Thursday, 7 April 2011


It looks like a dinosaur devouring a building. The hydraulic crane’s steel jaws are pecking away at the vast former nurses’ residence in the hospital behind our road. Its sharp, angular outline has dominated the view up the hill for decades; soon there will be a toothy gap between the houses.  Since the plan was announced a few years back, I have imagined a wrecking ball or dynamite. This slow grazing by steel diplodocus has me baffled.  My neighbour, whose father used to be a demolition man, says she used to help him salvage bricks as buildings were slowly dismantled. Are bricks now so cheap that we don’t recycle them?
The site will become a car park. The planned development of blocks of flats has been put on ice as the property mania subsides, and housing association grants are slashed.
Still the destruction goes ahead. My neighbour has a theory as to why. Some of the local kids have been breaking into this semi-derelict ex-warehouse of angels. Letting fireworks off, that sort of thing. It is so labyrinthine that the police can never find the culprits when they arrive. The graffiti they have left on the walls of a fifth floor flat is now visible as the building’s secret insides are laid bare. I never knew this world existed until now.
They won’t touch the main hospital because it is listed. A former workhouse, it was also a hospital for  Indian soldiers who fought for the British in the fields of France during WW1. At least, they sent the lower castes to the workhouse. The wounded officers were billeted in the Pavilion. It has the same angles as the nurses block, but they will never mechanically devour a building with a clock tower.
I will miss the Victorian monstrosity that was the nurses’ home, however. If you looked towards moonrise and Jupiter, it had a ghostly presence in the east. I always thought I saw lights on, human life, but these were tricks, echoes.
It was part of that feeling that you were on the edge of civilisation – where the rows of houses suddenly ended with fields that just go on. I’m romanticising a little here. Brighton racecourse buffers the countryside. But the badgers and the foxes don’t seem to mind that too much. I hope they aren’t spooked by the prehistoric roar of modernity, modernising.

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