I love this city.
I walk around it as if I own the place.
I piss where I want, spit my chewing gum on the floor, and flick fag ends at parked cars.
I love this city.
I walk around it as if I own the place.
I piss where I want, spit my chewing gum on the floor, and flick fag ends at parked cars.
[Here is space for you to forget about that ship.]
A vast ship maneuvers through shifting tides and currents, once guided by stars, its crew held in the belief that, sometime, it might steer smoothly from the indistinguishable darkness of churning black into static space, the calm between points of light in the sky. Now though, blinking colours emit from diodes, displaying constellations that hold less mystery than before. Yet still, a technologically baffling ‘Global Positioning System’ ensures that a steady stream of information keeps its crew aware of their position. The great ship ferries around in, what might appear to be, a depressing, circular, dally, but since everyone over the age of 18 gets to be captain, it would make sense that no clear, unified direction has ever quite managed to materialize fully. Which isn’t the end of the world, given that it’s supposed to be a pleasure cruise.
It was built over hundreds of years, and everyone whoever got aboard has contributed to its building, running, and general maintenance. Now the place is a living, thriving, community with all sorts of services and entertainments to offer. There are nurseries and bandstands, libraries and cinemas, for a brief though ill-fated time there was even a roller disco. Thankfully, there were also hospitals.
Not everyone used what was provided, and it was a bit of a sod to run, but the main thing that everyone seemed to hold in common was a shared interest in not letting the ship sink.
Yes. The CitizenShip had for long been a hardy behemoth. But many who had been afloat in it for decades now would grumble, like intermittent drizzle, of how things weren’t as they’d once been. And it was true, their ship now crested with increasing precarity over international waves, of crime.
The place was an absolute state, showing signs of deterioration. Not least of all in the Ship’s Hull, despite recent additions of large scale, hi-res photos of softly lit sea bass with chives and a garlic butter sauce, braceleted ladies cutting fine figures with face tones to compliment chromium-brown, sedative backdrops, with slogans like, ‘History in the making’, and, ‘Coming Soon’ in dignified, white, italicized type. This is where holes had been developing.
Invitations into the spaces behind the images were limited, seeing as these private parts were tightly controlled by a resource hoarding conglomerate called the Conservatories, who inhabited a huge glass penthouse at the highest point on top deck. They believed that they had a right to own the CitizenShip. Even though that right was total fucking horse shit since the vessel had been built by everyone together. It was clearly unfair to sell chunks of the Ship off without the permission of its captains, but regardless of their approval in any case, it was especially unfair to sell it off to those without an interest in making sure the ship would not sink. But the Conservatories all had yachts.
By now, word had been circling that the Conservatories had been the group primarily responsible for the damp that was rising through the Ship, which was bad, because one of the last things that anyone ever wants to have in a ship is uninvited water. Especially when that water is full of crime. Anyway, as became apparent, the Conservatories had been acting out their secretive plan of drilling and progressively widening holes in the Ship for the past few decades. This was what was happening behind the giant images, and sub-aquatic mercenaries, missionaries, and militants had been learnt to catch this drift, so that upon finding the distressed Ship, they were well positioned to offer up their services to mend any problems from the outside. Through collaboration and exchange, the Conservatories were able to build more yachts and a stunningly obnoxious golf course.
Even though the hundreds of thousands of captains on board could have filled the holes themselves, bailed the water, and thrown everyone culpable overboard, that is not what happened. Instead, they took a gamble on the allure of an innovative solution suggested by the friendly outsiders. Unfortunately, the solution was made of mineral water, sand and cement, and pumped violently into the worst affected areas.
As such, a lot of people onboard began to question whether putting holes into the boat was the right thing to have done after all, and whether or not it would be good to continue doing it. The more of this solution there was, the quicker the Ship sank, and as things stood, greater numbers than ever were having to be employed in the solution reallocation sector, as a matter of urgency. A crisis was developing and every service had to do whatever they could to reallocate the solution.
The CitizenShip was on its way down now that many vital services were suffering from lack. Resources were primarily organised for the purpose of spreading the problem of solution from deck to deck. Yet this approach was presented as the only way to manage a fair and balanced descent into the ceaseless ocean of obliteration.
Rankled and perturbed, many onboard had trouble identifying the criminal outsiders. What exactly were these alien forces of the deep? Some suggested pirates, but this seemed wrong because they didn’t bring a decent illegal radio station with them. Others thought of them as cowboys, like the builder kind of cowboys who rip their customers off, such as those occasionally seen on the ship’s popular television programme, WatchSeadog. Yet this didn’t seem quite right either, as that sort of cowboy tends to be a ramshackle chancer with notably weak organizational skills. In the end, most people just stuck with ‘senior management’.
