urban wanderings i


Convoys Wharf, the site of the old Deptford dockyard. They have no choice but to turn it into houses: 3,500 of them, and only 500 affordable (a rich man’s notion of affordable). In the meantime it exists as an expanse of grey green space, eventually tipping into the Thames. All concrete and tarmac and nature gritting its teeth beneath. Plants thrust up through the cracks in the floor: Queen Anne’s lace, dandelions, buttercups, long shoots of grass. Giant buddleia bushes wave out of concrete drums, pregnant with butterflies. You can almost see the old dockworkers moving across the ground and through us. A carefully lobbed stone makes the first break in a five by five window pane; glass falls down like feathers. The old Deptford anchor is pulled in on a lorry and left under the roof of the Olympia Warehouse – the last of its kind, and now a kingdom for pigeons. In patches on the pavement outside, old brick stone shines through like hair on a balding man’s head.

(At what point do you know somewhere? When you can give directions? When you can note the unspoken landmarks? The closed pub; the Vietnamese mini-market; the childlike man in the grocer’s, cousin of the owner; the bad burger van and the good burger van; the pissed-in doorway; the short-legged cat from the pound shop; the coffee blackboard; the trays of eggs outside the fishmonger; the child and his mother on scooters; that first view of the Thames; the stone that looks like a smile; the running man, late for his train again; the boarded up petrol station; the broken fire station sign spelling c unty council; the tiled driveway; the England flag. We direct in pictures. The end of the street, just past the church, opposite Ladbroke’s, above the greengrocers. And in those houses, more pictures. A room I knew once. The black and white poster; the Penguin mug; the porcelain sink; packets of fig rolls. A mock obituary. Books, softened with dust.)

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