A Walk Around the Demolition Site of Peach Tree Court, Saturday 27th September 2014.
We cross the main road and enter the waste ground through the old school gates, the ones parents used to visit the head teacher in the 1990’s before the school was demolished. We had already smelled smoke from the other side of the road, before we saw the treacly patches of branded earth, some of them still leaking a pencil line of smoke. The blond grass of the waste ground is too damp to burn for long and the young arsonists (we caught sight of them briefly) have failed in their attempts to make the fires take hold.
Sections of Peach Tree Court’s perimeter fence (all the blocks in this area were gated in the early 2000’s) have been removed to give access to the high level digger. The council’s steel fence has been replaced by temporary metal barriers, to which several signs are attached, warning us of hazards within the site such as electricity and asbestos. From its platform of imported rubble, which has been built up so it is level with the 2nd floor flats, the digger has started mangling the south side of the block, revealing the yellow and green inner core of bathrooms and kitchens. A constant cloud of invisible dust surrounds the block. We know it is there because we can taste the limey powder on our tongues and feel it clogging our throats. We are absorbing invisible particles of Peach Tree Court into our bodies, and later on we will be taking them home on our clothes and skin. We walk along the edge of the demolition site and exit the waste ground, passing the sign which designates the area we have just left as a ‘new’ playground and gives us permission to “Go Wander, Go Play”, things which also happened before the erection of the sign, of course.
The vehicular gate of Peach Tree Court is locked today. Next to the gate a futile sign says RESIDENTS PARKING ONLY. We look through the gate and balance on railings to better see the rubble pushed up next to the building in a vertiginous pile. A few pieces of coloured (with paint or wallpaper) concrete catch the eye in the uniform greyness of the mound and strands of coiled metal stick out from the bulk of rubble. The resident’s effects have long been cleared and only a few items such as heavy-duty gloves or industrial cellophane, left by the builders, pierce the monotony of the ruins. Otherwise everything else is already indistinguishable from the mass of rubble poised to become hardcore.
Peach Tree and Apple Tree Courts are at the end of a cul de sac, and their gates are separated by a pedestrian pathway, which continues the trajectory of the cul de sac into the landscaped area of the estate beyond. Apple Tree Court’s gate is open and we stand on threshold, peering in and anticipating the possibility of exploring the abandoned block. A figure stands, immobile, on top of the hardcore platform, where the high level digger will be located when it is moved from Pear Tree Court to commence the final demolition in the fruity line-up. The statue on the mound is all silhouette defined by an oversized black parker, hood up, like its winter. The security guards dark brown face is subsumed into the darkness of the hood. We stare at each other, too far away to gauge anything about the eyes, or even an expression. We don’t look away. I don’t want to look guilty and I imagine he is trying to ascertain from afar if I am a threat, what I might want, stood here at the gate. The guard ambles over. He tells us about the exasperation of the fire brigade with the young arsonists. They do it all the time, says the guard. He tells us also that we have just missed the Forshaw crew, who unusually have been working on a Saturday morning, tidying up, getting ahead for Monday morning. Before long we are exchanging stories about naughty things we did when we were children. During the conversation the guard takes a call on his mobile. “Come down he says, I am just talking to some people by the gate”. Shortly afterwards another young man appears, better dressed, less friendly, wary even. He hovers briefly while we talk, disinterested, and then drives off in a new bronze tinted car. We say goodbye and the guard closes the gates of Apple Tree Court.
As we pass through the pedestrian channel between the blocks we are met with an impenetrable white wall of smoke, advancing like a ground fog between the trees. Despite the smoke and the trees the area is lighter than last time we walked here because the demolition of Pear Tree Court has left a large dusty vacuum in the landscape, and invited the pale but caustic sun, to bleach the ground and our retinas.
On a previous visit one of the demolition crew had told us that the pedestrian path, which meanders along between the blocks, was going to be closed to the public, in order to move the digger from Pear Tree Court over the little landscaped hillock to Peach Tree Court. Sure enough the regulation metal fences now surround the land between the two blocks, including the little seating area with the mosaics and all the flotsam and jetsam of rough sleeping. Peering through the fence we can see the timber screen erected to protect the roof of the night shelter from the demolition site next door.
Over by the no-play ground, with the missing swings and all the structures stripped of purpose, a fire is burning alongside the coloured fence, which keeps the children out and seals the playground awaiting demolition, into itself. An ascending wedge of thick white smoke alerts us to the small flaming pile of leaves and scrap wood at the base of the fence, which looks like an attempt to burn through into the playground. Several small figures are a distant flicker, almost out of sight, by the time we arrive at the source of the fire, which despite the volume of smoke is about to extinguish itself.
All day the sky has been white and featureless, which combined with the smoke and the thick but invisible demolition dust, eventually makes everything liquefy in front of my eyes, makes trees and figures swap places nauseatingly.