Meticulously planned devastation was the future proposed by the Conservatories. A strong and stable continuation of horror. And there was nothing anyone in the CitizenShip could do about it… Except perhaps the cabin boy.
Known affectionately to many onboard as simply ‘Our Boy’, when called upon to do his duty, all aboard knew he would respond with a resounding, “yes mate!” and that with enough support he could take on the Outsiders and prevent the CitizenShip from being turned into a Citi-Tank.
The community of mates gathered, now pitted directly against the hoarding Conservatories. No more losses could be taken. The entire CitizenShip, on the precipice of great change, at last with a prospect of rocking the boat.
Don’t forget to vote Labour on June 8th!
After slowly coming to the realisation that I can choose to be represented by pretty much anything online (e.g. A bag of salad, a fuse box, a massive bin, any picture that it’s possible to get hold of, really), I have decided to become this hatstand.
So that we might understand the stand that the hat goes over so that it stands on the hatstand (or is it the stand that is standing and the hat that is sitting on the stand?) i.e. so that it can be possible to understand how the hatstand can be properly understood, it seems necessary to take a stand and aim some questions, not under, nor over, but directly at it. At the stand.
There are a great many beautiful things in this world. But as one of those, the hatstand is particularly outlandish in that, whilst being beautiful, yes, it is also quite useless given today’s (largely inexplicable) non-prevalence of hats.
Most hats are a bit useless too. Or at very least, most hat-wearing is useless. Fair enough, there are exceptions, but please allow me this generalization. Therefore, so mostly, is the hatstand. In full bloom, we might say that the hatstand is a useless adornment adorned by multiple useless adornments.
Whilst the hatstand may also bear an uncanny resemblance to some thin androgynous figure who flails, this is lazy anthropocentric thinking. The hatstand is allowed to be an entity entirely in its own right, is it not?
What would the hatstand say?
In an effort to find out more about hatstands, I conducted an interview with one that I found in an old antiques warehouse in Crystal Palace – you may visit it there too, if you like. It’s on Jasper Road.
–What is a hatstand?
A brusque retort to the common concern of not knowing quite where to put one’s hat.
–Do enough people wear hats these days to warrant the existence of hatstands?
An exposed head is all too easily lost without firm conviction of the hat’s elation, that such a thing might ever lay beneath an other, set aside from light itself, or someone else; in sheathing should it cease at last, then shame, surely, it must endure.
–Is that a doctrine of profligacy?
Not by today’s standards.
–Sorry if this is a touchy subject-
No, not at all.
—but have you ever considered yourself-
Naturally, though it is unhealthy to compare. Borne of beach, my family tree was littoral, yet some have been taken to believe that waves can be exclusive. Had they ever truly belonged to me at all, I would have gladly offered, but you like I am of the earth and they were never mine to give, the waves that is, so no. I am just here, to hold your hat.
The hatstand is a thousand times more glamorous than the coat hook. Is this what you mean to say?
Of course not, it is a million times more glamorous. Call that what you will.
–I’d better not. Now, it seems unlikely that the views expressed by one hatstand, i.e. you, would ever be representative of all hatstands, let alone maybe even a single other one. Is this a fact that you struggle to deal with, or do you simply dispute it outright?
No, you are right there, in a way, yes. But isn’t it the case that many suffer from what might be termed, life-induced psychological immobility?
No, that is a problem specifically related to iced goods.
Yes. But what is being said here is that it isn’t anybody’s place to tell people how life should be lived, given that all too often, it just can’t. As a hatstand, I feel no discomfort in making the fact clear.
–I’m sorry but that has not been made clear at all. Is there a fair comparison to be made here between a hatstand and a bottle rack? Is that fair?
The bottle rack and I would be willing to share a similarity so long as it were possible to split the difference between us, equally. My friend, Marcel, who is skeletal as us both would make a useful judge in this if only he weren’t so irrevocably, dead. But think: there are more uses in the human head than there are objects to be used, and integral to triangulate between the hat and I, from this it can be said, “what has the washed-up bottle ever had to do with where you put it?” Succinctly put, I love that nothing is useless, forever.
– It is difficult to think of anything as forever. How, hatstand, are you of your time?
