Battleground Estate

Oliver Briscoe

I stopped to check my map. He called out to help, asking where I was going. It was the first time I had been called bruv.

‘Thank you very much, sorry to bother you on a Sunday. I am looking for nº9.’

‘I am nº10, it’s this way.’ A letter came to mind, I had seen  it in the pile ‘Oh, er, are you Mr Smith? I have letter for you about the London mayoral election.’

‘Who for?’
‘Shaun Bailey…’
‘No, sorry son.’

‘Right,, have a nice Sunday.’ The old geezer in an old hoodie, with yellow teeth and an ashen, grizzly face, shuffled off, probably dying. He looked like the kind of cancer patient who would step outside his NHS ward, in his gown, to smoke.

This was one of those drab estates, with tacky flats, broken things and hard-done-by people; the time-worn promise of decent living. He called back ‘With Boris, you’ve got more chance than God.’

Along a row of cottages it started to rain, then to hail and then to hail hard. Down-beaten, as I made from one awning to the next I heard a door click behind me, a man offered out his umbrella. It was so unexpectedly kind that I immediately refused–used to people’s kindness from manners. I was touched and walked on drenched.
    I crossed an Amazon Prime man. I quietly said hello, he stopped and chatted. He thought Khan was useless, how convenient, I was there for Shaun. I shocked him by telling him about the taxpayer millions Khan spends on his image. This eased him into a rant about the estates he sees on deliveries, bringing to me the tender truth of their squalor or just their disrepair. He asked the empty courtyard ‘who cares about these people?’ No, he would not take a leaflet, but I suspect he will not vote for Khan. ‘Look him up; Shaun, Bailey’ I parted. ‘He was a social worker for thirty years, grew up on an estate a bit like this.’

Walking up and down some other stairs, that reeked of rotting garbage piled in the stairwell, I passed a man sat with a coffee and a cigarette and an eye piercing. I put letters through the doors preceding his, he eyed me vacantly. I turned to him reading the address ‘Sally Wheedon?’

‘Yeah, that’s me.’ I was surprised, trans and so open; so unusual, gruff and squat. I handed him the letter.

‘Yeah, that’s my wife.’

‘Yes, I figured.’ I stammered the quick lie–idiot! ‘Sorry to bother you on a Sunday but it’s about the mayoral election.’

‘Don’t worry, I am not really interested, she’s the one.’ He nodded at the door ajar. He stared out across the court, neither shy or bothered, distant, quiet; the man who wasn’t there.

Having finished the round I walked back with the chairman, we were only the two out. We get along, we seem to agree on most things. I speak my mind, sometimes with the certainty of youth having yet to fall foul. He is a good association chairman, he has his own money and is not impressed by honours. More and more I get the distasteful sense of middling people in party politics. Those passed up, with a sense of political self which is only true to them, having managed to scrounge petty power, or, the more connected, an honour and a quango seat. The little said problem with being conservative is that one has to deal with Conservatives.
    That’s why Shaun is so promising; not another mediocre, small-minded, party man. Focus on London they say about Khan, the Hammersmith Bridge, taxes and Tube fares, not Trump, not your image. Shaun would, he cares.

Coming home the eve of a long London night left me unduly dispirited. The depressing dread of long process, frustrated apathy, delayed good for people; the poorest to whom I was trying to promise change. Where others do civic duty content with status and an easy salary; we might try to do right by them at least. Where all power is peripheral ultimately, our true strength is the help we can offer another. So I campaign mutedly, we all half expect defeat. Rueful, watching a good man left aside by bigger forces; the small machinations of even smaller people.

Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020