I pledged, from the beginning, to never surrender, unlike the others.
Hearteningly, resistance at the start was ubiquitous. Soon I was to realise that, for many of them, it was just an instinctive aversion. Having occupied this place for so long, it can be hard to conceptualise moving when suddenly presented with the opportunity. Despite their first proposal appearing to be benign, it still failed to empathise with the emotive reality that we’d lived all of our lives here, it was where our children were born and where we watched them grow up, and it’s where relatives and friends died. We’ve lived through the good, the bad, and we stuck up for each other. Just as they were blinded by greed, I too was blinded by my own dogmatic attachment to this community, formed over generations, with it being the purest and most resilient kind. My faith obscured the desperate reality that society faces – any resistance to the pervasiveness of this crass, arrogant capitalist psyche, whose faith that the market ‘always provides the answer’ and finds something’s true value, is futile. We were a trifling inconvenience in the way of an investment opportunity that was deigned to occur because it would make money.
As the weeks passed their latent contempt for us became harder to conceal. Our defiance was as silly as our sentimentality in decaying bricks, mortar and foundations. Unfortunately for them, we were now adjacent to an area of affluence that had become so through being enveloped and then redeveloped to satiate an expanding bourgeoisie demand for modern urban living.
Mistakenly, their public disclosure offered the justification that the eradication of our history was an altruistic endeavour that would aid the nourishment and replenishment of a decaying area. It took a tactical recalibration on their part before they were able placate some of us. They apologised, and called this use of language a mis-judgement. Unsolicited evaluations soon followed, they were accompanied with graphs and charts showing us how we would be getting a great (above market) deal by selling. Eventually they started to appear on our doorsteps, unannounced too, clearly a cynical ploy to appear personable.
They handed us brochures of a development, another one of theirs currently under construction elsewhere, of course, which we could ‘agree to join’, at a ‘significant discount’. I must confess the brochure impressed; its weightiness and the glossy paper suggested a lavish expense and promised sophistication. Its content, suffice to say, didn’t hold the same appeal, but, nonetheless, I could see how its message would to others who’d lived, and had become undaunted by living, a more nomadic life than I. It featured some sanctimonious guff about the virtues of modern living ‘their aims’ and various vistas proposed an idyllic scene of how ‘sustainable, natural architecture inspires clean living’. Modernity, due to its needless synergy with remaining unblemished, meant its buildings lacked character and would never develop it. They were soulless, rudimentary, austere, clean units, easily and lazily prefabricated and erected, designs for people who’d lived easy lives and expected to continue to do so. They were everything which my house was not – impractical, old, odd, and dare I confess, dirty. The chair on which I’m sitting currently certainly was, after decades of coalescence I knew its shape and it knew mine. The fabric of its history, the feel of its scars, dents and indentations were a reminder of its significance in mine. It was a physical embodiment of my personality and how we lived. But such items and their histories didn’t belong in this new prospective environment. These realities of humanity, the clutter and baggage of sentimentality and the waste, excrement, eccentricity, individuality it produced, weren’t represented in brochures or considered as part of an architect’s egotistical vision of how their spaces should be maximised.
The Warren’s were the first to depart, foolishly settling for less than the others who held on to the last. They moved to a new development on the edge of town, surrounded by immigrants, but immigrants with professions and expertise, no taming of radicalised rabble or social mobility required here. Little doubt they were part an initiative to better integrate society, as such there was no sense of community there, no sense of belonging. Word soon spread that the Warren’s quite liked it, or claimed they did, and folk got curious. They had twice as many rooms which all contained more room, plus they had their own garden and a driveway. The house itself was pleasant enough, but all I could hear was the headache inducing din of the motorway half a mile away routing the sound of leaves on newly planted trees being caressed by the breeze.
Once they saw this scope the rest started to capitulate, which only made the developers and the council more aggressive and so the offers they made me started to reduce, and, I suspect my continued resistance antagonised them into further reductions out of spite. By now they’d realised it was entirely about the principle for me. They’d turned a community, this street, our street, my street, into a ghost town, an extinction event had occurred and I was the last Dodo to be hunted, killed and embalmed, then placed in a museum as a relic of a forgotten age for people to ambivalently gawk. Scenes of dereliction, such as our street, are always manufactured, because, from sanitised confines, their inertia conveys wasted ‘potential’. And a wasted profit cannot be tolerated.
Despite the desolation I cleave to this place now more than ever, the exodus only serving to strengthen the memories of what’s been lost. Sam and Karen have families of their own now, and my Tony is dead and gone. Both have implored me to sell. I can forgive them their motivations, they’re both ridden, as most middle income professionals are these days, with materialistic debts and a mortgage for a house they paid too much for. If I capitulated they stood to inherit a good chunk of that money, who else would I leave it to? They’d collect even more if I went into sheltered housing. They’ve yet to suggest that, they’d know how I’d react. But I know that’s their ideal.
After the letter instructing me that the compulsory purchase order had been granted by courts arrived, they upped their final offer as a sign of good will. I told them I’d consider it if our local councillor and the company’s chief would meet me here. They agreed.
In the early hours of the morning before they were due to arrive I started to barricade all sources of airflow in and out of the kitchen. I started with the windows, and then covered most of the sockets with masking tape. Normally this activity would arouse a mixture of concern and suspicion with my neighbours, but I no longer had any. Hours later, and after making the first ever meal I had here – beans on toast – I unplugged the fridge, cooker and all other electrical devices and taped up the rest of the sockets. Now the only orifice that remained unsealed was the door to the kitchen that leads into the living room. Despite the extensiveness of my incubatory work the sultry haze of late spring morning light still managed to penetrate through the miles of tape and chipboard I’d applied. Before sealing the kitchen door I went into the kitchen and removed the gas feed into the boiler, there was a moment of genuine levity, despite what I was about to do, when I realised that sabotage would be far more difficult to achieve with a modern boiler in a new build.
They arrived at ten. As they entered I started to feel queasy for the first time, what the cruelty of the act would mean for Karen and Sam. They’d lose not just me, but the money and only gain the indignity of being associated with it. But it was too late to back out now. I invited them to sit, cordially, which surprised them, and they were overly conciliatory which didn’t surprise me at all. Most importantly they didn’t smell the gas, I could faintly, and I worried that the few hours in its company had dulled my sensitivity to it, and that its odour was more apparent to them. It wasn’t until I went to light a ciggie, I noticed, surreptitiously, and without any tact whatsoever, that they’d produced the documents, unprompted, and pen for me to sign them. Before making a show of stopping myself, I offered that I’d been very rude and asked them if they wanted a cup of tea. I intended to have one, and I explained that I’ve always had one with my morning cuppa. As I walked to the kitchen door, one of them questioned why it was boarded and taped up. She would get no answer, after I applied the necessary pressure the door opened in the way, and the smell walloped me. Then I lit my ciggie, and my anger hit them.