Hoe Street Musique Concrete
Clearing the lights at the Bell Corner, choking on the monoxide perfumery as the traffic hits a midday peak flow, the dull greys of January inflict their seasonal woes on any soul as they weave their way past the one-time 24 hour pool emporium. The wraiths of many an after hours drink-inflected session now replaced with builders on a heritage erasure tip as new flats are being thrown up almost as soon as they were envisaged on council headed notepaper. Litter is a constant as crisp packets are cast up on short orbits. The brickwork is of the age of industry, despite it being long departed. The myriad of chicken shops punctuate the newer arrivals; craft beer emporia and barbers proffering trendy cold coffee and tweedy lifestyles that only exist in the minds of the prospective wearers. The Trade Hall on the rise reminds of the fading original inhabitants and everything stops for bingo at 9.30pm on the dot. A secular numerical novena. The disused service station gives another pause for thought before the grandeur of Ye Olde Rose and Crown. A haven sans Sky Sports opium of the masses. Community pub. A reliable escape from the overcrowded shrunken pavements and traffic river endlessly flowing along Hoe Street.
Everything changes. Everything remains the same. Commerce never slumbers. Despite that, it’s possible to talk history personal and general as Forest Photographic (est. 1970) looks mutely on opposite the Victorian IMAX windows of The Rose and Crown. Pitstops are required. Refuelling absolutely necessary in the depths of Winter. Stout as medication. The horizon is occluded as an exit from the pub sometimes casts the eyes downward to the murky concrete. There are a plethora of off licences to remind one of the national curse. I resolutely remain, as Jimmy enters to remind me of QPR battles on terraces. I am agnostic football-wise and listen with interest. He heads off when I mention street realpolitik that I experienced away from the almost all-male preserve. Nae judgement, I just find it painful, my own Celtic and Rangers/Hibs and Hearts bi-polarity of birthplace too much to repeat. I want solace, not a drift back to that pish. Jimmy, jimmy in your red brick city, take a look around you. Ian Gillan was no street cred Bragg or Morrissey, but he had a point. Urban Glasgow in London. Transplanted. Deracinated Scot is sometimes the hardest role to bear. We don’t have our own pubs, like the Irish, for starters. We assimilate or ossify. Perhaps.
Back on the frozen concrete, out of the womb of the boozer, the evidence of the incomer is palpable. Peppered within the multiple ethnicity of food shops and cafes are the estate agents, the soulless progenitors of a creeping unwanted revolution. The average house in Walthamstow would buy 5 flats in a modest area of Glasgow within reach of the city centre. High finance? Sci-finance, as the absurdity of value is manifest in the likes of Foxton’s leaden prose. The fumes aggravate the asthma that is taking an additional 2000 souls a year. The clogged lungs only mildly alleviated by the Lloyd Park sanctuary a tantalising half mile away. It’s the new breed of cultural invader; white, upper middle class, inhabiting the borough purloining and gentrifying whilst uprooting the Walthamstow in danger of disappearing. Erasure by stealth, erasure by dint of income. There is an incipient almost slumbering violence in their actions. Their arrival spells the end of this outpost of the capital. The white noise of the PR guru and the marketer. Its grating, impatient, insincere tones are so much louder than the original voices of the Walthamstow welcome, even in a three year period. Snatches of its aural slurry are heard. I eventually wander off course, down Greenleaf Road, leaving Hoe Street to its hyper-kinetic activity. Various sanctuaries
Trees. Lungs of the city. William Morris’s legacy is intact in the environs of Lloyd Park. There is a peace and in this urban park a sense of a fragile present. William Morris House is a reminder that he could afford his socialism and utopian thinking. The grandeur is palpable. The group of regular drinkers to the left of the great man’s edifice are doubtless in more genuine need of this space then the well-dressed denizens with 300 quid pushchairs. I have that natural bias god loves a drunk as Richard Thompson once observed. I never linger that long here, that feeling of exile hasn’t quite left me yet and although I’ve had a decent welcome, my intrinsic unease in parks hasn't abated. I’m tempted to start a one man alfresco drinking island, but again my unease never allows this flamboyance. Too much Roman Calvinism, if you will. That public drinking has been banned in auld Caledonia for a quarter century. Despite the European posturing the tartan Taliban don’t quite allow the type of unbridled boozing I see regularly in London. And I don’t detect the seem level of street hassle I was prey to in my homeland. I take a brief seat overlooking the gardens at the rear of Morris House and drop any residue of cynicism I had been letting override my innate feelings for the borough. It is a glorious, dirty, living, caring, loud, diverse and inspiring domain. One that gives more than it takes. Of all the boroughs of London I’ve dwelled in this is the one that is home. It has endured, despite my leavetakings and cold feet. Part of me disappointed at my lack of affection for my home town, didn’t want to believe that Walthamstow was now home. It has been a process of painful realisation. I often imagine the template of Renfrewshire like a palimpsest over the concrete and grass of Walthamstow beneath my feet. Home is a notion, best left in the head. I am a willing migrant.
