Don's diary

March 24, 2000


A bright morning in New Cross, London. Since September I have been acting head of the Centre for Urban and Community Research. The centre is based in an ornate old building in Laurie Grove that used to be public baths. The baths were opened in the early 20th century as part of a municipal drive to civilise the great unwashed of Deptford. The historian Roy Porter confessed at the centre's opening in 1994 that he learned to swim at Laurie Grove.


Finalise a change of name for the new MA degree. It will be called MA in culture, globalisation and the city. The floor of the old swimming baths is divided into a grid of studios in which young artists work. I stand on the balcony above the pool area and watch one fine art student put the final touches to a strange portrait of Stephen Hawking.


Attend exhibition at Millwall football club on the history of black footballers in Britain. It is part sponsored by the centre as a local anti-racist initiative and linked to a research project on the cultures of racism in football.

A story about 25 Kosovan refugees being offered free tickets by the Metropolitan Police to a Millwall fixture captures national headlines. The Sun's editorial sums up the climate of hate: "Hooligan Kosovan asylum seekers are being shown how to behave - by attending a Millwall match. What will they do next for refugees ... Give Romanian beggars a day trip to the Royal Mint?" There is little mention in the press of the collaboration between our centre and Millwall.


An email arrives from the son of the last official baths manager. After expressing his thanks for saving his former home, he inquires about the "Baths ghost". Over the 18 years that his father managed the baths, numerous people witnessed a poltergeist known as "Charlie" because he whistled the Charleston.


No sign of Charlie. As news spreads, people in the building are getting edgy. Spend the rest of the day writing references, doing more administration for the MA and authorising payments. Receive word that the Met has withdrawn its offer to the Kosovan fans. The press coverage has done more damage than a legion of leafleting British National Party activists.


The Millwall anti-racist focus match against Blackpool passes without any major incident.


Go searching for Charlie with my kids. Not a quiver. Inside the main bath area, the young artists are hard at work. The poolside cubicles are now filled with stashes of paint and art materials. Stevie, six, complains about the sewer like stench emanating from one of them - a nasty combination of plaster, stagnant water and paint. With a chuckle she declares: "Perhaps Charlie's gone to a ghosts' football match."

Les Back is acting head of the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College, London.

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