Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Our squat of bother

We're going to chance it and abandon the squat just for December.

Most of the drama of recent weeks seems to have subsided, we can even safely say vanished. No more Sitex men about in the day, but then no more residents to relocate (there are five flat owners who'll need to be compensated before they can move (and they'll need new houses to move to)).

It's been fairly quiet and we've even given up on staying in, confident that the quiet will remain and our home secure. USgal will nipping off to Copenhagen, myself to Amsterdam and Rhoderocker to somewhere within London. As long as we park our most valuable belongings elsewhere for the festive duration, and let our two squatter neighbours know of our temporary departure, we think we may be back here in January.

No sign of council diggers converting the parking lot into a building site and our homes into dust, as the recent rumours of demolition have intimated.

Merry holidays!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bricks and stones

We've seen the insides of our council block, now time for the externals.

The following photos were taken during more sunny times at the estate, both weatherwise (it's grim grey now) and neighbourwise. Where you may see open windows in these pictures, we now see Sitex coverings.

Boarded-up flats. Flat no.8, in the second photo, was the Ukrainian squat that was recently seized by the Sitex men during our "front door" spate.

Ground floor row of flats, all totalled.

Flats in the opposite block, few of which have been sealed up. A lot of residents still live here.

Back to our block, this time facing the main road. The Sitex people had previously boarded up front windows as well, a tactic they don't seem to use now.

No sunbathing on these balconies then.

This is us -- the top floor in this picture.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Squatdoyouthink, 2 : Atom Tom

Last Sunday, a non-squatter friend interviewed Atom Tom for his take on squatting et al. The following has been edited to focus on squatting.

So, Atom Tom, why are you squatting now?

Basic need, really. I can't afford to pay the rent, and anyway rents in London are mad, it's like throwing your money away.

What was your view of squatting before you started?

That only junkies, layabouts, benefit fraudsters or rich kids trying to look cool do it. That you're on the trash heap of society if you squat.

How were you introduced to squatting?

Via Shelter, a couple of years ago. The building of my rented flat was basically being sold. During the sale period I was housesitting at a friend's and wondering where to live, and whilst there spoke with Shelter about the kind of interim housing options that were available.

They couldn't help me, but they did put me on to a few squatting advisory places and sure enough I found a squat two weeks later -- which I didn't accept straight away, by the way. I couldn't believe I was going to squat!

What has been the one of the best experiences so far?

Coming into this flat that had nothing working.. and using nothing but our hands and ingenuity to bring it back to life, even though it was frustrating at the same time!

One of the most empowering?

Rebuilding the toilet, restoring the electrics. This blog has also been great fun, an outlet for my anxieties and education.

And the worst?

The council. The police showing up.

Have you squatted before this?

Yep, two years ago. There were either 5-8 flatmates, there were so many people about it was hard to tell. It was a non-stop party house of electric guitars, endless flowing vodka and trance parties. And big rats. Not very relaxing, if you're trying to work 9-5 and study. All the time I was thinking, "I can't wait to get out of here!"

What is your view of squatting now that you are squatting again?

This time round has been an interesting mix of, a) the world of squatting (including activisim, anarchism, DIY culture, skipping) which has been extremely sociable and, b) the responsibility of rebuilding and maintaining your squat from scratch. Plus dealings with the police and local council, being a firsthand witness to flat smashing and abuse towards squatters. It is a collision of philosophy and politics being played out live.

If you could choose, would you squat or pay rented accommodation?

Paying rent. A really, really affordable rent, mind.

Why is that?

Well, a sense of security for one. I love squatting, but it isn't easy. You need to adjust your way of living to accommodate the new realities that squatting represents, not the other way round. Like staying in, for example, which is important to the survival of a squat. Someone needs to be indoors 9-5 Monday-Friday to keep watch over the premises. It's difficult to implement in practice, and yet we'd be dead without it.

Do you think squatting needs a better image to encourage people to participate eg. do we call it something else?

I do think squatting needs a word that actually describes what it is -- it almost sounds like a dirty word, something disgusting, from the toilet. I think of what we do as being part renovation, part caretaking. We're making homes out of empty places -- we're not taking a shit in them! We don't generally lean towards ugly words, do we, unless we mean to hurt someone, dehumanise them.

I definitely think the view of squatting needs to be portrayed better; right now the mainstream opinion is of squatters as junkies, outcasts, illegal people, although people also think squatting is cool (but only if artists do it). I do think a more empowering and inclusive word is needed, for sure, if only to disempower the establishment.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Chopped Potato : Estate of mind

With the police chap the other day acting more excited at the prospect of the estate being demolished than with kicking out a few squatters, I thought it worthwhile to take a look into the story of the estate. Just what is going on here?

