Lady Thatcher’s Bastards

Iain Sinclair

A year ago, made tame by viral invasion, I wandered listlessly through the arctic wilderness of the Stonebridge Estate in Haggerston, in the company of a strategically-bearded photographer sent by this journal He had recently returned from a sharp-eyed raid on Eastern Europe and was enjoying the sense of recognition, the familiar after-images, triggered by these survivals. In a dream, the cancelled estates of Hackney were seamlessly twinned with some Stalinist wonderland. He couldn’t miss. He could point his Leica in any direction. A rough, snot-ice cladding had transformed the tenement hulks into a Gaudi cathedral: Pentonville draped in a septic wedding dress. It was the last of times. Elegantly patterned prints from the soles of our boots would soon be eradicated by the caterpillar tracks of bulldozers. Rivulets from burst pipes, clinking lianas, muted the defiant calligraphy that defaced these walls. Monster slogans in braille aimed at the wilfully blind. Demands. Complaints. Curses. This was not the work of a coven of Class War anarchists but the frantic message-in-a-bottle charter of humans at the end of their tether: marooned exiles who had nothing left beyond a collaboration with the masonry that held them prisoner. The message the dwellings tapped out was simple: ‘tear us down.’ The white lettering was a suicide note.

The photographer found a window slit in which to execute my ringing head in a cage of stalactites. I perched on tiptoe above the shifting slithering carpet of a flooded khazi that some trainee heritage pirate had tried to chisel free of its moorings. Then got the hell out. Home. Past the squatted shell of the Black Bull with its ‘No Evictions’ banner, through the Blank Generation extras waiting for nothing in the boarded-up shopping precinct, ducking into Muggers’ Alley alongside the decommissioned post office. To my Mid-Victorian terrace, an enclave of class criminals: infant teachers, retired delivery men, art historians and other assorted chancers who had invaded the borough over the last quarter of a century. And who were now clearly in a state of pre-traumatic shock as they waited for an unnecessary valentine from the local Class War cadre. ‘Unnecessary’ because many of these twitchy fly-by-nights were already desperate to get out. If only that were possible. The street was a Dunsinane of estate agents’ placards. Domestic tranquillity ravished by the repeated tithes of crack raiders with a bad video habit. We had listened obediently to divisive ‘them and us’ diatribes so many times before. ‘I work my arse off every day, because of ... scum like them. The sooner we make these bastards fuck off out of our area the better.’ The tired phrases playback in loops of hate. Once they were given an apocalyptic spin by Enoch Powell, and now they are smoothed by the in-flight rhetoric of hatchet-headed Essex men. The original keyholders of these terraces parroted the same sentiments, word for word, before decamping to the fringes of Epping Forest. An incoming tide of ‘coloureds’, group-purchasing multiple occupiers, was making it impossible for genuine white pie ‘n’ mash Hackney folk to acquire property.

It was on the Stonebridge Estate, six years ago, that a woman was discovered keeping company with the skeleton of her brother, who had been, in the words of Russ Lawrence of the Hackney Gazette, ‘propped up in an armchair’. She had conducted her life with the decaying corpse for six months, transfixed in a ghastly conversation piece, unremarked by the mundane world that surrounded her. Now, in December 1991, the woman, Hilda Kietel, made her second front-page appearance in the neighbourhood fright-sheet. She was found lying naked, except for a shawl tugged about her shoulders, under a kitchen table. She had been there for about a month. An inspection of the premises revealed no carpet, no linoleum, no cooker, no cup, no plate, no spoon. The cupboards were bare. She had been without heat or light for nearly three years. The gas supply had been disconnected at her own request. She made no reply to numerous letters form the Electricity Board. Circulars offering easy-payment schemes and coloured brochures touting the latest hi-tech innovations were messages from an alien universe.

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