Camberwell Chronicles

Water doesn’t go down the plughole anticlockwise when you’re south of the river, but if you’re toilet’s blocked the council will send out a plumber to sort it in hours, even when you’re a leaseholder.

There’s a heavy cigarette tax if you’re caught smoking at the busstop at the top of Camberwell New Road. I still don’t feel quite comfortable anywhere round here after dark, and I try to break it down: R’s experiences (which itself could be broken down into influence on perception, and solidarity in recognising the reality of the threat of violence); an inability to judge levels and types of threat (people who look hard; people who might cause trouble; people who might want to rob you); and perhaps an element of racism (I hope not).

When I come home at about three on Friday night, kids are still sitting on the wall opposite, outside the youth centre. R says this is what summer holidays are like, when they finish school, and she’s always reminded and amazed what a tight leash they’re on during termtime.

E who lives in the flat upstairs is beginning her cycle of madness. When I return from Shepherd’s Bush she’s playing loud music late into the night and early in the morning. She shouts at the music, loudly: her voice echoes, sounds as if it comes from outside rather than muffled through the floor above; these flats have hard floors. Sometimes there are periods of silence (R says she hears her shouting that she wants to kill herself, and the relief of silence is always tainted with anxiety). She throws things from her flat into the courtyard below: bags of rubbish and a kettle.

The same music, over and over again; R&B, hip-hop, the same phrases and hooks repeated. When I come home on Saturday evening the music has been replaced by what sounds like a piece of stuck machinery: a short cycle of hum and thud. Then the music starts again, then the humming and thudding. When I look out the window later on, her front door and several bags of rubbish have been hurled into the courtyard, but the music and howling goes on as I go to sleep and the howling continues when I wake up. Then there’s silence. When I go out to the shops on Sunday afternoon I notice that her front door is boarded up.

If she’s been taken away, it won’t be the first time. The police don’t always cover the doorway after they break in. I hope she’s OK.

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