Those horizontal day,Medicated, prescribed silences,Flattened conversations,Occasional outings,Seem more distant now.Recent history has overwritten,Though not quite wiped cleanThe memory of that unwanted period.Almost a tabula rasa,Almost…
I'm back on Bell corner. The Bell is not quite my place of solace. It has too much of the Antic pub chain running through it like a stick Blackpool rock. Mind you, it is a pub that women can drink in solo without too much trouble, or so I’m told. One of the few benefits of gentrification. It was once the preserve of the male football fan and hard man alike. I’ve always it eschewed in favour of The Rose and Crown. Its blandness is not in any way offensive, it just reeks of that creeping onslaught of the new Walthamstow. The council’s bingeing on housing development and utterly ignoring heritage doesn’t help. Higham Hill library is in danger of being forever altered into ash if the council continues its bring and buy sale of community assets. It’s a time to be thankful that local residents are mounting a sustained campaign against this and the proposed closures of Wood Street and Highams Park libraries. Culture is under threat throughout the manor. It is no time for complacency or abject cynicism. There is a tradition of resistance in these streets and that too is still visible. The EDL were pressed to the fringes of Forest Road on their last ill-judged demo by the united front of locals. There is decency woven into the fabric of the communities here. A basic decency the alt right would erroneously tag as radical. And the politics are as mixed as the ethnic make-up of the borough. I’ve heard very little of the little Englander or avid Brexiteer in the conversations from workplace to pub to street. Though I often disparage my experiences of my home country, it is now regarded as a progressive beacon in a darkening and febrile realpolitik. If there is a further move toward the hard right, I might have to consider a return north.
Differing forms of combat.
The capillaries in my arm swell. I find it hard to keep my self grounded in the moment as my body temperature seems to soar. Shame accompanies guilt, layered with a pathetic sense of self and a vanishing identity. It all happens at once. A daymare, alighted on one too many times. Soho. Chinese New Year. A crappy spectacle in all honesty. The society of spectacle at its most tacky; thousands of years of Asiatic culture exemplified by over-priced versions of ersatz cuisine. Instagram opportunities. Stages with tooth-rotting saccharine pop and the Red Arrows flight simulator waiting close by. Collisions of arbitrary, tenuous connections. Buffeted along by crowds moving in hypnotised lines, shepherded towards the cash cow outlets. The pub provides sanity, solace and a decent pint of stout. And relax. PTSD never quite sleeps, never quite leaves the body it has wrought years of damage on. My neck clicks, incipient arthritis in my feet pulse, my chest cavity aches. And that is merely the physical. I smile and clock the pained expression on my pickled in aspic reflection. The camera will later lie and render me happy and adjusted. The battle rages on and on. The war of attrition. The war with the self and the hordes on Oxford Street a mere hour later. I seek more solace. Solace eludes me.
Wars are often domestic. In fact, those home front theatres of conflict are never-ending. 2 pints aboard and I'm walking with Jesus, as the man says. Good auld cousin Paul; eccentric, driven, so full of humanity that it brims over in every sentence and gestures. A mad, piratical Christian. He bursts into my consciousness as I collide with another cussed umbrella spoke on the interminable shopping mile of Oxford Street. A distinct cleansing of homeless punters is in evidence. Cosmetic concessions made to a the tourist classes. 2 pints takes the edge off of the raw evisceration of 8 weeks of therapy. It's been four years overdue. In that space of time I've almost completely given into my internal greys. Nearly tossed the muse over the precipice followed by myself. In short; purgatory, leavened with a love that is hard fought.
