Sunday, 16 November 2008

KingsHill II

Back on Kingshill . . . once you seen it, you don't want to leave. 

Saw two families pulling stuff into the lift and out again into a van parked at the bottom. Looked Asian. One black couple. Everyone friendly, easygoing. Maybe leaving brings it out. 

Drizzle, the fog enveloping the Gherkin, the dome of St. Paul's, the towers of the city. Tower Bridge off in the distance behind the blunt edge of another tower. The drizzle made the foilage between the buildings seem more febrile, alive - you could smell the moss, the green and for seconds at a time, I felt like I was back in my native British Columbia, walking through the woods, with the damp dripping from the trees onto the rich undergrowth. 

Memories. Squatting in London, tearing away iron doors from blocked up flats like the ones on KingsHill to get inside some shabby council flat. I never squatted in towers like the Heygate, but I roamed them often enough, wondering what I was doing in London wandering these shabby estates looking for a place to live. Every spring I'd go back to British Columbia and work in the forests for two or three months to make enough money to live for the rest of the year so I guess those two images - council flats blocked up with iron doors and rain dripping down through the rainforest canopy are linked inextricably - bizarrely - in my mind. 
What will the credit crunch bring to the Heygate? Already there is talk that the private developers responsible for the demolition and 'restoration' of the estate and environs, might not be able to access the funds to come through. The government is guaranteeing high-profile projects like the Olympics and Crossrail - but will they come through for the Heygate? 

What happens then if nothing is done at all. The Heygate comprises some 1260 units - will they just remain empty? Let's say the council moves everyone out yet the demolition doesn't take place, the estate just sits there, rotting. Inevitably, with more and more pressure on the rental market - people who now can't afford to buy or have lost their homes have to live somewhere - there will be pressure to make those 1260 units available again. By that point, many of these flats will have been vacant a year or more, their already delapidated condition that much further gone - will the council even be able to move tennants in? 

At what point do the squatters take over? 

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Went up KingsHill today. The lights were just clicking on in the gangways and but for a few people coming down the long ramp to Heygate Road, the estate was empty. I walked up the stairs to the top level, taking a few shots with my little camera, trying to get the last of the light. Here and there was an occupied flat with an open door and a light in the window, but most of the estate was blocked off - perhaps one or two flats per level were open.  I saw exactly two other people - a young woman in a beret walking down on the gangway to the stairs on the opposite end, a black woman caught in silhouette, talking to someone in an open doorway at the very edge of the estate. 

I'd never been up KingsHill before. When I lived on Claydon, I used to look out at the building every morning when I woke up. Sometimes a crescent moon would sit directly above, or the setting sun would reflect off the gangways, but the tower almost always loomed up like a keelhauled battleship behind the line of trees along Heygate Road. I'd heard it was the worst estate on the Heygate, plagued by crackhouses, and squatters, but perhaps that was just rumour, and my own prejudice. It seemed slightly unknowable, like the surface of another planet, and I entered it with a good deal more trepidation than I would Claydon or the building along New Kent Road, even though it is not that much bigger or, at this point, not that much more deserted. 

The views are fantasitc. You can see right across the northern half of the Elephant, up through Burough and the Thames, right to St. Paul and the City, the green between the towers masks a good deal of the rest of the estate. You don't think about the green when you see the estate from the outside, but in the roughly hexagonal shape created by the towers the green, the two-story buildings and even the rampways create an almost pleasant space. Almost, because you look up and see the towers in every direction, peering down with those prison yard gangways, but from this vantage you can at least see what the architects had in mind. 

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Down the Walworth Road

Waiting at the bus stop across from the excellent Turkish shop down by the Aylesbury . . . 

Guy in a wheelchair, cradling a Tennant's Super while yelling into a mobile over the traffic. "I fucking told 'im, he can't, he fucking can't!" while two women in scarves in the gypsy style, cradle fully swaddled babies. One woman, older, nudges the other and she goes out into the stream of people hurrying past, approaching first a well-dressed black guy, then some middle-age South London prole, then a woman pushing her own kid in a pram and so on, holding out her hand, begging but being sort of matter of fact about it, as if it were a business transaction. The older woman sees me watching, glances at me a couple of times, but neither woman approaches. 

The guy in the wheelchair has stopped yelling into his mobile and has been joined by another guy in a wheelchair, also drinking Tennants. They have the ravaged, blunted, if genial faces of South London alcoholics - a few years ago you saw their type all over the place, though rarely in wheelchairs. They hang out a bit, smoking and drinking their Tennant's, then the original guy says, "You shouldn't ever bully someone. That's how we were bullied, in school, remember? I don't ever bully nobody now . . ." 

Meanwhile a third woman with a baby has joined the other two, and all three are out hitting up people on the street. Then, unsuccessful, they convene at the bus stop, the older woman points up the street. I can't make out what language they speak in - it might even be English. The woman sees me watching again and looks at me pointedly and shrugs, as if to say, "Well, we all have to make do somehow . . . " and they push out into the crowd cradling their babies . . . .