Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Angels of Chickentown

Two things inspired this post, the newtown of Thamesmead and John Cooper Clarke’s poem ‘Chickentown’.

I spent a lot of time in Thamesmead in my youth. It is a massive housing estate built on land reclaimed from the Thames marshes in the late 60’s and lies between a couple of major prisons and a huge sewage treatment works. It is full of classic 60’s and 70’s prefab concrete civic architecture which has, as usual, aged badly. It is regularly used as a backdrop for films and TV who want that dystopian urban nightmare vibe, most notably ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and it was rough as a bear’s arse, grim, grimy and graffitoed with pubs built like concrete bunkers, though I had some good times there.


One of the jollier bits of Thamesmead


Used to drink here. Wouldn't touch this place with one these days.


'A Clockwork Orange' was almost a documentary about the place.


The poem ‘Chickentown’ is about Manchester’s less salubrious bits but it could have easily been written about Thamesmead, Broadwater Farm, Alamein Gardens or any one of a score of grotty estates in and around London or hundreds up and down the UK.

The fucking cops are fucking keen
To fucking keep it fucking clean
The fucking chief's a fucking swine
Who fucking draws a fucking line
At fucking fun and fucking games
The fucking kids he fucking blames
Are nowhere to be fucking found
Anywhere in chicken town

The fucking scene is fucking sad
The fucking news is fucking bad
The fucking weed is fucking turf
The fucking speed is fucking Surf
The fucking folks are fucking daft
Don't make me fucking laugh
It fucking hurts to look around
Everywhere in chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town
The fucking view is fucking vile
For fucking miles and fucking miles
The fucking babies fucking cry
The fucking flowers fucking die
The fucking food is fucking muck
The fucking drains are fucking fucked
The colour scheme is fucking brown
Evidently chicken town

The fucking pubs are fucking dull
The fucking clubs are fucking full
Of fucking girls and fucking guys
With fucking murder in their eyes
A fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
Waiting for a fucking cab
You fucking stay at fucking home
The fucking neighbours fucking moan
Keep the fucking racket down
This is fucking chicken town

The fucking pies are fucking old
The fucking chips are fucking cold
The fucking beer is fucking flat
The fucking flats have fucking rats
The fucking clocks are fucking wrong
The fucking days are fucking long
It fucking gets you fucking down
Evidently chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town


The great Johnny Clarke doing it on stage...




And now the breadcrumb and mucilage slathered mechanically recovered meat...

The Angels of Chickentown

Earth is still a going concern in 2316, still home to 40% of the Known Space’s population of Homo sapiens, though it has taken some hard knocks. Global warming has led to some areas being flooded beyond recall and economic upheaval has stomped once relatively prosperous areas into the mud.

Thamesmead, now known as Chickentown to all and sundry, is one of them. From a swamp it arose and to swamp it has returned, the lower floors of the bulk of its concrete tower blocks and houses are now well underwater with half-assed attempts to bridge the gaps between the upper floors of the tottering remains to keep it as a viable place to dump 24th century London’s poor.

The one industry it has left is growing synthetic chicken in a huge factory on the edge of what passes for dry land. Curtains of semi-permeable cellophane capillary systems are seeded with chicken muscle cells and hung in pulsating rows to grow into slabs of cheap protein. These are carved up, covered in starch and preservative and frozen for the cheapest of the cheap budget supermarkets.

For the last few decades it has provided next to no employment, the wretched human staff replaced by the even more wretched biobots. These are loosely strung together skeletons of vat-grown rhinoceros bone reinforced with teflon and steel and covered in chicken muscle. They have pumps instead of hearts, vinyl sheaths instead of skin and their pimple of chicken brain is bypassed by a computer connected to the rest of the body by insulated wire that zaps the muscles into convulsions with electric shocks.

Few people go into the Green Farms Ltd concrete shed these days, it is almost entirely self contained tier of hell of its own. A few biotechies come over from Beckton on a ferry to inject organic sludge reclaimed from Crossness Sewage works into their feeding sphincters, nail any loose bones back into place and bugger off. The biobots load their frozen product into unmanned drone barges which pootle up the Thames to drop them off for the driverless trucks that take them to the unmanned automarts for unemployed humans to buy on their government issued ration cards.

The stinking canals and sumps of Chickentown are overlooked by winding monorails that pass between the ruins in thick odour-proof plastic tubes, ferrying the marginally better off from the outer ring of dormitory towns to the centre of London and back. The viable flats are surrounded by a layer of squats and a further layer of fuck-knows what in the ‘Sacrifice Zone’, that part left to the mercy of the widening river as sea levels rose.

The defeated hordes of unemployed shuffle through life as best they can unable to save enough for a coveted ticket offworld to a colony where people can feel as though they matter. There are ‘sponsorships’ - actually indentured labour contracts - for those with ‘marketable skills’, but lackadaisical education policy has made these skills hard to acquire. The National Lotteries dishing out tickets at random are the best most can get though the pubs of Chickentown haven't seen a leaving party in years.

