Archive for March, 2008

Elephant and Castle

   I live in the Elephant, on one of the big estates that are scheduled to be pulled down as part of the larger push for 2012. I’ve been here two months and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. I lived here when I first came to London twenty years ago and now, when I don’t know if I’m coming or going, I’m here again.  

    In a way it’s the perfect crossroads. My flatmate said the other day: “So many people who come to London come from somewhere else – it could be Europe or South America or the North somewhere – and are basically skint – end up in these estates in south London – especially the Elephant. Where else is there to go? This is the starting point for so many people who come to London. Everything comes through here – the Old Kent is the A2, which runs from Dover to London – that’s why you have all these coaches coming through reading ‘POLSKI’ or whatever. And everyone here has a story to tell.” 

     It’s true that the Elephant feels like a clearing house – and that is part of it’s attraction. Living here is, quite literally, like standing on a platform looking out on the rest of London. Even late at night, it buzzes with motion – another major autoroute runs along the other estate building to the south. The noise from the New Kent, Walworth, Heygate Road continues all night – a hum of decelerating diesel engines, clattering trains, car horns, the gereral ebb and flow of whooshing traffic. Yet, in between the traffic, you can still hear the rustle of leaves across concrete, the whispering of the wind through the tree branches.


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   Leave before dawn as per usual.

    That heavy inky black, floodlights burning along the gangways – that oppressive London dark that just sits on the soul. Pass round the shopping centre, hulking there in the darkness, past the crowds queuing up at the bus stop. Two black guys yelling into their mobiles so their voices carry out across the traffic – who the fuck wants to talk on the phone at seven am? – then into the tube station. A queue at the lifts so I jump down the 112 stairs that wind down to the trains. Even traveling at a good clip, there are many others who brush by me, who must make this descent every morning and have it just DOWN, taking the winding stairs two, three at a time.

   That’s London – rush, rush, then stand in a queue.

   Yelled at the whole way from voices amplified by loudspeakers. Yelled at in the station, down the stairs, the corridors leading to the platforms, on the platforms and in the trains themselves. “Minor delays are reported. . .due to a shortage of staff “, ‘Severe delays are reported . . due to a signal failure”, “No service on the Central Line between . . . this is due to a malfunctioning train.” At least four lines were out – and does anyone care about the REASONS? Just make the damn trains work  – and they have to yell the information, in all the politically correct accents of the spectrum, Cockney white, Asian, West Indian, over and over at ear-splitting volume until I emerge from Picadilly Circus station fifteen minutes later exhausted.



    I step out at Lower Regent Street to see Big Ben, part of Westminster Abbey and the column at the bottom of Lower Regent all draped in grey against the first brightening of the sky, their spires and featureless bulks cast in silhouette – rising into the grey dawn like ships looming out of the fog. All the mystery of which this city is capable there in those grey silhouettes like all the majesty of dawn itself . . .

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Things White People Like

This is a scream:


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