Prince Charles is coming to Wilmot Street. Of course, everyone will ask about his new bride but Carmel is determined to give her opinion about the sale of the Waterlow Estate. Interesting placards, that’s the answer. There’s a small production line going on in her front room, both squatters and tenants stapling, sticking, scrawling: “We’ll not leave Wilmot St!’; ‘Hands off our homes!’; ‘Waterlow- what a low down deal’ or ‘Wat-a-lowd of..**+@*!!.’ They’re still debating that one. She’s elected to get more supplies- milk and bread at the corner shop–so now she has to walk the plank. It’s propped up between the pavement and her ground floor window. All of the tenement entrances have been boarded up. The work to spruce up the flats is going on all around them; workmen tipping rubble down a helter-skelter of inverted buckets at one end of the street, florists delivering bouquets to the show flat at the other.
Carmel takes pigeon steps down the bouncy board and turns towards Bethnal Green Road and the route Charles is sure to take, hidden behind smoked glass windows: past the library, left at Mooros, turn the corner through the police cordon, get out at the barricades onto the only bit of clean pavement, up the steps and in.
When she leaves the shop Carmel has to push through the crowd that’s formed behind the police. She nods at a Plod and asks to be let through. There’s an excited ‘ooh’ as a silver Daimler purrs into the street. He’s either early or they lied. The copper stretches his arms to become a chain link and sweeps her back onto the pavement.
Beyond the chain, the plank is busy, placards being trafficked like leaf-cutter ant booty. They’ve started chanting, ‘Public, not private!’ She should be there, but she’s here, at the front of the crowd, pressing against police elbows as the Daimler glides to a stop at the cordon. She’s wrong- it’s not smoked glass. She’s staring straight into the face of the man on the back seat. This is a chance! Charles looks up at her and smiles. She smiles back and waves a small packet of whole meal pitta bread.
This is a mixed up version of events surrounding the sell–off of the Waterlow Estate in the 1980s. Carmel Bolger, a plumber and activist, helped orchestrate the squatters’ campaign; Deb joined in the demos because she was homeless with no chance of a council flat. Prince Charles spoke to her because she was holding a banner with wording that made no sense. She found herself tongue-tied. But she did manage to tell him why we she was angry. He replied that ‘Consultation is the key’. There was no consultation.
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