Being: the third in a series of posts about John Smith and Edmund Bagwell’s top British horror comic Cradlegrave.

I know one thing – they’re out there and I’m in here. Or rather, we are. Burrowed into precariously rented homes, needing increasingly mutilated services, awaiting mail that brings nothing but threats and bad news, painfully aware that social participation is as demanding of contacts, salesmanship and resources as much as livable employment, vaguely bewildered at a city that announces NOT FOR YOU from every corner: This is the Condition of the Working Class in Bizarro Town. Occasionally supermarkets, burger bars and pasty chains beckon for our devalued labour; if we can demonstrate the ‘right attitude’ (note: I can’t). Failing that, providers of job-seeking ‘services’ extract their own value promising to train us in the ‘right attitude’ and mandatory salesmanship. Otherwise we can shut the fuck up, get off the streets, and watch TV shows informing us that we’re scum. Or, as far as one’s amour propre can allow, talk to faceless strangers on machines that mine and collect details of every careless utterance. This is how neoliberalism ends: Not with a bang, but whimpering, numbing Dystopian cliche. A design against life.

(Pere Lebrun, A Hungry Gorge)

1931 Alex and Amy married and came to live at 11 Findhorn Street, Riddrie, east Glasgow: one of the earliest and best planned housing schemes built under the Wheatley Act, the only equalitarian measure passed by the first Labour government elected in 1924…

This scheme contained most things its inhabitants could need; two small shopping centres with baker, butcher, fishmonger, grocer, barber, newsagent-tobacconist, sweatshop, fish-and-chip shop, chemist; two Protestant churches, one of architectural merit; a Protestant primary school, splendid public library, a bowling green and allotments; also (on the other side of the Cumbernauld Road) two large cinemas, a Catholic church and primary school. The western half of the scheme was three storey tenements, the eastern was semi­detached villas, but many gardens, a tree-lined boulevard, the nearby park and a craggy knoll crowned with big old trees gave it a suburban, even rural feeling compared to Bridgeton, my parents’ pre-marital home. Bridgeton was a working-class district that was not a slum, but a place where families of any size lived in two-room flats, the largest room being a kitchen with one cold-water tap, a fire range for all heating and cooling, and a bed recess. The other room was usually much smaller. There were communal lavatories on the communal stair, and municipal bathhouses for those who paid to wash in warm water.

(Alasdair Gray, Curriculum Vitae)

People look tireder on this side of things. More aged & used-up. They’re having a harder time of it. It only takes a day or two to realise how privileged & unworn our faces are compared to theirs. Bus station cafe in a suburb of the provincial capital: I was served by a man with a string of saliva hanging from his chin. He had been eating something before I got his attention. In the corner table by the window, one of their transport police was undergoing a kind of role-playing interview, during which he had to demonstrate to the assessor how he would deal with various passenger situations, for instance how would he get someone to stop smoking here in the cafe ? “Here in the cafe ?” “Yes, here. I’m lighting up now, at this table.” Well, that wasn’t a difficult one. He had been taught to end each scenario with calming platitudes like, “Alright mate ? Cheers, mate!”

(M John Harison, Imaginary Fiction)

As one resident put it: “That community has been decimated. It was so callous and I’m truly disgusted.” What is happening here is a classic example of state-sponsored gentrification, of the transfer of public assets into private hands. What is proposed is the demolition of an inner-city housing estate and its replacement with something of much higher density, with far less open space and with no council housing. What there is, is a percentage of “affordable housing” – a vague, legally meaningless phrase that can mean anything from studio flats to key worker homes, but certainly doesn’t guarantee Heygate tenants will be rehoused.

And when they finally are, maybe some time in 2020, what will it look like? Examples are all around of the miserable, yet grinning regeneration tat that awaits. Across the road from the Heygate is a nasty block clad in Trespa, a thin, tinny material used to make concrete frames enclosing tiny flats look bright and shiny; nearby is Strata, a flashy tower with three non-functional wind turbines at the top, aimed squarely at the luxury market. As against the Heygate’s unfashionable simplicity, it’s a building that takes the Bruce Grobbelaar approach to design: making the easy – a tall tower of apartments – look fiendishly difficult; a cluttered and clumsy design that was the deserved winner of Building Design’s Carbuncle Cup award for the worst building constructed in 2010. The Heygate, harsh as it may seem, treats its residents as adults and serves a much-needed social function: keeping low-income families in the centre of London. The regeneration that aims to erase it is marked by the infantile, jolly aesthetic that so often accompanies acts of class-cleansing today. Southwark is becoming Shirley Porter’s Westminster, clad in timber and Trespa.

(Owen Hatherly, After the Heygate estate, a grey future awaits)

The company keeps you

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 29, 1938. Message to congress

Bulldog Spirit!





Diggers and Snatchers

PART 1 – 15 Thoughts About Fear and Cradlegrave

PART 2 – Staring Through Her Mother’s Eyes

PART 3 – Ghosts of the Cradlegrave Estate

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