Friday, February 11, 2005

Up The Elephant and Round The Castle

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Walking home through the Elephant and Castle a few nights ago, I encountered an interesting dilemma.
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Having grown up for the last 40 years with the Elephant and Castle as part of my life I must confess to not being its greatest fan. It's a vile, dangerous place. The Elephant and Castle holds the dubious honour of being one of the very great, dare I say legendary, true London cr*p holes.
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There are those who don’t share this opinion. To some, the name conjures up a kind of South London Cockney authenticity and romance. These guys are about 50 years too late. There was a South London Cockney authenticity and romance about the place but that was utterly obliterated in the 1960s, when the ghastly shopping centre, road and tunnel system that occupies site was constructed.
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I came across this description on the web recently …
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I visited the Elephant at Christmas after 3 months away living in America. I emerged from the Northern line tube exit, turned the corner to the left and suddenly I couldn't get over how great it smelled to me - maybe just because it was my home for so long. Caribbean food, fish and chips, diesel fumes from the many buses, dust, perfume and styling wax and bodies - all so vibrant and thoroughly energetic. The stalls around the shopping centre are ripe for bargains, and for people watching. Look, I'm not delusional - Elephant's no picture but if you want to get around by bus in south London, the likelihood is you'll be passing through, so why not stop for a minute, browse the stalls or the second hand bookstore in the shopping centre, buy a coffee and indulge in London at it's realest.
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This guy isn’t delusional, he's certifiable. He's also missed out some of the more important smells.
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Anyway, I had a meal a few nights ago with Tracy in the City and we, I, decided to walk home together rather than take the bus. Even though Christmas was weeks past, there were still some Christmas decorations dangling from high places around the shopping centre. In fairness to Lambeth Council they don't normally need to make arrangements to remove the decorations after Christmas as most are stolen, defaced or destroyed long before the traditional twelve days are up. I'm not sure what went wrong this year. Maybe it was too cold.
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I've always found the idea of decorating the Elephant quite an amusing idea; akin to sticking a stripey birthday candle in a dog turd. But, on the other hand, I suppose it's nice that people at least pretend some semblance of normal life takes place round there. The best Elephant and Castle decorating wheeze was a few years ago now. Short of the resources to do the decent thing and napalm the entire area, some bright spark came up instead with the idea of repainting the crumbling asbestos and plasterboard surrounding the shopping centre a bright shade of pink. Several pink elephant statuettes were also positioned at key strategic points around the complex. What was the intended message? The Elephant is a fun place to be? You must be pissed to be here? God knows. Since then there's been another paint job. Clearly, the pink thing didn’t go down well as it has now been replaced with a disturbing shade of red that I have only ever seen used at the Elephant and certain fast food restaurants with restricted eat-in facilities.
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Anyway, back to my dilemma. Walking past the surviving Christmas decorations Tracy commented that this meant bad luck for the Elephant for the next year or so. What she, of course, meant was worse luck for the next year or so. And then I noticed that she was acting a little nervous.
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Now, the thing is, being South London born and bred, and unemployed, my clothing was rigged South London style. South London style involves wearing no single item that cost more than £10 and sporting a proper unshaven look. Not the kind of sissy unshaven look that you get between Friday night and Monday morning. No, we're talking eight day stubble, the kind of look that simply oozes 'I could not possibly have a job looking like this. I have no money'. The very epitome of the South London look is to hold a single can of lager in one hand at waist level and look 'dodgy'.
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Actually, armed with the can of lager you could be wearing a immaculately pressed three piece morning suit and still blend in, chameleon-like with your South London surroundings. I would be able to take the most stunning candid photographs of South London street life if only I could figure out a way to use my camera whilst holding a can of beer in one hand at regulatory crotch height. Single Can of Lager Man, 'living life one can at a time', will certainly be a major character in any book I get round to writing. Maybe he'll be a Super Hero. Maybe he'll save the World. Whatever he does, he'll always have his beer with him, but never any more than one serving at any time.
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But Tracy is in work and, because she had met me straight after work, was clean shaven, smartly dressed and, worst of all carrying a handbag.
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That's why she was nervous.
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'Shit! You've come out with a handbag! Why didn't you buy a new mobile phone and wear some jewellery while you were at it you muppet! ... We're dead!'
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I thought.
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Now we come onto my dilemma.
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Naturally, I offered to carry her handbag for her.
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Which resulted in me looking like some kind of middle-aged nonce, mincing down the Kennington Park Road.
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What to do? Leave the handbag with the girlfriend and put her at risk of a mugging or, carry her handbag, be mistaken for an aged poove and get twatted accordingly?
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We decided to compromise and switched the bag a couple of times for the next mile or so depending of the perceived nature of any immediate potential threat.
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You wouldn't have this kind of fun in the shires would you.
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Right, enough of this. I'm going to dust off my inkjet and start knocking up some really nasty commemorative Charles and Camilla souvenirs to sell to mug Jap punters tomorrow in Hyde Park. Some mugs maybe.
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4 comments:

Kate said...

Jesus, and I thought Hackney was the rough end. Damn, you one funny man :D

Stef said...

Kudos to Hackney, that's a scary place too and I porbably wouldn't want to stroll around with a handbag in that part of town either.

Funny? You haven't even see me try to dance ...

Northun Munki in Oxford Circus said...

Elephant and Castle is certainly a hole...

Stef said...

metaphorically, yes

literally, unfortunately not