Letter From Londonrnby Derrick TurnerrnThe End of thernEast End?rnLate one night recently, after pub closingrntime, I walked through the back streetsrnof Whitechapel again, something I hadrnnot done for several years. The sight ofrnthe familiar streets and the old smellsrnand sounds reminded me of the sixrnmonths when I had lodged there, duringrnwhich time I had grown to knowrnthe area intimately. From my window,rnI could clearly see the dim outlinernof Hawksmoor’s 1714 masterpiece,rnChristchurch, all Portland Masonic solidity,rnone architect’s homage to another.rnAs the sun set, I would see its reflectionrnin my open bedroom window, as thoughrnanother Christchurch had materialized arnlittle to the east, floating, riding serenelyrnabove the buffeting, increasingly Islamicrnstreets carrying its secret freight ofrnHuguenot, Hellenist aspirations. Whenrnit was dark, I would still be able to see itsrnlit clock dial and hear its sonorous bells.rnI was always struck by the contrast betweenrnthis calm vision and the days thatrnI spent in the heaving, thrumming PetticoatrnLane and Brick Lane markets nearby,rnlooking for old Everyman editions,rncarefully avoiding the piles of old shoes,rnbroken teapots, electrical extensionrnleads, polyester ties, and the matted-hairrnstreet-dwellers and their cider cans.rnChristchurch was not the only calm,rnattractive image in Stepney—there werernother outposts, strange small survivals—rnlike the toothless Cockney woman, whornwould sit in the ancient armchair, obliviousrnto the polyglot noise, lost in reverie,rnperhaps thinking of nights of dancing tornJoe Loss at the Empire. She would sitrnthere below a St. George’s flag that thernyoung man managing the stall (her son?)rnhad set defiantly flying above thernmelange, her bandaged feet surroundedrnby damp-spotted 1930’s textbooks onrnElementary Chemistry, Concordancesrnwithout covers, and recipe books showingrnsmiling 1970’s women with heavyrnmascara—the spent energy and accumulatedrncapital of past generations—arnnever-ending line of books inscribed “ExrnLibris Jonathan D.L. Peabody,” “Presentedrnby Old Hayworth ScripturernUnion, 14th. IX, 1897,” or “To Louisernfrom Granny with love, Christmas,rn1975.”rnAnd there were even minor reclamationsrnof lost territories, like SpitalfieldsrnUrban Farm—farm animals reclaimingrnat least a small part of vanished Middlesex.rnI particularly remember the tinyrnbaby goats, digging their sharp hoovesrninto me as they tried to suck my fingers,rnleaving long trails of nibbling, sweet saliva,rnrubbing their rough heads joyfullyrnagainst my hand, and the scruffy pigeons,rndegraded descendants of escapeesrnfrom medieval dovecotes, picking at spiltrngrain on the cobbles.rnThe rooster belonging to the man whornkept hens across the road would wakernme up every evocative morning, and Irnwould look out across the golden-tintedrnroofscape and draw in my breath deeplyrnin inchoate anticipation. The finernHuguenots’ houses, of which Spitalfieldsrnhas very many, all now being rescued andrngentrified, added proportion and restrainedrnbeauty to even the worst streetsrnand made you look up, to where racingrnclouds reminded you that the openrnspaces and fresh air of Essex were only anrnhour away, at the end of the DistrictrnLine. If you looked in through the windowsrnof one of these houses as yournpassed, you would see a pastel vision ofrnperfect order, a perfect combination ofrnfunction and form, from high skirtingrnboard to airy ceiling. All around yournwere the areas and streets whose namesrnyou have heard so often they are part ofrnyour folk-memory. Here in these frenetic,rnnarrow, long-suffering streets werernborn the soldiers, sailors, workers, andrnempire-builders of Britain—and all thisrnfive minutes’ walk away from the SquarernMile, where the world’s biggest companies’rnmanicured employees sweltered inrnsome of the most expensive office spacernin the world.rnI would often walk for hours in thernarea between the Bethnal Green Roadrnand Canary Wharf, along desertedrnstreets of warehouses and old LondonrnCounty Council flats, legacies of therngreat philanthropic experiment begunrnby the Victorians, down narrow echoingrnalleys and churchyards become publicrnparks, through a sad, secret country ofrnempty, dirty streets and dark trees. Irnloved St. Dunstan’s at Stepney, thernmanor given to the Bishops of London inrn604, with its Saxon rood, 14th-centuryrnrelief of the Annunciation and its inscribedrnstone from Carthage: “Timernconsumes all: it spareth none”—a mottornthat might well be an epitaph for thernwhite Briton in this area, where now thernbrown Muslim is king. Parts of the arearnaround Whitechapel are 90 to 95 percentrnBengali. The street names are bilingual,rnthe political parties sometimes dornnot even bother translating their campaignrnliterature into English, and yourncan hear the drone of the muezzin allrnSaturday long. It is a little like being arnMadrileno, looking down upon thernthousands of campfires on the Camporndel Moro—and you cannot help thinkingrnhow it may have been in Constantinoplernin 1452.rnI remember walks in the middle of thernnight, across Commercial Street, wherernhaggard prostitutes would eye me uprnhopefully, or hold furtive conversationsrnthrough car windows with partly shadowedrnmen, awful in the green and redrnlights from the car dashboard, alongrnWinthrop Street, possibly the mostrnderelict place in London, with its line ofrntoppling corrugated iron fence and defenestratedrnbuildings, and cobbles coveredrnin motor oil. Perhaps Jack the Ripperrnmight have walked, or run, alongrnhere, aghast at the enormity of himself,rnthe wind picking up behind him, as behindrnme now making the fences creakrnand move, with blank-eyed Alsatianrnguard dogs throwing themselves fiercelyrnagainst trembling back gates. I saw arnscrawny fox along here once; we stoppedrndead, to stare at each other, and then hernducked through a hole in the crazy-leaningrnfence of a breaker’s yard.rnToward Bethnal Green, I would turnrnand go under the dank bridge at ThreernColts Corner, across the field wherernhouses had been before Hitler’s bombs,rnno sound but the rushing of wind inrnbramble and dockweed, shadowy horsesrnlooming up, and sneezing startlingly inrnthe hot wind. Above the railway line, anrnavant-garde artist had erected a hugernfiberglass pistol held in a huge fiberglassrnhand, pointing toward the city, a protestrnagainst high finance, but looking like arnprotest against and a threat to the wholerncivil Western world. Passing and repassingrnunder the menacing gun, late-night,rnlozenge-lit trains from Liverpool Streetrnfull of relocated East Enders would rushrnby toward Essex as though escaping.rnDerrick Turner is the editor o/^ RightrnNow!, published in London.rn48/CHRONICLESrnrnrn