*An interview conducted with a resident from the troubled 'Golden Lane' estate
There is no ‘Golden Lane’. Yes, it’s marked in all the maps, wedged between the fortress of the Barbican Estate on the south side and Old Street along its northernmost perimeter. Likewise, it is marked on street signs and addresses, just as if it was really there - mail is delivered, taxes are paid. People go in and out of buildings as though they were really real. But that is during the day. During the day it is always easy enough to misconstrue everything and, to the casual onlooker, the conceit is successful enough; this place, this substitute, functions just as well as the real Golden Lane would have done – if not better in some respects. But all this is literally neither here nor there; ‘Golden Lane’ is now merely a subterfuge – an empty signifier of the thing itself.
[My decision to explore Golden Lane in detail was first prompted by a series of rumours I had heard around town, all of which were hostile, denigrating the area as ‘separatist’ – as though Golden Lane was in the process of being annexed by some form of rogue political movement unique to the estate. Rumour is an indispensable indicator of popular opinion and carries its own pragmatic importance during a crisis of this kind, and thus I have made every effort to accurately record the conjectures of people even when they are fantastical indeed.]
I begin my first study in Paul Street at the northeast edge of the subject area in an attempt to access Golden Lane directly. This area does seem to be more heavily fortified in contrast to the south London locations I have been charting recently, and my approach was immediately hindered by a cordon - constructed in an amateurish fashion - from Herras fencing panels which block each of the four exits to the adjacent roads. It is inaccessible from any direction, save for climbing over the fences – which is easier said than done – and I am forced to re-think my strategy for getting to Golden Lane. Under normal circumstances you would assume that this is a sign that gentrification is about to take place here, some exclusive new enclave of gated apartments to be constructed and sold to the eager and upwardly mobile. But in this instance, no works are to be carried out; this area has been blocked-off just to keep it from being useful – as it is in its present state – its final state. There is no sequel to these building works. It is simply wasteland. I shall call it terrain vague; a waste of space, a disused space, an inaccessible space, an ignored space – and the corresponding mental absences produced by these spaces in the mind.
More and more terrain vague is appearing in this area, linked as it is to the attitude of non-productivity which has become so prevalent in these neighbourhoods, (which is an uncanny fact, inasmuch as it spreads from under the shadow of the neighbouring towers of the Financial City just a stone’s throw away.) This territorial degradation, this terrain vague, has created what people are now referring to as ‘blisters’ or ‘buboes’ – eruptions on the surface areas of the City which are manifest sometimes as islands of uselessness, sometimes as blockages or impediments to movement, sometimes as pockets of resistance, sometimes as polarised states of inertia and nihilism. Golden Lane is one such island. People quickly become stranded on these islands; houses, parks, roads, even entire postcodes are swallowed up as the islands join together to create much larger flotillas of uselessness, a Wilderness developing right here in the heart if the metropolis.
Having walked about for several futile but beautiful hours without reaching Golden Lane, I can only conclude that I am entirely lost. As night begins to fall the landscape appears to spontaneously modify itself as though it were little more than a series of interchangeable slices arranged on a flat plane. All points of reference are gone. The fabric of the city has evidently decayed to a startling degree, the area having been subject to divisive politics for too long, and the sense of danger, of threat, is so strong I am compelled to find a blind spot in which to hide, an out of the way corner some where I can continue to observe developments.
There is not much to see, however. The area became completely desolate by seven o’clock just as if someone had raised the alarm and everybody had scurried indoors. It concerns me somewhat that I am the only person out of doors on this territory, and so I do my best to conceal myself as well as possible in a thicket at the edge of a small park which I do not recall seeing before. Upon closer inspection, I realise that this is not a park at all, but a barren piece of scrub of the kind which usually develops in the year after a building is demolished; a few withered yellow flowers, green dandelion spurs pushing up all around the edges, rubble and litter confetti. I have become caught in a patch of terrain vague – most likely due to having become so lost – and everything here is foreign to me.
I decide against remaining here much further into the night because of the strange noises, and resolve to continue my investigations tomorrow.