Work is my curse, my purpose and the reason that the words are remaining in the head instead of spewing onto the page with alacrity. 8 months of managing the expectations of fledgling entrepreneurs, folk singers entitled tech start-up public school poltroons, nascent artists, refugee Bob Dylan clones moonlighting as bakers, fly by night financial cowboys, imaginary rhinos, winos and lunatics, not to mention loony property visionaries with deep pockets for booze but not pay rises for overworked, underpaid, undertrained strugglers like this (supposedly) humble scribe. Truth is, I failed years ago. At everything. Wars with enemies invisible, internal and now overground. Empathy might as well be a fuckin' conditioner for dehydrated hair. I'm worn out this early on. Stab three at living in the city I swore I would never quite embrace. I'm numbed most days, despite the myriad trials on my person. Most days I would happily sleep until I'm awake and then detonate the whole rotten building I labour in. Small mercies, small mercies. I exeunt most days to worried faces, agonising over perceived micro mistakes made with the sour dough mix. Fuck's sake. I'm laughing at the self-satirising that pervades. An irony-free fire zone. I sit marooned on a cheap shite Swedish ex-Nazi's excuse for a desk as I deal with complaints that the hindmost of humanity would piss themselves over. Enough. Exeunt work. The awayday served to show up what to expect in the future. More of the same. Pantomime performances from barely animate zoo dwellers. A zed and two noughts. I've been rumbled and await my exposure. Even the Trades Hall has been infiltrated by the property porn mandarins. Working man's club about to be run into a state of insolvency then transformed by the alchemy of kapital and doomy visions of the council's granny-flogging desperados. I deal with one on a semi-regular basis. a French Canadian with an unblinking stare and a wardrobe with volume control missing from it. A vocabulary of semantic meltdown, smiling while the fabric of the experiment in post-economics crumbles around me. I've stopped trying to give a fuck. Wars. And yet I do give more than the proverbial cliché. This is an area that, to be utterly truthful, brought me back to life.
Through the muddied lens of PTSD, any region can look bleached out, lifeless, as the sufferer sleepwalks through the landscape. Clinging on, spending days under the duvet clutching the pillow in fear and then attempting to escape from the self. I was that soldier. I am that soldier. Recovery is incremental, painful, hard to iterate. And yet there is movement. More chess than some onward journey. Progress is fraught with setbacks. Walthamstow has become a mirror image of my descent into madness and ascent back to relative sanity. I remember my folding in on myself, self-harm never far from my consciousness as teenagers massed on the streets and a powder-puff riot took place over spilled McFlurry. I was travelling in and out of inner space; each day a further perimeter drift towards the verge. And then back via my partner and I’s odd penchant for neglected towns the length of the country. From Ayr to here. From Wigan to here. We’ll always have Swindon. Useful beacons on the way back from the brink. Just as the borough is having its memories overwritten by myopic town planners and the architects of the lie of austerity, there are the voices from the margins, the Greek chorus warning of the rocks that lie ahead as the siren song of notional money lulls the region into a pleasing dreamlike amnesia. Voices like those of radical filmmaker Dan Edelstyn and artist Hilary Powell. Their Debtonator documentary promises to expose the creditocracy at the heart of the austerity malaise.
Simeon in purgatory
‘I’m imploding. No one’s really listening. I’m seeing too much, hearing too much, feeling too much. My senses are heightened. I can’t rest. My bones and connective tissue loudly complain. My breathing is blocked by traffic congestion, tension and the sheer noise of all that is surrounding me. I can’t rest. One of my days off is spent sleeping, as the previous night I drank myself to sleep. The water is hard and the streets are filthy. Human waste as well as animal faeces is dotted on the landscape like effluvial confetti. The new incomers care less than the supposedly community-minded last wave. The Stoke Newington diaspora meets the Hackney one. No one really cares. People mealy-mouth concern as other don’t even bother with the charade. I sat in the workspace on Thursday last with someone I know who is of the atomised classes; me, me, me and my offspring and significant other. And then there’s the children; entitled, indulged and loud. And the pampered animals that become an extension of the lifestyle. My anger is turning inward, defeating me, making myself sick at myself. When one is already self loathing, this atmosphere just cooks the human frog a little more efficiently. There is no escape. I did go back, north, over the notional border back to the wasteland where I was bred. I was back in the departure lounge, there. If I’d stayed, I’d have withered away from the inside out. I’m like that here…all the way from where I’d been a quoted poet…to being an invisible statistic. I eventually left the workplace, no one listened and the chaos at the centre of that particular universe continued unabated. I was lost, again. I was looking for that chance, a philanthropist…someone to help…to…’
I listened, numb and unable to do much more than mouth the platitudes that I could see were part of the problem, his problem, my problem, all of our problems. Powerless, I turned away, promising him something that was really nothing. Another casualty in the present tense of gentrification and erasure. He saw through me, even as I murmured soothing words of utter uselessness. He was a Bulgarian man of letters deracinated. I too was uprooted, but only by a matter of mere miles. There was a family where he had none. He’d been on the concrete for six months now and there was little chance at a life, never mind a lifestyle here. I was seeing less of this, as people like him were denied a viewing, their pleas for poverty alleviation a crime no less in the unforgiving tarmac folds that they were occasionally allowed to lie on. I felt disgust and complicity as Simeon walked away, as I knew how close I was to being that particular soldier. No one is listening, often. We walk amongst the bungled and debauched, the half-living and worry about spreadsheets and our next mini break. I caught sight of Simeon’s retreating body. That disgust hung like a pall all weekend and into the week. Some that ill wind of change entered my bones too. Wretched pangs of guilt and unease spread through my own mortal remains, although I had somewhere to go, somewhere warm. Our colliding back stories reminded me of my own powerlessness. I was warm by dint of fortune and bluff. My own work was nothing more than pushing a burden of admin up a Sisyphean hill, whilst the loony visionaries at the top continued to add to their portfolio unabated and unaffected by what happened on the ground. Helicopter vision. Hovering over the chaos as the underpaid proles swept the crap underground. Maybe I too had had enough of the sheer noise of the city. The unforgiving, never sleeping hive.
