black people – men and women, council workers or possibly detectives – were conferring with them and suddenly four regular patrolman rushed out of a stairwell. When the melee cleared, I made out two skinny black kids in full hoodie gear being interrogated by the cops, edging them back into the stairwell then out again.

The kids came out again onto the terrace below me to watch what was going on. They were mixed between black, Hispanic and white and spoke mostly in Spanish and even their English was tinged with an American accent. Two guys came up the walkway below eathing chips and greasy fried chicken from Styrofoam containers. They wore derivative gang-banger gear with their heads pulled down and after glancing at the cops made some sort of hand gesture and went away. But the kids on the terraces seemed to be enjoying themselves. Way up near the top, some girls had come out and were shouting out to the boys – “Come up! Come up!” And one girl laned out so far her long hair fell straight down – and I was worried for a moment she would slip and come tumbling out of the fencing and down past me and the boys and down to the rampway with it’s peeling paint – but she slipped back in and the boys waved up and shouted something I couldn’t make out, and then everyone went back to watching the show down below – where nothing much was happening except the two black kids in hoodies were still being interrogated by the police . ..

Friday, 4 April 2008

Filming on the Heygate

One night I found a film crew below Claydon House. When I asked the guy on camera why he was shooting on the estate, he was defensive: “The estate is quite impressive at night, all lit up like that.” He was right: there is something mesmerizing about looking up at those long gangways all studded with floodlights like points in the night sky.

Films are always been shot on or around the estate. I talked to a friend who lives down New Kent Road, behind the last of the buildings that make up the Heygate. He said one nigh he saw a beautiful white horse cantering back and forth in the green in front of Claydon House. He stopped to watch it, fascinated by the image of the horse and the great building behind it, and only realized after a moment that a film crew had set up around the edge of the green and the cantering horse.

His girlfriend had told me about the crackheads who inhabited the little park in front of their house, how two muggers had robbed their neighbor right on his doorstep. The pimp who tried to chat up her friend – a nice middle class woman – right in the park with a view, they both realized later, to turning her out. But my friend says most of that is gone now, that the pimps and the crackheads didn’t so much originate on the estate as revolve around a pub down the street which was recently not just torn down, but reduced to rubble.

A film-maker himself, he knows a number of people who have made film shorts about the Heygate, including Martin Lewis, a researcher/ lecturer at College St. Martin’s, who shot that iconic segment of the Aylesbury that appears as a program intro on Channel 4. So I’m not the only one fascinated by these brutalist structures that will soon be no more . . .

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Things I like about the Elephant

I like opening the blinds in the kitchen and looking out on the two Commons towers, the bell of the Imperial War Museum, even the edge of the London Eye out the window. It gives me a sense of being on the edge of central London and looking out on all this energy, all this motion. Hanging above the city, as it were.

Most of the time it’s pretty quiet here. Sometimes the flatmate is hardly ever home and when he is home he hides out in his room so it’s like having the flat to myself.

In the fall, I loved the contrast between the roar of the city, the sound of the police sirens and the steady rustle of leaves across the concrete gangways. Peaceful, ironically enough.

The estate, although intimidating – coming home I still look up at this tower and wonder what the hell I’m doing here – is bizarre enough to be interesting. It is a piece of history in it's way – and soon it will be gone. There is this sad, almost melancholic air of finality about it, since soon most of the people will be gone as well.

I like leaving in the morning, descending into the back of the decrepit mall, down into the tunnels and the short hop into the city. Or the one stop ride from the platform, the bank of lights glowing in the dark morning, the train wheezing in and gathering me across the Thames to the very edge of the City.

I like being able to walk across the North Kent Road into the old brick estates where I lived with Marie, or up a short walk to the Imperial War Museum, Waterloo Station – the south bank. Two tube stops to Oval, and another part of my London life entirely . . .

I have history here after all.