If you were unsuspecting enough to imagine that by following the directions on a standard London A-Z map that you would be able to get to Golden Lane with relative ease, you might then very easily be caught-out and exposed in this place at no little hazard to yourself. Upon further examination of my A-Z, I discovered that the place names were all correct for London, but the picture itself was a map of Stalingrad – and thus navigating by it is worse than useless. I can’t imagine what kind of clerical error can lead to such a gross invasion of London by a former Soviet city, but you wonder if it hadn’t been done on purpose, maliciously. Discarding the A-Z by an overflowing bin I press onwards by using street signs to approximate the location of Golden Lane, but all approach is useless. It seems to have moved. Having been there only yesterday evening, I am perplexed that I cannot now remember where I left it. I wander about up and down roads to see if I haven’t simply missed the turning, but that only succeeds in getting me utterly lost. It still appears to be physically possible to get to Golden Lane, but somehow I am unable to reach it. This worries me to the point where, whilst walking backwards and forwards, I mull over the possibility of some psychological impediment as to why I can’t find Golden Lane; am I subconsciously denying its existence, as though perhaps something terrible happened there yesterday? I doubt it. More than likely I am caught in some kind of malicious loop of conflicting signs which has led me astray over and over again. I make an effort to adjoin Golden indirectly, avoiding all adjoining roads and pathways – but this proves to be no improvement to the situation. The pavements, the roads, the buildings – none of these things seem to have any integrity left, straight lines no longer seem to agree with each other and the boundaries which once seemed static enough now migrate and move about. Growing suddenly concerned at the prospect of becoming permanently lost in this bizarre labyrinth I quickly resolve to mark the street corners with urine, which will help me to remember my own smell, and thus, find my way back out again after exploring.
This appears to work, inasmuch as I am once again able to govern my own direction, but I am however left with a horrendous nausea or sea-sickness - as though the ground were all still moving. I vomit all over the pavement causing several old ladies to tut at me in quite an intimidating way, and I fight my way to some out-of-the-way place where I can settle my wits for a few minutes, drink some tea from my flask and try again at walking down the street. But my second attempt is still worse than the first, attracting more ire from the locals. It feels as though I am lost not only here but in life in general, and it contents me to sit against the kerb where children drain the silence of the street and bleed the evening dry. Pressing my ear to the ground I hear the movement of concrete blocks as they shift and slide about, creating what amounts to an ingenious puzzle or trap, abolishing territories and, furthermore, disorienting people into adopting the nomadology so clearly displayed by the residents here.
I take photographs where I can, draw diagrams and jot a few notes, though the effort to be bothered to do so is overwhelming. I do not know if this place can even be accurately recorded, but I comfort myself in staying semi-active. The sky is grey as concrete. We may as well just pretend that this is still Golden Lane, and spare anybody else the knowledge of what has happened here. I fall asleep in the park.
What happened here? Perhaps by writing it down, drawing diagrams of it, I can bring things back into line again, or at least shake the memory of this place back from the oblivion in which it lies. I can fix the fragments of Golden Lane in my records, provide coordinates, and once more be able to navigate this reef without running aground, without being taken in again by the fluid consistency of the shifting blocks all around. There are more people around on the street today and everything generally seems to be in better order than during my previous two studies. People are walking all over the place like termites, as though there were some connection between the topographical shifting of the location and the movements of the residents here – a co-dependency. I begin to research this behaviour by following one of the elderly women who cursed at me yesterday to try and find out how things work here.
From a static position, her movements look normal enough. After following her on several circuits around the estate however, it soon becomes apparent that she is following a set path, as though she had explicit instructions how and where to move about – though whether she knows about these instructions is impossible to tell. Whatever it may be, she seems to be charting a stable route through this maze that I cannot see, inasmuch as I experience no further nausea or disorientation when I duplicate her movements. Everybody else seems to be shuffling along in their own way, perhaps following similar invisible paths learned by trial and error, and I am able to switch between paths where they cross one another, all of which form a large network of paths through this Wilderness. Each person has a path to follow over and over, playing on a loop if you will, until seven o’clock comes and everybody disappears inside. By ensuring the stability of their environment by repeating the same actions over and over again, day in, day out, the residents have established a very secure enclave here that only they know how to negotiate safely, like rats in a laboratory maze learn quickly where the traps are. I am of the opinion that this is some kind of a security measure – infinitely more subtle than the physical barricades constructed in other enclaves around the city – a form of architectural encryption applied over the area to keep non-residents out. But as to who has applied these measures or exactly how they were implemented is in no way comprehensible – at least, not to me anyway.
As I pass by an elderly couple I overhear fragments of a hushed conversation in which the word ‘separatists’ is mentioned several times. This strikes me as a trifle odd at first, but by paying careful attention to other fragments of information spoken by other people as they pass I am able to put together a sketch of the situation here in Golden Lane. There is clearly a great fear of ‘nomads’ moving in here, and some concerted effort is being made by the whole community to ensure that this does not happen. Their singular movements during the day and their sudden disappearance at night concurs with this hypothesis, and whether or not there is any real threat of an impending ‘nomad invasion’, or if perhaps a well-oiled machine is at work here churning out xenophobic propaganda for some political end remains to be seen. But whatever it is, ‘Golden Lane’ should be treated as a litmus test for what may soon break-out in other metropolitan areas in the future. But for all I know, people could be getting their instructions straight from the street itself.