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(A long short story of 13129 words)

The Tower Block


by Neil Randall

A multi-generational story, set in a tower block in London, told from the POV of a brick in a wall.

At eight by four inches, made of a mixture of clay, sand, lime, a touch of iron oxide and magnesium, fired that distinctive bright-red colour (the heat in those kilns can reach up to three and a half thousand Fahrenheit), I was what people called a common building brick. But I never took no offence; I had no airs or graces. Like the other ten million commercial bricks fired in this factory each year, I was destined for a long, productive working life. Unity is powerful. And whether I ended up as part of a new hospital or new school or new whatever, the sum is always greater than its parts.

My story begins in earnest in April of 1964, when I was proud to be included in batch number 117, reserved by Lewisham Borough Council. After firing, we were stacked on wooden pallets, rows and rows of us, like soldiers waiting to go into battle. Day after day, the lads speculated as to where we were headed, and what we were gonna become. Back then, I guess we were all idealists, determined to help make the country great again. Rationing was a thing of the past. Industry was on the up. We were as close to full employment as we were ever gonna get. There was a new sense of optimism in the air. And in our own small way, we wanted to represent traditional values: hard work, endeavour, spirit, all the things which made England what it was: Empire, we'll fight 'em on the beaches, Britannia rules the waves.

Imagine our excitement then, when we learned that we were gonna be part of the Jubilee Gardens regeneration programme, a landmark scheme, whereby local government provided funding to build affordable housing for the hard-working people of south-east London. At the time, Lewisham was one of the most deprived areas of the city. Brick by brick, we hoped to breathe new life into the community, like a concrete phoenix rising from the ashes.

The day we arrived on site, most of the exterior construction work had already been completed. I remember being loaded off the back of a trailer, two dozen pallets of bricks bathed in warm spring sunshine, looking up at that imperious grey tower block, all sixteen floors of her, and feeling such a sense of excitement, knowing I was gonna be at the very heart of something like this, something good and worthy, something which would stand the test of time.

By pulleys, we were winched up the side of the building to the eleventh floor. From what would soon become an open-plan front room and kitchen area, you could, through the gap left for the balcony door, see right out over the estate, over the other two tower blocks then in construction, and the children's play area, the swings and slides and climbing frames which had just been sited below.

There were still lots to do to the interior, mind (and that was what me and the rest of the lads up here were destined for: the front room wall) – permanent flooring needed to be laid and the walls plastered. Two brickies, Harry and Eric, were hard at work, like shining examples of what I've just been talking about – about what made England great. Both in their mid-twenties, pouring with sweat, with rough callused hands, they took such pride in what they were doing. They wanted to be the quickest, the best, to lay more bricks in one day than all the other brickies put together. All the time they encouraged each other – Come on, H, another fifty before we knock off for lunch, eh? – smearing trowels with a layer of cement, with one fluid flick of the wrist, like poetry in motion, like each brick was their own personal work of art. And for that reason, I felt a true bond with 'em, like we was kindred spirits, that like the building itself, we represented something special, something to be admired...

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