It turns out that where we live is quite famous. An eighties soul singer took his stage name from the name of the estate. It also turns out that where we live is part of a much larger sprawling housing estate, consisting of council blocks and terraced houses, and conceived in the 1950s as "the showpiece of modern social housing". Here is a map of the estate (with the street names blurred out):

And it is that estate that is getting all the media coverage.

And not just any old media coverage. The BBC have been at, telling everyone it's a great place to buy heroin in 2001, and updating us all in 2004. The Independent also wants you to know about da drugs. Never mind the thriving community that still lives here, but ho hum. Leave it to a group of artists to report on the sunny side of change in the community.

One of the prominent construction industry journals has also been at it, but this time to report more recent news concerning the future of redevelopment (thanks to much-needed consortium investment pulling out). The local press sadly confirm this.

When former PM Tony Blair visited the estate in 2001, redevelopment was heralded as the saving grace for the estate. Cramped conditions, buildings in disrepair and a hotspot for crime have plagued this community for decades.

The refurbishment of existing homes, the construction of new flats to replace crumbling council blocks and the development of new shopping parades would give the area a much needed morale boost and create an uplifting neighbourhood. But the community has yet to see any of this in the years since.

Whilst a delay in development is of course good news for the squatters here, it is important that we think of the residents we live among. It is these people we need to hope for, not ourselves.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

(Down) Underground

As you may have read in the "By the way, it's legal" entry, squatting is not illegal in England. But how is squatting viewed in other parts of the world?

The following passage is taken from an article by Adam Ferguson entitled "Personal Property", that was published in Big Issue Australia in 2005 and offers the view of squatting from the Australian perspective :

"There are no exact statistics on squatting in Australia, and even vague estimates are rare. This lack of data is largely due to the "outsider status" of squatters, according to Dr Catherine Robinson, author of a 2003 report, Squatting: What's the Reality?. "You're talking about an invisible population," she says. "It's not a population that's going to attract a lot of research interest. These are people who simply don't want to be found."

Technically, squatting is illegal (although generally the only offence being committed is trespass, and this is rarely prosecuted). But some believe squatting is a right; a legitimate response to rising rents and a lack of cheap housing options. Organisations like the Sydney Housing Action Collective (SHAC) provide support, information and legal advice to squatters. Their online guide, Squatters' Handbook, provides advice on everything from finding a place to dealing with police, landlords and neighbours.

"The essential ethic is that it is a crime to have all these empty properties around Australia while there are people who are homeless, sleeping in doorways or in train stations," says Louise Boon-Kuo, a spokesperson for SHAC. She argues that with the abundance of "empties" in Australian cities, people shouldn't have to rely on the private rental market or the government to solve their housing needs.

With its shady legal status and seedy reputation, squatting can often spark conflict with the authorities, property owners and mainstream society. Perhaps the most publicised clash in Australia involved a cluster of council-owned buildings in Sydney, known as the Broadway Squats, which were blockaded by squatters with the help of sympathetic unionists when the council tried to evict them in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympic Games.

Of course, squatters who maintain and even improve their homes don't make for sensationalist news stories. Which is why the mainstream media focus instead on squats where drug use and property damages are.

One squatter Robinson contacted said, of her home :"My squat gives me a sense of place, of belonging and ownership. It is free of rules, free from compulsion to be involved in case management and self improvement."

As long as the concept of owning land exists, Wright-Howie notes, so too will squatters, "I don't think we necessarily want to condone it, but we want to understand why people are doing it, and we need to treat those people with dignity and respect."

Thursday, 4 December 2008

A hop and a skip

Just when you start to forget you are living in a squat...


Here in this bag are some of the results of a "sushi snatch" carried out by Kitchen Sink Neighbour the other night, in her twice-monthly city dumpster sushi hunts. The last time we feasted on free and very freshly-made sushi was from the equivalent of £500's worth of perfectly fine food that Kitchen Sink Neighbour had lugged back with her a few weeks ago.

Fear not, if the concept of eating out of the dumpster turns you green. As you can see, all of the freshly-made sushi has been packaged up. With a freezer (or indeed, just leaving it outside in the night air, the winter temperatures of late doing a very good freezer impression all on their own), they can be preserved a little while longer.

In fact, dumpster diving (or skipping, dumpster-raiding, tatting, skally-wagging, alley surfing) is nothing new. The Wikipedia definition is "the practice of sifting through commercial and residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but which may be useful to the Dumpster diver".

Although traditionally, most people resort to dumpster diving out of economic necessity, like the rag and bone man or the karung guni in Singapore, others may practice dumpster diving for various economic and personal reasons. Those who participate in "freeganism", for example, dumpster dive to avoid the materialistic consumer lifestyle.

Regardless of what you wish to call it, the main thing I have learned in my relatively recent exposure to skipping is just how much good food and decent furniture gets thrown away, for no real reason (food may have a better reason, of course, but furniture can be fixed).

