Sunday afternoon. I decide to get to know my stomping ground. I go stomping.
Further into East London, along the East India Dock Road toward the Chrisp St Market. I don’t know I am walking to the market yet, I’m just walking. Autumn, heading into winter. London with its overcast hood on. You feel like you’re in a glasshouse, one in which the glass hasn’t been cleaned for years. There are little smudging and grudging clearances in the grime. You can occasionally see a snatch of sky beyond the smudge/cloud.
Housing estate country. One of the identifiable insignia of London. One of my strongest London moments a year or so ago, standing in my sister’s allotment and stretching my back after digging a patch – looking into the middle distance across the other allotment gardens, seeing two tall housing estate/block/towers, and a train driving through. Housing estate, allotment, train. A truly London moment…
Out east, the housing estates are often built on bomb sites from World War Two. Entire neighbourhoods, obliterated in a night. The dream of a madman, to wipe out the powerless and innocent. What a strange thing to do.
What happens to the history of a place when it has been annihilated, when the primary sources (buildings, people) are destroyed? It becomes story, myth, supposition. There are thousands of years of history under this ground, and we on top don’t know it, can’t know it, will never know it.
A beacon, the George Green School. The inscription on the lintel above the entrance (from Job 28:28) reads: “The fear of the Lord, That is Wisdom; and To Depart from Evil, That Is Understanding”. This part of town has seen a bit of fear. And evil.
The market. No tourist market this one – cheap vegetables, clothing, household items. For the people that inhabit the grey buildings beyond. They are just shutting up shop, clearing away the tables, dismantling the stands even as I stand and look. Nothing here for me. I have no use for a packet of 6 cleaning sponges for 50p, or a 1.5kg carton of washing powder that has a name not-quite-but-similar-to the-household-brand favoured by 7 out of 10 Mums!™ The vegetables look alright, but the best examples have been snapped up, and clothes are not directed to my demographic. Shiny puffer jacket indeed.
There are too many people. They have no value in the world, or to the world. They are fat, unhealthy. They are grey – Grey People. How is it that this entire group of people has been side-lined, sectioned out of society, out of sight, invisible? Not pushed out here necessarily, but made to feel like this is their world, not some other, better place.
I’ve come some way, it’s cold, time to head back, toward home. To my right, I can see Canary Wharf two blocks to the south. The towers doing what they do best, towering over us, one of the most money saturated places in the world, letting us know it’s there.
I wonder if it’s necessary that some people suffer, are so disadvantaged, in order for this society to advance? Is this monstrous machine really that voracious, that it needs so much human capital as fuel?
Anyone can get there, can’t they, to the pinnacle? Shouldn’t they just follow their dreams? Show me the evidence for this! The one person, the one that makes it out, the one that makes it to the tower overlooking these grey people? The one exception to an unforgiving rule.
But they really don’t help themselves, do they? They seem to wallow; they’re loud, they’re arrogant, stupid, violent.
And why shouldn’t they be, all of that and more? Polite society, civilised society neglects them, excludes them.
It’s really a wonder they don’t kick its arse.