It is clear that nothing new is ever built well. Indeed, but it’s the line on the Clissold Leisure Centre that got me thinking. It is true: it fell apart just like everything else these days. Families, banks, children’s new toys, the plastic boxes that contain Woolies’ discount Christmas cards, Oyster card wallets, the boxes that package 16 tampons, homes, schools, cars (my mother in law’s 4-year-old Peugeot engine crumbled after 13,800 miles and they refused to reimburse her or do anything that might have qualified as nice), roll-ups, toasters bought after 1985, taps, shower fittings, colourful china door handles with designs tentatively labelled ‘ethnic’, John Lewis scales for weighing the human body, slices of bread, universities, tarmac roads, bus stops, unions, job contracts, mobile phones, nations, old ladies’ hips, aeroplanes… Guns probably fall apart these days too. Cheap loo roll. Pavements. Language. Laptops. Cemeteries, even.
But the other day, I was swimming at a sister centre to the Clissold Leisure Centre. That woman was there again, my arch rival. I left the pool, as usual before she did, and walked to the changing rooms. A class of teenagers was getting undressed, and most of the changing rooms were occupied. The one I found was towards the back, the furthest row from the showers. I dropped my clothes onto the bench and as I started peeling the black wet glove from my body, became aware of a smell that made me think of shit. I opened the door, one hand holding my costume up, and looked down the corridor of white doors and pale blue plastic grip-mat. No one. So I turned around and was about to step back into my cubicle when I noticed a sizeable pile of solid dark brown human faeces under the small bench on top of which my clothes were piled. How did someone manage to bend down there? was the first thought that crossed my mind. The second was, Why did they do this to me? Paranoia helping me assume that a stranger had known that I would go into this cubicle. So that’s why all the doors are shut: they led me here. I grabbed the clothes, the towel, and my shoes, and backed out. Who is watching me? Why have kids picked on me? Kids tend to weed the weirdos from the crowd. How did they know? Perhaps it was an adult. Perhaps it was her?
I told a person wearing a blue T-shirt with STAFF written across her breasts. She thanked me and went to look, to check I wasn’t making the story up. Perhaps she’s thinking it was me. A few minutes later a chunky man appeared in a blue tracksuit. He had a bucket and was wearing thin plastic gloves – the kind dog owners use to poop a scoop – and had a cheery shine in his eyes. He went into the cubicle briskly, and reappeared in less than ten seconds perhaps, still as cheery. He went down another corridor and I waited for him to come back. But he didn’t. I waited for five minutes, increasingly self-conscious about my quest to see the shit scrubbed up. But no one came. Was it so dry he didn’t need to scrub the floor? I’ve thought about this all week. And now I’ve started swimming at the lido on London Fields. The changing rooms are open plan – like modern day offices. Skinny, pale women with tufty pubic hair strip in a matter-of-fact way. It would be hard to defecate there.
So how did I get to this? The solidity of every day life, I thought, as I read IT. Faeces is at least not flimsy. Should I really be writing this on a blog? What will people think? Do I care? Not right now, no… but who knows about tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that…
There was something else. Ever since credit crunch (itself a disturbingly infantile-friendly way to describe what is going on on planet earth, like ginger crunch cookies), I’ve been feeling deeply ashamed about the number of times I have pondered the debt of Angola and certain other countries in Africa that I am familiar with (I’m not saying Third World debt because I’ve rarely thought about lots of countries as a group). I’ve thought a lot about the financial mismanagement of Angola, in particular, and about its indebtedness and risky reliance on high (now medium) oil prices. It wasn’t until about 2001 that I really thought about First World debt, specifically US debt. It wasn’t until 9/11 that I started to see just how indebted the States was (and today, is even more so). And it wasn’t until 2001, the year I returned from living in Luanda to live in London, that I realised how many things in common London and Luanda and Angola and Britain have. One of the biggest ones being that everything these days falls apart.
Zedu, the president, would open a school that had been built with the funds of his special foundation, FESA, and a few months later the same school would sink. Just like Cherie and IT’s place of work. This year – when I was back in that wonderful place – a friend took me to a slum. We drove along a beautiful tarmac road in the middle of the neighbourhood of corrugated iron shackland and he told me that the road had been built in time for a minister’s visit. It will have fallen apart by the end of the next rainy season, my friend said. Indeed. I’ve seen many a road in Angola that has fallen apart come the first rainy season. Ruas do MPLA, people say and laugh. Just like IT and her Nu-Labour buildings. At least, I thought this morning, shit does not fall apart like that. How strange we wish to make things that do.
Those that don’t include these people I’ve been watching on this kuduro video thanks to MM over at Sean Jacob’s Leo Africanus blog. And I’ve been eating Heinz tomato soup.