An eye-opener, if nothing else, and certainly encourages you to question the point of consumerism and your own personal materialism.

For more insight into skally-wagging, check out this amazing and informative blog My Dumpster Diving Adventures for opinions and photographs by one expert dumpster diver in the USA. Prepare to be astounded!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Jacket Potato

Some useful reading about established squats around the world...

Christiania is a long-term squat, founded in 1971 on the site of an abandoned military zone. An independent community of almost 900 people, the "Green Lung Of The City" covers 85 acres and has four unbreakable rules for visitors and those who live there: no hard drugs, no rocker badges, no weapons and no violence. Worth a visit.

Poortgebouw is one of Rotterdam's national landmarks. Built in 1879, it was squatted in 1980, to highlight the lack of affordable housing in the city. In 1982, the city council agreed that the squatters could stay on as a housing association, thus legalising the squat! Offering film nights, a cafe and an infoshop, Poortgebouw faces eviction in 2009, thanks to the building's sale in 2001 against the wishes of the housing association.

Although long since closed, the ELF Experiment in Amsterdam was an initiative by a group of people to engage in positive squatting. That initiative included a "magic restaurant", a budget dormitory, art studios and a "Skylab" that could house 24-hour parties on a regular basis. Sounds amazing? Check out the story, as told by its founder, Ton.

With the 2012 Olympics looming ever closer, Games Monitor continues to report on its impact on London. The site describes itself as seeking to deconstruct the 'fantastic' hype of Olympic boosterism and the eager complicity of the 'urban elites' in politics, business, the media, sport, academia and local institutional 'community stakeholders'. Informative stuff.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

That's what friends are fourth

Squatting is the last place you'd expect hierarchy. After all, the philosophies of squatting, activism et al advocate one of living in a non-hierarchy. Living in a derelict building is only one small part of the squatting ethos.

In just a few months and we already have hierarchy in this squat. To be told from the off "I have invited you to live here" bodes well for no squatter. The 'fourth housemate' is basically this: I live in a squat opened by someone else. "Like living with a landlord then?" I replied, to silence.

Not that USgal opened the squat entirely on her own -- as a newcomer, she was accompanied by far more advanced squat-openers -- but the mere fact that she arrived here before anyone else and has stated there is a hierarchy problem is a problem. Since non-hierarchy is a key component in this way of life, not realising that from the off may spell trouble for all. And it already has.

Case in point: last Friday's movie night.

Originally conceived as a cosy bonding night for the current new household over DVDs and pizza, somewhere between conception and execution it was changed into a movie party with the neighbours -- at USgal's whim. No one else got to decide, hell, no one in the flat was even informed about it. To learn about it from the 'invited' neighbours about "tonight's party, what shall I bring" is really NOT the way to go about things.

Her response to my objection: deal with it. Yes, in spite of you living here. Yes, I went unheard, left with plenty of "it's my decision" as opposed to the entire squat's decision. Yes, I did find alternative plans that night, but not before almost painting a giant black X in my mind on living in this particular squat.

It's worth noting at this point too that:

With all the focus coming off of the DIY of the squat in recent days, no one has actually given any thought as to whether we can live together. And whether we can live in accordance with the philosophies of squatting, or even if those philosophies work.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out from now on, now that "Project Squat" is stabilising. We'll have no nails, angle grinders or low supply of tea lights to hide behind from now on.

No excuses to work on the plumbing instead of squatwide fairness.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Cat on a squat tin roof

Our new squatter neighbours two doors away discovered the other day that they have access to the roof! And would I like to join them in taking a look? Of course the answer is not no, and with our council block due for demolition at some point in the future, there is a feeling that its secret history must be revealed before then.

A plan is hatched.

Here is the view of their flat from above.

Not a built-in rug... instead, it is asbestos roof insulation. Shame we have neglected to insulate our throats and nostrils from inhaling its dust.

The roof construction looks almost chapel-like; there is scope here in the roof for more people to occupy, once the asbestos has been dealt with.

If you squint hard enough, you may be able to reimagine this window as our own patio door.

What a pleasant view. Such fresh air.

This is a warning notice for any council electricians who find themselves in the loft, as it also happens to house the electricity generators for our entire block.

Oh what's this? We can actually see into the Blair Witch flat. The white shapes are actually the outlines of bottles that once sat on a shelf, the dark grey around them are the result of a fire in the flat.

One of the neighbours jumps down in to the flat, for a look around. Here are some of his pictures -

Living room and suitably ghost-like balcony door.

An unfortunate casualty, no doubt the result of being unable to escape.

Otherwise, despite the fire damage, anti-climb paint destruction, the callous handiwork of the councilmen and solemn atmosphere, the Blair Witch flat is like every other boarded-up apartment on the estate -- in good solid nick and able to house people. The windows are intact and it isn't too cold in here. Not impossible.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Flux off

The squat, circa now :

Toilet? Check
Running water? Check
Lighting? Check
Heating? Check

Living in an ordinary house now? Check

Except, it doesn't feel right. There has definitely been a noticeable shift in house atmosphere in the last few days. The word "stability" may be the culprit.

