I first wrote about the Ghost Factory in February 2011 after I watched the wrecking balls smash Lesney Industries Ltd to pieces.
Until that time the factory had stood at the corner of Hackney Marshes, overlooking the Lee Canal, making Matchbox toy cars. Even after there was nothing left of Lesney but a burial mound crawling with diggers, I’d still see its contours scorched onto the sky, hear the hymn of photocopiers and the static electricity crackle of flares dragging on polyster carpets.
One year later, in celebration of its replacement – a block of affordable modern flats called Matchmarker Wharf – I’m ready to tell the second part of the story.
ACT ONE – TAKING POSSESSION
They put down a deposit on the two-bedroom flat in Matchmaker Wharf while it was nothing more than a steel skeleton rising from the dust of the demolished toy factory.
The decision was a no-brainer. A prime spot overlooking the canal on the corner of Hackney Marsh with a clear view of the Olympic park. It would hold its value no matter what happened to the property market.
They hope to flip the property in a couple of years’ time and move on with a tidy profit. Even if the price hasn’t soared, they’ll rent it out until it does. Win-win.
Until then, there’s some living to be done. She’s bought a stack of Elle Decoration magazines. The plan is for a feature wall. Vivian Westwood Wallpaper. Splashes of pink and orange. Quirky dog floor lamps by Abigail Ahern. A space-saving plasma television that rises from a slot whenever they need it.
On their first evening they wander around the empty cube that’s their new home, touching the walls, touching each other. A line of coke. A bottle of champagne. She presses into his back as he stares at the light dazzling from the distant stadia. He’s about to say something meaningful about their future when he looks down to the canal edge below.
Someone, something, a shape, he doesn’t know. A shrouded figure. At first he can’t tell if it’s facing towards him or away from him. Then its head moves. And he knows.
He knows that whatever it is, it’s looking up at him.
He can’t sleep. A dreadful creaking pervades the night. It sounds like something swinging on a rusty hinge. He tries to bend and sway his mind with the creaks as if to absorb them into his reverie, but every time he drifts off a loud clang awakes him.
“Do you hear that?” he asks her.
She does. She hears it every night. And every day she fights wave after wave of fatigue. They’ve done nothing to the flat. The tins of paint and the rollers are still in plastic bags by the door. Almost all of their furniture is in storage and will stay there until they’ve at least painted the walls.
All they’ve got is his writing desk and a couple of hard back chairs. They sit on opposite sides of the table each evening after work and blearily flick through her design magazines.
Occasionally he goes to the window. He doesn’t bother admiring the Olympic Park any more. Instead he scans the towpath below. On good nights all he sees are a few late night dog walkers or teenagers huddled round joints. But sometimes he sees the figure standing there, staring. And sometimes he tries to outdo him, beat him at this stare-out game. He stands there until the early hours but the figure never moves.
By the time he gets to bed he’s shattered.
Then the creaking begins.
They don’t sleep at all now. They’ve stopped going to work. They cite viruses and other medical reasons for working from home. They sit on opposite sides of the desk all day with papers stacked around them. The pots of paint remain unopened.
He’s tacked Post-It notes to the wall behind him. He pins up a calendar he got free with the Sunday Times at New Year. Next to it he’s tacked a picture torn from Page 3 of The Sun. It’s a large-breasted, naked girl saying “I believe performance drugs have no place in Olympic sport’. He put it there because it was funny that the newspaper would pretend she’d said something like that, or that it was important she had a view on serious matters at all.
She’s not so sure he’s being ironic. Neither does he like the moustache he’s started growing. But she doesn’t care. She’s so tired.
She makes them both another cup of tea and gets back to her laptop. She’s been on the internet looking at pictures of this site from a time before the flats were built, when it was a factory making Matchbox cars and sending them down the canal on barges.
In one of the photos shows the endless row of office windows spanning the factory edifice. Beneath these layers of administration blocks, the blue Lesney Industries Ltd sign. And beneath that a giant hook, like an eagle’s talon, suspended in the loading bay.
For a moment her eyes play a trick. The hook seems to swing. Back and forth, back and forth.
They’ve lost track of time. It might be months since they moved in, they don’t know. Without sleep time stretches out so endlesssly it becomes meaningless, like judging how far you’ve walked in a desert.
They’ve tried their best to mark time. Now endless calendars and planning charts plaster the walls. Questions marks and notes are scrawled in the entries. The desk overflows with books, stationary and folders. The floor is a mess of paper.
They’ve not seen their friends for so long they’ve ditched the mobiles. Instead he takes his work calls now on a classic 1980s phone he picked up at a jumble sale in Homerton. It feels satisfying to hold that heavy handset in his hands, to force the numbers round the dial with his finger.
Mostly, she makes the tea and empties his ashtrays. He sits with his feet up, fondling his moustache, tapping another cigarette from the pack of John Player Specials.
They can hear the clanging and creaking all day now. The walls vibrate with noise. They’ve finally assimilated the sound into their existence. They hum along with it as they pass each other in the hallways, clutching notes, busy with movement.
The noise always stops at 5pm, allowing them to clock off. She takes a bath, he goes to stand by the window, watching the narrowboats roll below until it gets dark and the nightly creaking begins.
“Hey.” He feels her standing behind him in her dressing gown, breathing softly, nervously. It’s awkward. They work so well together during the day, it feels a bit embarrassing, sordid even, this after-hours relationship. This affair. A man in his position. He shouldn’t. Not with a factory to run. Not when his every movement is being scrutinised.
And then he sees the figure below. Looking up at the two of them in the window. And he knows now who this is, and what it is that he’s done to upset him.
If you’d like the read my original account of the death of the Lesney factory, then click here.