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Filthy students lining the Royal Albert Dock - non fiction



7:30am, 25th Jan 2017
Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam!
That’s me awake then, I think.
Of course the fire doors have been slamming all night, it is only now I give into it. I take off the full ear defenders and then tug the earplugs out. I guess I got some sleep in there somewhere.
The next sound is the roar of an aircraft taking off.
I get up and open the curtain. Ahead is the Royal Albert Dock, there are no ships now, like in its heyday, only a runway up the middle. Another aircraft rumbles into the air.
I dress, pass sideways along my narrow, orange segment shaped room, and open my door.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
Someone has left his alarm clock running. He’s either out or, more likely, passed out after a night of alcohol.
I go by the bank of fire doors in the curved hallway, to the kitchen door.
I almost vomit at the stink in the kitchen. There is broken eggshell and cigarette ash over the floor. The table is covered in bottles and half eaten plates of food. The kitchen surfaces are stacked high with dirty crockery, scraps of food and empty fag packets. The bins are overflowing onto the floor. The sink is piled high with dirty crocks. The windows are open and aircraft noise fills the room.
It stinks of party and fags in the no smoking kitchen, all mixed with the smell of aviation fumes.
I place my mug on the side, in the only part with no filth; I put my water jug next to it. Finding a cloth to clean the surface, I then move the jug over, only to knock my mug onto the floor, where it promptly smashes.
After picking up the smashed mug, I get my spare out of the cupboard and make coffee. While the machine percolates, I look out of the window at the dock, and the City Airport, as another plane burns into the sky.
I look closer in at the university grounds, there is no one about at this time of the morning.
I take my coffee back to my room and look out of the window. Nothing has changed; nothing ever changes with that view; an empty dock, then a line of buildings beyond.
I think of the dock back in the day when British ships lined the wharfs; long before the university was plonked here in the late 90’s. I can have little idea of how it had been back then, but for old pictures on the internet. I can’t even conceive what it was like to work on the docks; or what the towns of Beckton and North Woolwich were like then. It’s such another world, and only back a few decades.
Then I notice the dock water isn’t empty; there’s a flotilla of Great Crested Grebes. I wonder if they were here back in the day, when the big ships were. Did they float around with the iron monsters?
I am on the 3rd floor, and then, in my mind, a big ship towers over me. The cabin of a dock crane is level with me, and I see the man in his flat cap, drinking from a thermos; then he goes back to moving goods about the dockside and up to the ships. The dockside is an organised clutter of packing cases among the train rails and goods carriages. Men in flat caps and shirtsleeves move around, some with hand trollies, items being taken for a ride; in and out of the low warehouses they go. All around the keels of the ships are a barrage of low barges. Out in the crowded dock busy tugboats move about.
And between it all, timeless, the Grebes ride the ripples.

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