Most of the DIY has now been completed, save for hot water, paint jobs, furniture building and a working shower. We have squatter neighbour friends two doors away whose presence somehow allows us to relax. The majority of the residents in our council block have been shipped out, so Sitex visitations have stopped. We now have a dual-front door entry system, thanks to police bullying. We're each taking it in turns to stay in.

This is all good news, of course, and in many ways the successful outcome of what you hope all squats will be -- a safe, comfortable and fully working house. But by turning out this way, much of the intrigue feels lost. The risk/agitation factor has gone. What has kept us engaged, galvanised us to problem solve on the fly, motivated us to question our water/electricity habits, meddled with our relaxation time and forced us to endure in unkind pitch black conditions has retreated into the background without telling us -- and we want it back!

It's not that we're ungrateful for what we have, but we took nothing for granted back then. The house kept us guessing. A constant state of impromptu education and philosophy. Fury, anxiety and joy alternating at rapid speed. A house in total flux.

We need that discomfort to remind us that we are squatting, lest we forget, lest we became complacent and comfortable, lest we become bloated on ignorance.

You come to miss walking into a cold dark house and rummaging around for a candle, or being pissed off at having to pay £50 for a handful of plumbing, or going to the pub across the road for the toilet, or trying to describe what Denzo tape is to a shop assistant when you don't know it is called Denzo tape. Our neighbours were more involved in our day-to-day, for example with electrical advice or the use of their hob. The squat kept us present, in the moment, uncomfortable. Not sure if it does anymore.

Maybe if we're so good at renovating squats, we could do it for a living!

Is the party over now or has it just begun?

Friday, 21 November 2008

The new reality

And the new reality is, that we needed the police causing trouble and accelerating pulses in order to expose a major vulnerability in our squat -- the shared responsibility of staying in.

Of having at least one person indoors, and that person alternating with the rest of the housemates to ensure the protection of the squat and our belongings.

That person has mostly been me; how else have I been able to get live squat reportage otherwise? Someone had to care, when no one else could be bothered. There really is disbelief amongst all in the way this detail is received, an almost "I didn't know about that" style revelation! Come on, it's in the squatters advice literature!

The police have almost certainly kicked it into our heads that squatting is a responsibility, not a game, not some fantasy world of DIY achievements and thrills about not paying rent to surprise people with. Silent protests towards landlords and personal stands against the local government mean nothing if you can't get real.

We decide between us that all the responsibilities on the list of house duties are equal to each other and where one person can't stay in and housesit, they can instead compensate by taking a greater load elsewhere. Loads such as skipping vegetables, purchasing other food, DIY, reinforcing the new door, painting, replacing broken window panes. All equal tasks and the number of man hours spent keeping watch as equal to the value of money spent on sustenance. I could have quite easily asserted my rights at this point and offered not to lift a finger forever, having done my bit for the last century, if not for group acknowledgement finally of these efforts.

With Christmas coming and everyone away for it, we realise that nobody is going to be here to keep watch. So what then? Rhoderocker is aware from experience that the police & co. can terminate squats even during these times of goodwill, maybe not on Christmas day but all days either side. T'is the season to be bully (which, admittedly, is all the time on the police calendar).

Do we make plans to evacuate our belongings and abandon the squat on the date the last housemate is physically in the city? Do we bring in squat sitters? Do we just risk locking the place up and returning in the new year to see if home still exists? Shall we just call it a day, and look towards new premises from this moment on? Questions all and around and around they go.

And all thanks to the police.

(But police, don't get a swelled head about it.)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Tag, you're it

The last 36 hours or so has inspired the inclusion of this extract, by Eckhart Tolle (author of "Power of Now").

Here he discusses "collective ego" and the disharmony such a state of being generates. "Police", "Sitex official" and "Squatter" are the examples of the collective egos in our situation.

"A collective ego manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego, such as the need for conflict and enemies, the need for more, the need to be right against others who are wrong, and so on. Sooner or later, the collective will come into conflict with other collectives, because it unconsciously seeks conflict and it needs opposition to define its boundary and thus its identity. Its members will then experience the suffering that inevitably comes in the wake of any ego-motivated action. At that point, they may wake up and realise that their collective has a strong element of insanity.

A collective ego is usually more unconscious than the individuals that make up the ego. For example, crowds (which are temporary collective egoic entities) are capable of committing atrocities that the individual away from the crowd would not be. Nations frequently engage in behaviour that would be immediately recognizable as psychopathic in an individual.