When objects belonged to a belief that they could hold truth within themselves, we were blessed and felt no pressure to be anything aside from what we evidently were. They said it, so it was. But with rampant, unstoppable, proliferation of mirrors, how could any singular reflection ever be trusted again? New angles opened up; we couldn’t help but look and feel shock to see all things drained of brilliant colour. The hatstand is a relic of this dangerous illusion, which dazzled weaker souls, led them headstrong into terrible orgies of destruction. I am of a time that learned how in a world of underwhelming beauty, disappointment is your duty.
–I think I preferred your shorter answers.
Is that a question?
-No. You have given me enough information.
Are you going to buy me?
-No. You are useless.
All the more reason.
Now that many of us are in the habit of documenting our lives online, we no longer need to buy things in order to share in their allure. It is possible to take a photograph and have its object attached to ourselves. This is why I am a hatstand now – to suggest that the act of representation is more precious than the material object.
That is what can be learned from being a decadent hatstand.
Words: Allan Struthers
Whilst at home over the holidays I made a pilgrimage to Manchester council’s only public toilet.
Yes, that is correct. One public toilet. To serve an entire city of people, who, we can only presume, are sometimes involuntarily pushed into requiring the bog-standard set of expulsive bodily procedure facilities.
Maybe the council’s strategy is that, by taking away public toilets, one-by-one, we members of the public can eventually learn how to transcend our luxuriously inefficient desire to piss.
To seek and find Manchester council’s last standing, purpose-built shithouse is in many ways comparable to discovering a mythical oasis. The city is a cruel and inhospitable desert, yet somewhere within, exists a hallowed resting stop, available for use by all. A glimmering promise of satisfaction in the realm of basic human need. Is it really there? Or does it only flash, luridly, before the mind’s eye of a subject too far gone – too irredeemably lost in manic clenching delirium – to be present.
Nay. It is there.
But how? The inhumane results of continuing cuts to local council funding have forced municipal government bodies into sharing authority over decision-making with businesses. Councils can’t keep your public toilets open, so slash the free-to-use service and let profit-making companies soak up any extra business, goes the logic. Now, many who find themselves caught short in the city are made to feel like minor criminals if they use customer relief services without actually buying something.
And on top of this, it increases the pressure on cleaning staff. If you think about how many cleaners it takes to clean an entire city’s worth of shit, and then start sacking people who were doing exactly that job, just hoping that the reduced workforce will be able to absorb this decrease, then the city’s obviously going get shittier. Cleaning staff will be working harder, presumably not at an increased rate of pay, because what individual business is going to take financial responsibility for the council’s (crudely forced) decision to close down public toilets?
And all this overseen by a man with a famous ability to withhold his own piss for obscene lengths of time.*
So it is only through sheer resilience against a government dead set on flushing these essential services out of town, that Manchester’s only public toilet remains. Perhaps this is why finding it feels like a bit of a miracle.
Yet it seems important to note that this isn’t just an isolated toilet issue, the problem is wrapped up in a terrible model of reducing local councils’ ability to control how an area is being run, through central government placing harsh limits on budget allocations. Tom Crewe clearly sharpens the focus on this picture in his excellent piece for the LRB.
“We fret and fume about this council here, that service there, while the whole system is sliding off a cliff. There are hundreds of local examples of the impact of austerity, each unhappy in its own way, but it is only when they are viewed in aggregate that a picture emerges of an entire social infrastructure being destroyed.”
Will you find eternal salvation at your nearest council run public toilet? If you have one, I’d advise trying to make the most of it while it’s still there. This could involve kindly directing people towards it, crafting positive messages of support to put on its walls, or even laying a wreath outside the entrance in honour of those we have lost so far.
A warm and fulfilling experience for the mildly adventurous.
This seems like a fine opportunity for meeting, and talking with, or at very least hearing the conversations of, strangers. Whoever they are. Weird people with their mad thoughts, considers someone who intends to spend their entire day in an underground network of tubes for no obvious reason. Well, some of them are above ground actually.
Carriages that scoot around the multi-coloured lines separate people. Not from one another – they’re still linked in the network after all – no, what the carriages separate their users from, is all that non-transitory space outside of themselves, the places where pressure is exerted downwards upon a population all-too-often pulled violently apart by the demands of work. Be here, do this now, don’t forget to check that. But the tube system can be experienced as a temporary in-between, a space where it might be possible for these things not to matter. A person in here needn’t feel compelled to do anything in particular aside from just travel, mainly because they are inside a moving tube and underneath the ground. It doesn’t seem reasonable to demand much else from them.
