The lift stops and I get out and begin to look for flat 119. It’s been cleared and a metal door fitted to prevent people from moving in to a tower block which everyone else is trying to leave.
119 is next to the last remaining occupied flat on the 19th floor – the top floor. You don’t need to be Columbo to know it’s occupied because there’s a makeshift clothesline strung up in front of the door and along the corridor with laundry attached and a broken cot and assorted broken toys piled up in a corner. The head of a black doll tops the pile; its body is lost and its face turned towards the wall – as if it can’t even bear to look at this.
The key pushes into the lock of 119 and I hear the door begin to open at the occupied flat and instinctively know that I should do a runner.
I do a runner.
I hear the door open and feel a presence behind me as I scuttle away but I don’t look back.
After a few minutes I return. I slowly push the key into the door and hear the locks opening on the door of the occupied flat again and before I can do another runner a man walks out and asks me what I’m doing.
If anyone has seen the film Bronson – he looks like a black version of Bronson but without the moustache. He hasn’t got a top on and the smell of weed follows him as he walks towards me – I’m literally backed into a corner now.
Whilst my inner monologue silently screams “Fuuuuuucccckkkk!!!!!!” I calmly explain that I’m a photographer and I have permission to photograph elements of the tower block before its demolition.
Do you want to come in and take my photo he asks?
As my inner monologue is still busy screaming I decline his kind offer and try and suppress the mental image of the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper - that flashes through my mind - proclaiming “Idiot photographer's body found in waste disposal shoot”
He explains to me that he’s a social scientist who lives here with his wife and child. That he could have lived anywhere he wanted but chose to live here to put himself amongst the people who he is researching. I think to myself that this might not be the case but who am I to question anyone’s reality?
He tells me to hang on as he’s just going to get a book – and thankfully put some clothes on.
He returns and tells me he’s also a bit of a local historian, opening the book to the back page and showing me a photo taken in the 1970’s of Barry Jackson Tower. “Look at it all white and clean. It was nice then when all the white people lived here - before everyone else moved in.”
My eyes glance to scrutinize the face of this black man, unseen, as he looks at the photo. “When all the people from around the world” he continues, “turned up with their cooking and their smells it went downhill and look at it now”
I say nothing.
He gives me his phone number and we exchange names again for the third time and I agree to come back next week and photograph him – when someone knows where I am.
Ultimately though, life is a blind leap of faith which sees us all jump from one rock to the other, in the dark, across a river that one day we’re all destined to fall in. On our journey some of us might try to hide the hate that they have for themselves and say that they’re social scientists to make them feel better about their life. Whilst others might lose themselves in work, religion or booze - but in the end there’s always only the river, those rocks and our fear of falling in.