Cooperation is alien to the ego, except when there is a secondary motive. The ego doesn't know that the more you include others, the more smoothly things flow and the more easily things come to you. When you give little or no help to others or put obstacles in their path, the universe --in the form of people and circumstances-- gives little or no help to you because you have cut yourself off from the whole."

Affront door, part 4, and sure enough

With roughly three hours' sleep shared between us, and the new front door about to demonstrate its kicking-in-resistant prowess, USgal and me wait patiently inside the hallway for the 9am removal of our Sitex door. Not a word spoken between us, as if one utter will scare a bird into flight, shock the tense quiet into exploding.

And sure enough the police and Sitex officials

do not come.

Not at 9am, as the police guy had insisted.

Nor at 10am.

Nor three hours after that, as per the usual time we expect a Sitex unit to come on site post-flat smashing (yes, another flat emptied today, another family relocated).

All the while we wait, rotating shifts with Rhoderocker, USgal giving up a lecture to be here, my own state of mind giving up being a mind. And we continue in this warped, dazed and concentrated way all the way up until 5pm where the authorities

do not come.

Affront door, part 3, a saw point

By the time 5.30am rolls around this morning, the installation of a new front door will have taken nearly 12 hours to complete (give or take beer breaks, continued recoiling from the Sitex/police events and shoddy attempts at dinner-making).

When we start off just after 5pm on Wednesday with our reluctant DIY skills, Rhoderocker and me have no idea what we are getting into.

We start by nailing a wooden post to the doorframe, to reinforce it and give the new door something to connect with (it is slightly slimmer in width than the hallway).

This is our spare door by the way, and our attempt to hack off the top with the type of saw that tree surgeons use.

Partway through the sawing, we swap it for a hardwood door, which Kitchen Sink Neighbour has eagle-eyed for us three blocks away. Heavy to carry back, it is solid and thick, the type of door you need to withstand being kicked in.

After removing its own hinges and attaching it our doorframe, we hit a snag : the new hardwood door doesn't close!

Still, the general idea is there.

After (probably) committing criminal damage to the top of the doorframe (by chiselling at it so that the new door can fit comfortably beneath), and five hours or so of continual work, we stop. Sawing and inane screwdriving can quickly bust shoulder joints and sour minds.

Work resumes just after 1am, with Diagram Drawing Electrician's carpentry expertise running alongside us.

As a result, the door is rehinged and rehung -- yes, hung. You hang a door, we are informed. You don't put a door on. It takes considered precision and patience.

Once rehung, the angle grinder is used to remove one of the door's original hinges that we neglected to unscrew first time round (eg. pre-10.30pm aka worn out).

And then it is hung and then re-hung again, this time so we can hack off the top of the door and reposition the wooden post so the door can be closed properly.

Here is our new front door, at last.

It is roughly 5.30am by the time we finish. I never want to see a door hinge again.

Here is the new door once more, with its own Section 6 warning, alongside its Sitex compatriot.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Affront door, part 2, the police

With little or no time to soak in what has just happened or discuss action possibilities with the callout crew and our neighbours, Rhoderocker spots the return of the Sitex van -- accompanied by the police. Already on high alert, we lock ourselves in again and wonder if they are intended for us.

They are.

The Sitex people have called in the police, under the assumption that we have no interest in cooperating over the door. The Sitex official who speaks (and again we don't see the face of) does so with flawed knowledge -- he believes we have removed the stainless steel Sitex mesh and replaced it with a Sitex door that we have stolen from somewhere else.

Flawed knowledge, because of course this is the original door THEY installed.

He starts to whitter on about the deployment of dog patrols as soon as the block has been emptied, to deter squatters, in a kind of whiny voice like the sound of a radio being tuned.

The policeman completely understands that our dispute is a civil matter and that he cannot intervene. He is completely upfront about that, that he's versed in squatters rights. He is only here because the Sitex people have called them in, in their belief that the police are some higher authority that will strike fear into us, who will strong arm us into complying.

Unfortunately, it is this generous 'implied compliment' by the Sitex official that transforms the policeman's behaviour as the talks continue. His presence intended to be passive, the policeman suddenly finds himself able to step up, talking AT us in a manner as though our actions are towards him.

"Okay, I don't want to speak to you now, I want to speak to the other one of you in there. I can see him through the door," he says to Rhoderocker, referring to me.

"You need to show me your ID now. Not some stupid bit of paper with your phone number. I want to see a driver's licence, passport, so if the door goes missing overnight, I can hold you responsible."

"Squatters. Tsk. The sooner they tear this place down, the better."

"You should get a court order," he says to whiny Sitex man, "that'll get them all out."

"Okay, you can go away now, you're starting to annoy me," he spits at Diagram Drawing Electrician, who is standing with them in his guise as legal observer, "Who are you, do you live here? So go away then."

"We can take the door whenever we like," he adds, as though suddenly revealing that he too works for the Sitex company.