Street gangs are rife, but even in 24th century England guns are still rare and no more than one in fifty yobs has one, though they can be rented by the hour if you know the wrong people. The local police buzz around in helicopters, targets for futile fusillades of bricks but usually little else. They raid drug labs and hydroponic cannabis plantations once in a while, but none of the major players of the drug business would be seen dead in Chickentown and also the police mostly can’t be arsed.

Most of these gangs are boringly conventional scrotes with names like ‘The Burgess Block Butcher Boys’ and ‘The SE28 3PH Warriors’ admitting their pathetically limited scope and ambition. They knife kids from round the corner for being from round the corner. Their turf may be a few tumbledown terraces on the shore of an open sewer but the fact they are willing to spill blood to ‘defend’ it gives it a value, in their eyes at least.

So far, so conventional; those economically surplus to requirements just playing at the wannabe rebel/outlaw role their society has laid for them through the media. The more serious rebels are the Angels, a subculture that has rejected the mud, blood and concrete in favour of the ineffable and numinous, though even they are just unconsciously aping the city slickers up in London in their own demented fashion.

Dressed in pure white trainers, the palest of eggshell blue bondage trousers and ruffled calico shirts they float a few inches off the ground with recycled low power grav-moped engines in backpacks decorated with ragged wings. Their hair is bleached an almost ultra-violet white and capped with aluminium halos, their ears plugged with earbeads playing ethereal choral works, their eyes covered in bug-like white goggles playing their own private augmented reality channel that transforms their shattered concrete eyries in the Sacrifice Zone into beautiful palazzi, the drowned shopping precincts into picturesque loggias and the graffiti into Mannerist frescoes.

Their beatific smiles betray their constant state of rapture, electrodes implanted into their brains to induce a pleasant hum of low-voltage euphoria. They are the elect, those on the edge of transhuman transcendence in their own badly-educated opinion, but all that technology costs money and they have no qualms about using all the usual gangster tricks on the preterite to maintain their makeshift heaven on Earth.

They favour the dart-gun in street battles and muggings, nothing so crude and in-yer-face as the double bladed stanley knives, weaponised hedge-trimmers and machetes of the lesser gangs, injecting their opponents with massive doses of DMT-related instant hallucinogens, the Angel's electronic accessories transforming the frothing panicked screams of their victims into the happy cries of children.


Adventure Hooks and Chickentown Events


  • The fucking oddbod Angels have been grinning even wider than usual of late, they mutter disjointedly about something called ‘The Rapture’ to anyone daft enough to listen as they float above the streets. They have been secretly hoarding some potent hallucinogen up in their tower block out in the river and they are plotting to get it into Green Farms product. People are going to go apeshit all over London.
  • Green Farms have been losing hundred of crates of chicken nuggets to gang kids in canoes for years and the police have just been treating it as a bit of lark. They have persuaded the Home Office to let them deploy their own law-enforcement, terrifying biobots tricked out with stab-proof skins and the skulls, muscles and nasal acuity of giant Alsatian dogs. They are sniffing through the streets for pheromone codes from the missing boxes and busting down doors and don’t seem that responsive to their handlers.
  • A gang of Angels broke into the transit tube and ambushed a commuter train, robbing everyone aboard and treating them to a not bad version of Handel’s Messiah while they did so. This is taking the effin’ piss, MPs have been written to, the Home Secretary has been questioned in Parliament and the Daily Mail (still in existence as a chip implant  that conveys their own brand of ‘news’ to your VR goggles and adrenaline to the limbic system so as to induce the appropriate outrage) demands action! But the police, usually up for a bit of headbreaking, to be going softly softly. Rumour has it that the Home Secs son is an Angel, or even that the Bishop of Southwark is holding them off as he sees a glimmer of potential salvation in the garb of these hoodlums, even if their actions don’t match. The Mail wants the TRUTH! Investigate the story, but don’t be too scared of making shit up. A Mail reporter has already gone missing looking into this though, see if you can find him before the bastards wire his brain up to the national grid or marinade him in LSD while you are at it.
  • The Goitre Squad have had it up to here with those high and mighty Angels. They want that augmented reality system hacking into and they especially want the location of all the Angels. They have got their mitts on a couple of shotguns and they are taking them down, though EMP weapons to overload their euphoria trodes would also come in handy.
  • Archangel Michael was finally done in by the Black Street Boot Boys, his subordinates Raphaella and Gabriel are duking it out and they are quite literally crucifying each other’s followers. 
  • Astra-Zeneca-Glaxo-Beecham-Alexion, the sole remaining pharmaceutical corporation in England, wants to talk to the Angels. They have some experimental drugs they are working on for the MoD, and the Angels have a habit of shooting such into people, howzabout collaborating on a cheap and violent clinical trial under field conditions?