37 years

The church – its big black crows and magpies – was one of the reasons I came here. That, and the old asylum out the back. I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge pillars, From Rome I thought, and the blue neon sign across the top saying Everything’s going to be alright. I believed it right away. I felt better. So I said I’ll buy it and moved in two months later. You can’t go wrong, said a friend, that bit of London’s on the up, you can only win. As it turned out, they were right. Doubled in price. I thought I was delighted. But looking back, things started to go wrong very quickly. The neon sign was taken down within a year. My guarantee gone, I wondered who it was that didn’t want everything to be alright. Then the fishmonger closed down and transformed a week later into a fastfood takeaway. I tried to persuade others to sign a petition but noone could imagine how it might work. Then the barber’s disappeared, its easy chat twenty-four-seven packed up and parcelled away for ever. It was replaced by a pale bookshop stocking the same books as Borders and Waterstones and hosting Alain de Botton on a Wednesday evening. (He’ll be talking about work, a bit of a sore point in this part of the country.) When I asked what happened to the barber’s she said, They were given first offer you know, it’s not like I pushed them out. And now Trevor. He’s going too. And with him, Tapper Zukie and the islands of the Caribbean will quickly fade from the minds of residents. It’s the rates and the rent and the red lines, he told me. They want to fill it with restaurants, like Church Street, so it’s time for us to leave. He takes my poster to Save the NHS from corporate cash and sticks it to his smashed shop window front. All we can do, he advises, is remind our children that it’s the government telling us that postcodes matter, and it’s the government getting them all into gangs and wotnot. He holds a hand out over the top of his high yellow desk, Why haven’t we met before? Gently rhetorical, neither of us can utter another word because we’ve only just recognised our nostalgia for the present and for each other. Not each other as individuals but for the miserable geographical space we know, that is in our memory already and which is going to be destroyed.

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