And all the while trying to persuade us to open the door to show him our faces. We all know that doing so will put this squat in jeopardy, that we could be kicked out. Any peaceful agreement that invites the police in ends the squat.

Rhoderocker and me are happy for the Sitex door to go, if we can negotiate a date for collection so we install a replacement. Except only Police Guy wants to make that call -- out of nowhere he says, "You have one hour to come up with a new door."

One hour? In which to -- a, find a new door, b, if we have to buy it, where from, c, buy the door and bring it back, d, get tools to install it, z, install it -- no way! Police Guy believes it is possible. We believe it is possible he is a fucking smug jerk who needs a good slap (but nobody says it).

Diagram Drawing Electrician intervenes at this point -- we want to return your door, but let's choose a realistic time. Whiny Sitex man attempts to speak up, only for Police Guy to bulldoze him out of the way.

"You have until 9am tomorrow morning. We will be back here to remove your door," he decides for everyone, probably loving it all as he speaks.

And then that's it. Situation ends. Though Police Guy and mouselike Sitex guy soon fade out, the stench of their hostility remains on our door (sorry, THEIR door). This being my first real confrontation with the police, the ego and arrogrance of this guy and his personalising of the events has been a total surprise. Hostile, and for no reason than maybe his uniform allows for it? A real shock.

And whilst the callout crew consider using the spare door we have as our new front door, I continue on, infuriated by the way we have been judged. We are nothing but squatters who have stolen a door and are refusing to return it -- without asking us if we agreed, this was the portrayal they had chosen for us and were acting upon with their every word.

Damn you squatters, they think, you evil squatters. As opposed to, all human beings together.

Affront door, part 1, eight Sitex men

Eight men turn up on our doorstep at 11.30am.

More precisely, there are eight sets of feet wearing muddied workmen boots, spouting eight sets of gruff caveman voices that talk over each other. Thanks to the Sitex security door that is our front door staying closed, we don't get a chance to see their faces. But also thanks to the Sitex security door, this is why they are here.

They work for the firm that is steadily encasing the entire housing estate in Sitex sheeting -- and our front door has astonished them. Astonished them, because they believe that we have STOLEN this Sitex door in order to use it as a front door! They can't quite understand how this door can even exist on the estate (uh, guys, you put the door here in the first place) because all of the other empty properties are boarded up with stainless steel meshes.

Their amnesia is accusing us of thievery.

Their disbelief stutters the following :

"How did they get this door?"
"They must've found it from a scrap market and put it here."
"Nah, maybe the door was always here."
"Not sure about that."
"Hey lookit that -- they've put a new lock on it!"
"Really? Where?"
"See here."
"Fucking hell!" x8
"You're right -- they must have broken in and put their own lock on."
"That'll be right."
"That's criminal damage that is."
"It fucking is!" x8
"We can charge them for that."
"Yeah, let's do 'em for that."
"Oi, is anyone in there??"

New housemate Rhoderocker (who arrived only 20 minutes ago) is immediately put to work, acting as the voice behind our side of the door, whilst on the other side pound the eight men almost in unison. They want their door back, they grunt. Section 6 means nothing to them, whilst their door means plenty. They will charge us for criminal damage because we have changed the locks.

And they want to take the door RIGHT NOW! and have the tools to do so. They don't care that this is our home, we're illegal they say, and the Legal Warning on our door is just a meaningless bit of paper they'll hand back once the door is gone.

"It's flat 22 and they have our Sitex door and won't return it", they complain together on a walkie talkie.

Diagram Drawing Electrician drops his life and dashes over during my callout. USgal pours sweat all over as she attends her lectures ten miles away, stressing out that she can't physically be here. Everyone who can help us is on voicemail. Rhoderocker and me listen to their demands but refuse to open the door.

Eventually, this 40 minute altercation calms down. The group of eight slowly move away, saying they can come at anytime to remove the door and that they will, we can bet on it. By 12.30pm, the herd have moved off completely, leaving us to consider our options, including whether they are calling our bluff.

UPDATE: just before 1pm, we learn the herd have just boarded up flat no.8, a squat opened up by a couple of Ukrainian men who work during the daytime (and thus leave the place empty). That could've happened to us.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Squatdoyouthink, 1 : USgal

Last Friday, Atom Tom interviewed USgal for her thoughts about squatting.

So, why are you squatting now?

Basically I believe that housing is the right for everyone, that everybody should get housing. I'm putting my ideas into action in that way. I don't necessarily have to squat, I could pay rent but I definitely feel I wouldn't be as happy if I was in student housing. I wouldn't be experiencing as much as I do now, learning as much as I do now, what goes on on the day-to-day level.

What was your view of squatting before you started?

I didn't have a very concrete impression. A lot of people here have the impression that squatters are dirty and on drugs and stuff like that. When I think of squatters, I would think of developing world squats, of houses made of wood or aluminum corrogated sheets because I've seen that before.

