Sunday, January 25, 2009

The old slum of London

Of course, the old slum of London is gone. It has been gentrified, the old slum dwellers have moved on, and a new slum has been built. The new slum is no longer called the new slum, but the slum, and most of the old timers that remember the old slum when it was just the slum, or later, when the new slum was built and the slum it replaced was then called the old slum, are few on the ground. But me, I remember.


My Dad was born in London. He told me stories about the parts of town you did not go to back in the day. Back when he was a kid, the old slum was the slum, and the new slum was just a dream in a social planners mind. Back when my dad was just a kid getting through the depression the old slum of London was just called the slum, and had a bad reputation. Bad people lived there. They lived short, unhappy, brutal lives. They killed each other, they fought over bootleg whiskey, women, and gambling. There were no adequate social programs then, so social problems were much worse than now, because now we have inadequate social programs.

The old Stiffcock house is still standing. I walked past it on my way to Adelaide street. That is where the Stiffcock boys lived, back in the day. Peter Stiffcock was the worst. He was always getting into fights at school. Nobody could figure out why. Without a school lunch program, dyslexia tutoring, or a special needs facilitator, who could bring the necessary skill set and caring attitude to help a boy like Peter Stiffcock? Peter's acting out soon led him into bad company. Instead of job opportunities, he had a job. Instead of a school curriculum that focused on his needs, he graduated with a high school diploma.

The grisly murders that happened next door. The house, known to native Londoners as that house, was abandoned for some time. Nobody who lived in town would live there. Each room seemed to have been the site of some dismemberment or blasphemy. And the locals, the natives of London, shunned the place. No amount of scrubbing or even the putting down of new carpets could erase the lingering horror of the three murders committed there on the full moon of October. And there were more murders in the slum, in the houses there, the old slum of London. Some said it was because of prohibition. But that is never the case. Linking criminals to crime is racism, and we do not do that now. We blame people who do not commit crime for crime, and the real criminals are people who do not want to spend money on social services, not criminals. The hand that holds the knife is not the hand that holds the knife, but the hand that works and wants to keep ahold of its wages. Most of the murders in London were committed in the old slum. That is what my dad told me. And the house right next door to the old Stiffcock house was where the worst were committed. It was empty for years, but now students from Western live there. Nobody has told them about the stains that are under the carpet, or they think a cat has scratched up the doorway moulding, and not an ax murderer working off the last of his rage over inadequate social spending.

Then, there was the Aldridge gang. It was prohibition in London, and the center of the bootleg booze industry was in the old slum. People would go there for whiskey and rum. There were fights, conflict over being marginalized and unaccepted by society. Names were often mentioned, names like Shotgun Bob, and Shotgun Bob ran with the Aldridge gang. Back then, the justice system was disfunctional. Criminals were sent to the hangman, and the rope ended their criminal careers after only one murder. Unlike our modern system which lets killers out on bail to kill a few more times before they are given a university education in social work or linguistics, and then released to kill again. The old slum of London was where the murderers usually lived, and where their loved ones would live on, mourning for the murderer sent to the gallows for only one crime. And those killers all seemed to have connections to the Aldridge gang, and the corner store that Old Man Aldridge ran, where he sold bootleg whiskey along with milk and butter. And Shotgun Bob was his weekend clerk. Too bad modern social theory had not been applied back then, maybe being out on bail for one murder would have taught Shotgun Bob the lesson in social responsibility he needed to know, rather than ending his life at the end of the hangmans rope for his first murder and, sadly, last.

Students live in the house where the triple murder occured. After all these years, the smell is gone. The old Stiffcock house is still standing. The couple that lives there are raising a family. The old corner store is closed, and the trees have grown new bark over the bullet holes and the nicks from the axe swinging frenzy. Trees can do that. But the ancient trees of the Forest City should be listened to. Trees are wise, and those who turn to trees for advice (along with listening to shrubs, vegetables, and bunny rabbits) all cry out for more social spending. There are lessons to be learnt from the old slum of London. How to prevent unfortunates like Peter Stiffcock from being made fun of in school. How to rehabilitate men like Shotgun Bob so that he has longer gaps of time between murders, robberies, and car jackings. Ways to reach out to the people who made up the Aldridge gang, or at least give them brochures so they know that there are programs available to address their need for a smoking cessation course, or a body image awareness care giver, or a safe place to bottle bootleg gin.

Next time you walk through the old slum of London, let the trees speak to you, and listen to their wisdom, their words that justify increased social spending.

I, Fenris Badwulf, with a tear in my eye, wrote this.

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