Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Change Of Use

When I first moved to Dovecot Towers, the surrounding alleys were occasionally frequented by shady men, ducking and diving and wheeler-dealing. They didn’t bother me, and I never bothered them. Sometimes, I’d overhear the terminology of their trade, stray words like: ‘…grams…’ ‘…brown…’ or ‘….tabs….’

Originally cars were ordinary muddy family saloons, selected to deflect attention, but over time, such modest vehicles were replaced with enormous 4x4’s (still no Porsches though – too obvious?) The language of this new commerce is similar, but of a different dialect, even if the noble tradition of conducting business from the back seat was retained.

New generation businessmen wear suits instead of designer leisure wear, and park their cars to haggle over penthouses and balconies, not pills and powder. Somehow though, both types of transaction seem equally illicit. These new entrepreneurs also employ young runners who slip from car to car relaying messages, while spotting traffic wardens for a game of cat and mouse. I gather that discounts are negotiated in tens of thousands.

Round the back of Dovecot Towers, business is also undergoing transformation. Until recently, the padlocked yards, stranded lock-ups, converted railway arches and orphaned garages crackled and sparked with focussed mayhem from light, local industry. We had no convenience shop close by, but ready access to a pipe welder, a brake repair service, and a small carpentry work-shop.

The nearest pub is up for sale. Owners had locked horns with residents of the surrounding ‘luxury’ flats. Karaoke evenings and an Elvis impersonator are fine, unless you live in a new conversion with wafer thin walls. There was clearly something of a culture clash; men resembling either Mitchell Brother would gather outside, bristling with unfocussed rage. They dressed in T shirts even on a frosty winter night, and held their cigarettes defiantly aloft whilst struggling to restrain squat, muscular dogs. The police patrol car was a fixture.

Admittedly, that pub is scary and rough. Neighbouring residents objected to the licence renewal. It will be taken over, sanitised or civilised, then turned into a gastro pub, or a convincingly authentic real ale hostelry, with an artisan cheese ploughman’s and guest beers. The karaoke will become less heartfelt, and more ironic.

Once there was a car park up the road, next to derelict waste ground (both now covered in new-builds) where local kids ran amok, lighting fires and burning cars. A walk under the railway bridges entailed dodging loose bowelled pigeons, a journey made even more terrifying perhaps because of the previously mentioned amenities.

Local services still consist of sandwich shops provisioning the multitude of builders, offering pungent bacon doorsteps, pies, ‘tuner-mayo’ barms, and a full English breakfast which induces a stroke if you so much as mention it aloud. I don’t expect these older shops will survive. They’ll be replaced by delicatessens, a florist, then a Cafe Nero, and a Tesco Metro. With more people and more homes, the surrounding area will seem less bleak. But who will mend our brakes and weld our pipes?

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