Down By The Elephant

I was leaning against the railings outside Elephant & Castle tube station, watching cars swerve and surge around busses and cyclists alike. You might think it a strange place to stop and recharge, but the flows were like rivers joining and mingling. The wind of their passing brought a strange serenity – even with the bustle of the market. On the other side of the road the columned facade of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was looming over the traffic like a raised riverbank. It somehow managed to look both permanent and in danger of being edged aside at one and the same time.

I was waiting, but wasn’t sure who or what I was waiting for – a sudden impulse having drawn me here, to stand on the edge of a flow carrying people to and from the city’s heart. The Faraday memorial was gleaming gently like a water-slicked brick in the rivers; its solid mass contributing to the swirling eddies and a current winding in and out of the twin roundabouts – but that wasn’t what had drawn me to this place.

Having said that, the problem was that I just couldn’t work out what I was doing here. Maybe it was the knowledge that all this was about to change in the local regeneration project. Looking around at the hoardings and planning permission displays, it was throwing up tall buildings and promising new crossings to accompany the demolition of the shopping centre. There would apparently be a new pedestrianised boulevard to replace it but I privately quite liked that the demolition had already been put back a few years. I could feel the genius loci twisting around the area in quiet agitation, trying to fight back and resist the changes.

I’d thought at first that it might be that drawing me in – but now I was here I wasn’t so sure. Maybe I was working with the wrong imagery here – it wouldn’t be the first time. I decided instead to shift so that I was between the market and the tabernacle – halfway between the roundabouts – and pictured the flows as an ourobourous loop instead. Almost immediately I found myself tapped into the restless serpentine spirit of the flow. It was soothing in the way that a river can be, even though you know that hidden currents and hazards would reward a moment’s incautious action. I let myself draw from the flow to replenish and calm myself, knowing as I did so that whatever had drawn me here, it wasn’t the spirit of this place. A shoal of busses detached from the market-front to head for points west and south, sending cars and bikes swerving into alternative lanes with practiced abandon and when they had cleared I saw George Carlson standing unsteadily by the Thai noodle bar.

George Carlson was one of those people who seemed to turn up seemingly at random but always to his own profit. If he was said to have one unique talent, it seemed to be to be able to be placed to make a profit even before anyone realised there was an issue. In theory this should have made him at least reasonably rich, but it never quite seemed to work that way as his lack of financial control was at least as legendary as his ability to find new sources of income. That very randomness came from his background as what I could only describe as a surrealist magician. If asked whether his power came from within or from outside, his answer was almost always “Does it matter?”

It seemed to stand him in good stead where it counted, but his general reputation was one of flakiness which didn’t really help when it came to things like bank accounts or turning up to help people. Today it seemed to have resulted in him being rather the worse for wear from what smelled like whisky in liver-bothering quantities.