The Ballad of Gibbons Corner

Since Eighteen Ninety
In all of its finery
Stood Gibbons the furniture sellers
London’s last such attraction
With cash-only transaction
Until plastic caught up with the fellas

They eventually gave in
To modernity’s whim
With a sign saying ‘We accept Visa’
Through bombings and raids
Gibbons still stayed
Hackney’s very own Tower of Pisa

The long coat of a draper
The colour of brown paper
Archetypal shopkeeper of Britain
In the top pocket a pen
Just waiting for when
A receipt would need to be written

It was stocked up with lots
Of toys, prams and cots
Gibbons the finest purveyors
But the Victorian store
Sells furniture no more
And now attracts only surveyors

There, I bought my boy
An ironing board toy
He wanted to help out indoors
(This is only a stage
Which ends at the age
When they’re capable of doing the chores)

The block first begun In Eighteen Thirty One
Before the Poor Law and good Queen Victoria
By the turn of Two Thousand
A clothes shop it housed, and
Bars, café and Gibbons emporia

And the Earl of Amherst pub
Which sold booze but not grub
And saw many an evening of laughter
Where dogs were allowed
Until we took our hound
And dogs weren’t permitted thereafter

Then in Two Thousand and Three
We returned from the sea
To find Gibbons was totally gutted
The previous night, it
Mysteriously ignited
Hackney-watchers collectively tutted

For many a week
The ash and smoke reeked
And some people also smelled rat
When at auction it was offered
No bids had been proffered
It’s mighty suspicious, is that

For years behind boards
Gibbons stood there, ignored
While buddleia grew in the gaps
It could have been rebuilt
Rather than left there to wilt
As a community facility, perhaps  

Once, a car park appeared
When a chap with a beard
Put a sign up and took people’s money
He’d collected a lot
When the Council said
“Stop – That’s our job and we don’t find it funny”

While developers schemed
In Twenty Thirteen
Gibbons Corner faced ruin once more
Damp rose and cracks grew
You could hear the trains through
And the cellar collapsed under the floor

Tenants got out alive
And the frontage survived
Saved by a timely alert
Now there’s scaffolded ceiling
And you can’t shake the feeling
That there are two types of hoarding at work

That put paid to a scheme
A profiteers’ dream
Of a Travelodge eighty-bed dormer
A “cheap” place to crash
Built on the ash
And the embers of old Gibbons Corner

The abyss round the back
Displays a huge crack
Like the one in Amelia Pond’s wall
And like in Doctor Who
It’s time seeping through
Running out for the old shopping mall

Like Ground Zero the view
That you’re welcomed to
As you disembark at the station
(But without the world’s press
Or the thousands of deaths
Or the war of retaliation)

Hackney folk walk on by
Not a flick of the eye
Not a moment’s attention to give
It’s nothing too weird
That a crater’s appeared
In the midst of the place where we live

But visitors gasp
As they stop still and ask
“What site of calamity is that?”
Then, “Which way, actually
To the Burberry factory?”
Presumably to buy a nice hat

After fire, collapse or riot
Our neighbourhood goes quiet
As they close Amhurst Road off to traffic
It’s calm and it’s still
You can walk where you will
The contrast is really quite graphic

The deserted road space is
An urban oasis
It’s a wonder we never played cricket
The tarmac terrain
And the white-paint-lined lanes
Would have marked out a marvellous wicket

The traffic’s diverted
And bus number thirty
Announces its next stopping port
But check your assumption
Of the name of this junction
It’s probably not what you thought

What all Hackney says
Is called the Five Ways
Is suddenly named Pembury Circus
Could this be a new
Entertainment venue
Provided by clowns for the workers?

No. It happens to be
The name of the block you can see
Of new flats and shops where the grass is
(Or was.) Did the developer pay
For this branded display
Or get given the advert for gratis?

To show us they care
They boldly declare
That “affordable housing” has risen
But when fifty per cent
Is affordable to rent
That means fifty per cent of it isn’t

Next door, a closed college
Where on the rubble of knowledge
A wit from the Naming Department
In a sad, mocking troll
Of its previous role
Called it Academy Apartments

It costs over a million
For a three-bedroom brilliant-
-ly decorated and located flat
With classrooms now bedrooms
There’s plenty of headroom
And widthroom for swinging a cat

You’ll love the location
It’s right near the station
Just a quick hop and skip from the door
You can commute to the City
And get to it pretty
Much without tripping over the poor

Round the corner from there
A home for youth leaving care
Lies demolished – new usage awaits
And where once stood facilities
For kids with disabilities
There now stand flats behind gates

But our estate stands
Untouched by the hands
Of the area’s property vultures
They had numerous plans
To “develop” the land
Replace our homes with money-shrine sculptures

What consideration
For the estate’s population
While developers slavered and panted?
They employed wit and wisdom
In a great euphemism
When they told us we would be “decanted”

Home-owners and tenants
Raised banners and pennants
And proclaimed our estate Not For Sale
And when more vultures swooped
Our campaign regrouped
And made sure the bastards turned tail

Now Gibbons old shops
Are held up by props
I guess in more than one sense
The façade is still there
It shows that they care
It keeps up a civic pretence

What new incarnation
What monstrous creation
Will rise from the ashes and dust?
We can be sure
That whatever it’s for
Will be them and their profits, not us

If there’s one thing to learn
From events and their turn
From fire, collapse, ash, dust and powder
It’s the strong not the meek
And the money will speak
Unless our community speaks louder

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