Maybe I’m undead too.
One feature of the idea of zombie capitalism is the undead component. Thatcher famously slept for two or three hours a night. That insomniac, nay monomaniacal vision brought with it a pathological lack of empathy. Most days, we are walking among the undead. Undead bankers and property tycoons, lizard-handshake/linen suited shark-eyed. Sharks never stop moving. Someone I knew how worked for the Home Office once had dealings with Michael Heseltine and observed that he had an unblinking, milky shark-gaze. ‘Get me China’ he once scrawled on a memo as a trade demand to his adjutant. That Oxford Union committee entitlement super-charged by the Friedman inspired economics of the era he became undead in. That is the chilling aspect, entitlement breeding hyper-entitlement. We’re now living off of the fumes of that era. Hoe Street is an emblem of that; too poor currently at the Bell Corner end, tracking slowly towards Ye Olde Rose and Crown, chicken shops condemned by environmental health only to re-open a fortnight later. Poverty fodder. Beyond that, the economic experiments of Central Parade and adjacent The Scene; a cluster-bomb of aspiration. Chain food outlets and apartments already smutty with the fumes from the street below. Colliding narratives again as the stall holders on the High Street once again have their rents raised. Pizza Express versus fresh fruit and affordable clothing. The High Street has three Poundlands, two Argos and two Lidl stores. A mere half mile away Walthamstow Village has the most expensive Spar in the city. Reminiscent of a micro Glasgow Effect. Home haunts even at the fringes of the Capital. Life expectancies will vary, terms and conditions apply.
Nostalgia might be the most dangerous of legal highs. That notion of a golden age, or the evocation of a long-dead dream can taunt after the effect has worn off. The age of the simulacra. Drink is sometimes the most nostalgic of all toxins. It is socially acceptable, readily available and often packaged in the sheep’s clothing of an invented past; the micro-brewed ale, the artisan gin, the malt whisky brand owned by a Thai billionaire. Simulacra. With any elective form of dementia, it has its risks and hazards. The national character owes an unwanted debt to alcohol in all its guises. Dyspeptic, jovial, violent, bucolic, bellicose, drunkenly romantic in the clothing of the serial rapist. A heady and hallucinatory stew of influences that often gather together at the watering hole. The last meets the least at the footrail of the bar. Riots in Wetherspoons.
Where once stood actual bakers there now exists invented versions with bread at three times the price. Nostalgia. Simulacra. People frantically trying to paddle back to the past that never existed in the first place. Hoe Street is holding out, but gradually the acid of invented pasts is corroding with their empty promises. The future is here, the future’s hollow. A Pyongyang false hotel front that hides the famine. Las Vegas on a quantum scale. Gaze under Walthamstow’s skirts and see nothing. A vacuum. Nature may be said to abhor a vacuum, but is fast becoming a vacuum. Viewing its slow, cancerous progress is not for the casual voyeur. It’s one for the necrophiles. And yet there is a liberal puritanism in all of this, somehow. The cladding, again, deceives. The politics are distinctly and visibly liberal, all the right noises appear to be made and yet the developers are still eating up the fabric of Walthamstow, encroaching, forever changing the manor. I often get earthbound seasickness on the tarmac of Hoe Street. Hope is sold as confectionary and soothing art. The future has already been bought. We’re already living in the dreams of others.