How were you introduced to squatting here?

Through my friend from university and her English boyfriend. I found out she was staying in a squat and she suggested maybe we could open one up as well. At first I was like, "what?!" and then it was like, yeah, that sounds like a very good idea!

How did you find about this squat?

Again through my university friend.

What has been one of the best experiences so far?

Things that I can think of are, that I can do what I want with this place. And learning about electrics has been a big thing here for me. Getting a toilet is really nice, so nice 'cos it happened on Thursday!

The most empowering?

Either learning electrics or living here on my own for the first two weeks.

And the worst?

The council and the cops.

Have you squatted before this?


What is your view of squatting now that you are squatting?

It's definitely gotten more positive, I'd say, or at least more informed. Meeting lots of other people who squat, having it be a personal experience, learning more about squatting culture, not just in London but in other countries as well.

If you could choose, would you squat or pay rented accommodation?

I'd squat.

Why is that?

I feel, if you pay rent or if you squat, it can be as good or as shitty, it's just that one variable, money. And I don't really agree with that. Money is difficult to quantify as to what you get out of it -- like here in London, having to pay so much money for like having a dinky room and crappy landlords, it just doesnt seem right.

Do you think squatting needs a better image to encourage people to participate, eg. do we call it something else?

That's tricky. 'Cos changing the word of something has been done with other things and it can be argued that making a new word for it can mask it. It's not really fixing the whole issue at hand. It could also create divisiveness within the squatting community 'cos a lot of people will be like, "what's the problem with using the word squatting?"

I don't know how to change how the image of squatting is perceived, but I think this blog works because there's information and education here and most information comes from the dominant people who are in power -- you always hear their ideas of what they want. I don't understand why you need to spend so much of your mental space thinking about this arbitary stuff called money. It's like what I was saying before, about paying your landlord £300 a week for a shitty room, I don't see how that makes sense or equals out. How do you agree on something like that if your landlord won't fix your shower!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Squatshots, 6

We really made some good here.

A living room that looks lived in.

Kitchen, Bathroom, show us your lights!

Not to be outshone -- John.

Friday, 14 November 2008


For the second time in less than 24 hours, another "pre-squatter" comes to our home, having heard about it as a positive example of squatting that is worth seeing, as though we're a showroom. Of course, we're only too happy to show him around.

It seems that disillusionment with landlords is driving them to squat. All that money you pay for rent, and for nothing more than an uneven relationship, motivated solely by money. You pay them rent, but they do nothing to make your time in their house/flat better, like buy extra furniture for your housemates or fix the shower. It is not as if they don't have your funds, which takes up a chunk of your income to begin with.

I was once told by a landlord "you pay the rent, that is all the rights you have." A different landlord refused to return my deposit when I decided to quit his flat; it was, instead, my responsibility to find a replacement flatmate, whose own deposit was to be handed over to me as the replacement for my deposit! No replacement flatmate, you lose your deposit, instead of your right to have your money returned. Crazy story, and no doubt one of many landlord stories out there.

The sole difference between squatting or living in rented accommodation is the money aspect. And nothing more than that.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Chopped Potato : Identikit

Entering the parking lot in their identikit metallic cars, and dressed like government agents out of some shadow conspiracy, a group of officials come to our estate tonight.

Marching passed us and a friend, as we share squatting philosophies in the cold night air, this trenchcoat brigade of balding stocky guy and four women in identikit black outfits with identikit blonde highlights sure do stand out. Not likely folk around these parts and with clipboards held firmly to their chests, a suspicious group at that.

Almost like a Pac-man game, the motley lot enters the block of flats quickly and each of them takes a floor, scanning each flat to identify who lives there. Some earshot comments:

"Why are they boarded up? Oh."
"That one will be out soon" (says Baldie, of a resident's flat on the 2nd floor)
"Two squats here" (when he reaches our floor)

And then they eventually regroup, at the top of our stairwell, having located their target: the Polish family who live in a flat directly opposite that of Kitchen Sink Neighbour's. Whether the family were expecting them or not, the Pac-five are soon ushered in.

Meanwhile, back in the parking lot, we're still standing in the cold night air, wondering what is going on behind closed doors. I find myself feeling particularly annoyed about it all, for the way the council is conducting their business and the secrecy of their redevelopment plans. I'm not sure if they id'd us as squatters (I certainly break the stereotype of the "squatter look") on their way in, but still. It is then that my friend points out how emotional I'm being.

Yes, I probably am. Being emotionally invested in the squat may work against us someday, when we do have to leave. Best flush the emotion out now. Now, if only I had an ultraviolet pen and a car body to scrawl my views on! Oh, wait a sec, there are two car bodies just over there, metallic coloured...

