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Searching for the town I used to love

In the early 1980s the Southwark side of the River Thames was a wasteland. It had a power station with a tower — a rude finger — for emphasis; you, it says, are screwed, in bricks. The power station is now an art gallery with a loathsome and illiterate name, a legacy of the Blair years and its love of spin: Tate Modern. Next to Tate Modern is the Globe Theatre, a tiny building sitting, I think, in expectation of being crushed. It has the intelligence to look vulnerable, and it is. I went to a twenty-first-birthday party there years ago, when only the foundations had been built. It was nighttime, and my date and I walked down to the river mud and kissed. Ten years later, I met a girl sleeping under Waterloo Bridge, half a mile upriver. She was a runaway; her name was Kimberly. Her hair was blond, her eyes bright with heroin. She was twenty-one years old. Within a month the streets had killed that child. I went to her sad and speechless funeral in Willesden, to the north.

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’s most recent article for Harper’s Magazine was “The Queen and I,” which appeared in the February 2016 issue.

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