When they tore down the Catford Cat it should have been a clue on the direction things were heading in. A ‘pagan effigy’ they called it and that was why they got away with it. Everyone knew it was part of some dark magic, they just didn’t talk about it and behind the collective silence people really were tired of the disappearances, the sacrifices and the strange meows in the night. Everyone except for the people of Catford, of course, and they always were barbarians.
So, we all let it go when they threw chains around the cat and dragged it off to be melted down. Some of us even lined the road to cheer, not me though, even then, though I didn’t think enough to see it, I had the nasty feeling that things were going the wrong way. Not to say I’m smart, anything but, if I were I’d have done something to stop them before it went any further. Still though, I knew something was sitting wrong in the city and they were at the heart of it, slowly taking over and changing everything.
Next – and I don’t mean to get poetic here – they came for the Elephant & Castle. It was ‘morally unacceptable’ they said. I saw one of them talking about it, just before they started the purge, a wild eyed man on a plinth in Trafalgar Square denouncing the abominations, hedonism and sins of the natives of Elephant. Shameful, he declared, that such a iniquitous mob should be allowed to roam the streets bringing disgrace to us all. No one came out to cheer that moment, it was all grim faces and nervous looks, depending on who was doing the listening. I was at the back of the crowd, with the idle observers, for a while at least. We were the first to drift away though as the fanatics rant spun itself into a spit spraying frenzy to the delight of his invited audience. There was an ugly mood and not one anyone sane wanted to stay and see, so we left them to it, comforted to at least know it wasn’t us they were after. I heard what they did to the Elephant & Castle, though I never saw it myself, few who did left to tell the tale and to this day I don’t even get the bus through there – I don’t even want to see the streets were that shit happened. Not that I’d be allowed to of course, no free movement these days, you go where they tell you to and you keep your mouth shut about it.
After that it all came in a flurry of atrocities. Then we had to care, comfortable ignorance was no longer an option and we were blown away that all we’d missed with our eyes half closed. There were so many of them, so many that we weren’t even sure whose city it was anymore. Sure, if you stayed at home, or went to the shops, or sat in your local it seemed like everyone was same, that everyone was one of us but the proof was in their actions – they were there, somehow operating in the city without us ever noticing. A whole parallel world that had grown up in the city without ever touching on ours.
Whitechapel, Farringdon, Angel Islington, Tottenham, Peckham, Camberwell, Vauxhall, they all fell like vast concrete dominoes. There one day, working and sane and safe, gone the next to be replaced by something unrecognisable, something which, now we weren’t part of the staring crowd anymore, seemed disgusting and alien. All of the old certainties faded away, hacked apart by the new order that we were powerless to stop. The pubs changed, the takeaways changed, the shops changed. What had once been a local, comfortably decayed and unwelcomingly friendly was suddenly all horse brasses and real ale, old men calling themselves the ‘Colonel’ lining the bar in tweed jackets, never mentioning the Lee Enfield rifles they all carried as a matter of routine now that they’d taken over the streets. What used to be a Chicken Cottage or a Morley’s would, almost overnight, be turned into a traditional pie shop, or a tea house, lingering youths and famished commuters driven from their doorways at gunpoint for preferring a two piece meal to eel and cow’s eye pasties. That was how things should be, they told us, that’s how it was meant to be but I can tell you it’s never felt natural to me, not in London. Even my local corner shop wasn’t left untouched after they’d finished. I remember it now, as it was, as it should have been, a surly nod from the Sri Lankan who worked there, a pint of out of date milk and the local alchy ahead of me in the queue taking his time over the spare change taken to buy a can of K Cider. Halcyon days in the city. Now it’s all Union Jack bunting, rosy cheeked children buying penny sweets and friendly smiles from men in brown shop coats. Sickening, really, what they’ve done to the place.
I’m old now. My back’s bent and I’m tired. Certainly too tired to fight them. It’s all I can do to sidestep the Morris Dancers and cheery urchins on my way home. I remember, they used to say ‘If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life’ and fuck me but I’m exhausted with it. Some used to warn us too, back then, that we were being taken over. Muslims they said, hordes of them, Sharia law, public stonings – well, they weren’t all wrong, if only they’d known that the threat was coming from those Home County bastards instead. Still, too late to worry now, my city’s gone, they call it London Village now and I need to finish up here, it’s time for mandatory cricket on the green. Used to be a Primark y’know, backwards and barbaric they called it when they burnt it down…