UPDATE: around 8pm, Lad, a squatter friend, pops around, to say hi and add an interesting statistic to our interesting evening: that there are roughly 30,000 empty properties in our city but also the equivalent homeless people. This bears checking out further, if only to authenticate.

Piss the season to be jolly

Last but not least, the toilet.

Successfully linked to the waste water pipe by the concertina-like nozzle (known in the trade as "New Extendable Jollyflex"), our new skipped toilet edges our house further away from the cold barren shell that it was more than six weeks ago.

Here is the intended joining of Jollyflex and holes :

To ensure there is no water leakage from the toilet bowl, several reels of water-resistant Denzo tape are applied to the rim of the toilet spout (the lower hole of the two in this photo). Denzo tape (which works by sticking to itself) will provide the Jollyflex with an extra grip on the toilet, and a few drops of PVC pipe weld glue help to seal them together.

Waterproof plumbers seal is then applied around the Jollyflex, as it slots into the waste pipe. This also prevents any unspeakable substances from leaking out.

And now the moment we've all been waiting for...




Goodbye to leaving the flat for a pee.

Electric window

Pressing on with the determination of a marathon runner going uphill, the household races to complete, or at least inch closer to completing, most of the main DIY projects.

First up, the electrics.

Thanks to Obi Wan's loan of a multi-meter, each electrical wire is checked to see how much current they contain.

Apart from a rogue spark exploding, the job goes rather well. Here is our stove. Yes, we have a working stove now (the oven at least).

Talking of the kitchen..

The decision is made to shut the kitchen window, that is currently being propped wide open by Sitex steel bars. We decide to retain the bottom Sitex steel bars, because the idea is to keep the metal sheet on, reattaching it straight away with our two-bolts-and-some-string technique.

Here is the angle grinder being used to dismantle the top and middle Sitex bars :


Despite a crack or two in the panes, the kitchen feels warm at last.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Is it Christmas..?

Look at what we have here!

Is it Christmas?

Look at all those doors! All that wood!

We could make bookshelves and tables out of this!

Or barricades!

Uh, who's that man? What's going on here?


Furniture removal van. That can only mean...

Another family has been rehoused. Another flat is about to die. Can you hear the china and glass smashing as though some drunken mob is trashing the place? The mob that is the flat smashing crew whose wages are your taxes!

And soon the entire floor of these flats will go the way of the floor below us :

You have to hand it to the local authorities and their flat smashing entourage.. they move swiftly and work efficiently.

Soon our floor will more or less be the only floor inhabited in this entire block... but for how much longer?

House legs / leg to stand on

If the estate is on its last legs, how can we repel an eviction, we ask SoundsNorwegian tonight. With Diagram Drawing Electrician's housemates due in court this week, the inevitable seems to be moving in, although admittedly with only hearsay speculating the speed of its approach.

SoundsNorwegian's eviction experience is limited to large freestanding buildings, she admits, for example her stay at Dalston Theatre, that was about to be demolished to make way for the East London line extension. Here, she and her housemates devised a resistance that allowed each of them to be chained up to the building, thereby prolonging the action since the police needed to cut them free to make arrests. Not a tactic, she feels, can translate to tiny apartments. With some of Diagram Drawing Electrician's housemates suggesting it may be easier to move on than defend, we're left to wonder if these flats are worth fighting for.

And should we end up in court, we wonder too if our defence will be stronger by selecting a more "naive" housemate to speak for us, one who knows little about the legal system or doesn't possess the spit and acid of personal feelings towards it. Perhaps we can win the judge over in this way, via sheer innocence.

This certainly seemed to be the outcome of my own (admittedly not intentional in any way) tactic, when I attended court for my previous squat in Walthamstow (a squat which I had yet to move into at that point). I was the sole housemate in court (everyone else had forgotten) and my own discomfort about squatting in the first place somehow enabled the squat to stay open for another three months.

Anyway, doubts aside, we come up with some possible actions to pursue, including the organising of a network with neighbouring squats, speaking with other networks outside of our area, legal counsel, barricade-building and looking beyond towards newer houses/flats to open. Our house, which barely has legs anyway, may just have a future yet.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Law de toilette

On our way to dinner tonight, USgal spots this piece of objet d'art lurking next door to a Buddhist centre.

We've found a toilet!

Do you think this will conceal it in the meantime?

Later joined by SoundsNorwegian, we return for the toilet.

Now, if only we could find ourselves some wheels...


NB. It seems modern supermarkets have added a wheel-jamming mechanism to their trolleys to prevent their theft. We are probably getting some weird looks from people, who may be wondering why it is taking three people to use a trolley.

Here's an aerial view of the toilet.

All aboard!

More wheel-jamming as we head homewards, but the chance to shit in our own home propels us on.

Back home and...

The nozzle fits!

Eventually, the toilet and waste water pipe will be joined like this :

We will then attach them to the cistern, and hopefully a working toilet will spring forth.

The toilet baton is passed.