Monday, March 14, 2011
The Dreaming Tower Blocks of Barking
A friend from Florida is visiting England at the moment. She's been busy posting lots of quaint pictures of Canterbury cathedral on Facebook.
Bizarrely there's probably enough American in me now to do the same, although I'd draw the line at Buckingham Palace, otherwise known as the world's most expensive lunatic asylum.
Still I find it funny that my friend's experience of England will be nothing like my own. Because for every visit to a stately home, every overpriced hedge maze or quaint pub, there was a visit to Blockbuster in Barking.
For the record Barking is the east London borough closest to where I used to live. I valued Barking because it made me realize there was somewhere worse than my home.
To prove it I'd take a brisk walk occasionally over the graffiti-bound iron bridge up Barking Creek (without a paddle) and past the tower blocks where lots of shell shocked asylum seekers from Kosovo would stare at me grimly.
But normally I'd drive to Blockbuster because it was only a two minute walk down a concrete street strewn with dog mess, an alley where kids were smoking crack and a pub where exceedingly loose women used to hang out, mostly out of their tops and out of the window while guys with cigarettes cussed each other out over the snooker table.
At least in the relative safety of Blockbuster I'd breathe more easily knowing the only danger here was being sold an overlarge bag of M&Ms and a crappy video by the kids there who thought the only things worth watching involved Kung Fu.
Barking had very little going for it. If the streets of London were paved wth gold, the streets of Barking were paved with chewing gum.
It also stank with the odor of a vast sewage treatment works down on the Thames. There were people who lived down there on the wrong side of the landfill, hollow eyed in cavernous concrete spaces like the towers in Clockwork Orange, although these were actually south of the Thames.
Nor was it easy to escape from Barking. Driving east you would keep going for miles through the largest council estate in Europe in Dagenham, and the Ford plant that no longer made cars, just parts of them.
Beyond Dagenham was Rainham, the most sorry assed run down and ragged apology for a town in London and beyond that a host of nefarious concrete monstrosities in Essex, such as Basildon, the 'new town' whose inhabitants are as wide as the M-25 and twice as dense.
There's something, but not everything to be said for the Essex steryotype where men are tattoed and sell second hand cars and girls have peroxide roots and spend a lot of time in the back of them.
Barking is where London and Essex meet. I doubt very much if my friend will clap eyes on its pale tower blocks emerging from the green murk of an East London morning, or its scruffy little street market selling knock off towels.
I'll concede there are some hidden attrations; a small church where Captain Cook got married and the Bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg.
But since he didn't accept my Facebook request I ain't doin' no favors for him am I? Unless you count posting Between the Wars.