…But an initial dead end is to be found at 12:41 Shepard’s Bush, with no access from red to orange lines (disappointingly the physical tracks are not painted as advertised), at least not without exiting the station and incurring an unwanted fee. The setback allows for some in-station dawdling, a bit of healthy backtracking, and some freewheeling re-direction, ‘there’s no pressure to be anywhere or do anything’; he thinks, in imperious middle-class, cisgendered, whiteness. Those are the labels. Maybe then, ‘pressure’, isn’t the correct term.
What’s really meant is, ‘no rush’.
Coffee gets gulleted from cardboard cups through little sippy holes, which can make a fully-grown adult feel a bit like a baby, but babies don’t drink coffee, and it would be irresponsible to make them do so. So, ‘off with their lids!’ The queen could declare with great practical imprecision from the height of her golden chair. The wind brushes aside our fallen cups, sets ‘em rolling around, incoherently, in semi-circular fashion. The Underground has got no bins because the terrorists are winning.
13:15 Edgeware Road: consternation caused by the Destruction of Hammersmith & City Circus. Clowns everywhere, total jumble, and where exactly are these stairs going? Come back here.
No, please. come back.
The news down here generally isn’t worth reading, and testament to that today is exemplary, with one inane headline blasting:
‘Transport For London Introduce Controversial No Platform Policy’
What utter dross. Proof that political correctness has gone totally off the rails – a bit like that tram in Croydon.
In other news: The Sun
13:30 King’s Cross
Same problem as at Shepard’s Bush: snapping barriers closing off paths, crossed with crude and monotonous demands for money. No-chance-o-rama. This is intended to be a £1.90 ride, which is to last eight hours.
Here it is possible to break the law by sneaking out through an open disabled access barrier, but upon realizing the likelihood of closed barriers at the re-entry point, it seems also necessary to unbreak the law by sneaking back through the same barrier. For a brief, exciting moment in time: felony.
However, as exciting developments do indeed happen, it presently comes to light that so long as any passenger can make it from one barrier to the next, as part of a ten-minute time-challenge set by the network operatives, any given journey may continue without incurring an extra charge. ‘Calooh! Callay!’ You get ten minutes.
To find out more rules in this game, participants need only ask one of the many helpful members of staff who live at the stations. Such as James, who operates in Liverpool Street Station, actually has a cousin who was nearly in the band Steps, and enjoys ‘a vegetable stew’ whenever he’s feeling under the weather.
Alright, James. Nice one!
Pass over some part of Hackney, which from many accounts used to be a bit of a grit bin – the image, however, clearly belied by the nagging closeness of rooftop drinking terraces seen from this raised position of the overground’s tracks, but these are just superficial, surface-level judgments. St. James Street looks nice as it trails off into the distance.
Now then, it’s just a palm tree, no need to take a picture. Humanity already has enough pictures of palm trees by now, doesn’t it? What difference would another one make, regardless of how pleasant it’s particular lighting environment is? Some people have a real talent for visually capturing these sorts of moments. Anyway, there it is, a palm tree, making the most out of November.
Here we go, this is where the tough get goin’. Chingford. Do they have in-station toilets at Chingford station? Yes. Ever been to Chingford? No? Not likely. It is here though, in places such as Chingford, that the unique and untainted thrill of being free from any of the usual geographical necessities associated with purposive travel begin to kick in proper. Oof! At the end of a line, because it is the last place to stop, it becomes an accidental destination for anyone making their way along these tracks without any specific intent in mind. This is equally true for those who fall asleep on the line, but this type of scenario is far less hassle than that one. In the clear light of day, let it be known that Chingford station is a totally okay place.
The city comes back into view someplace around Hackney Wick.
The big city.
The massive city.
The large city. Everyone should hate it.
15:00 Stratford, AMAZING! In as little as 2 hours and 20 minutes, it is entirely potentially possible to travel from The Westfield Shopping Centre, via Chingford, to The Westfield Shopping Centre. WHEW! Next stop, ‘Manor Park Cemetery and Crematorium’, which, comparatively speaking, makes Shepard’s Bush seem no longer like the dead end it first appeared, although perhaps it never was.
Incidentally, she wonders, ‘is it possible for anyone to do anything these days without writing something about it? It is as if everybody is stuck in the belief that documenting their own lived experience is somehow naturally deserving of another person’s attention.’
Well, what if it is?
A luminous London underground logo slides across reflections of the faces staring back at themselves from blocks in the skyline. As the details of buildings fade to dark silhouette, their own silent expressive arrangements grow bolder in the transitioning contrast.
17:02 West Ham.
Irrelevance seeps into everything. The canary is a type of adorable brightly coloured bird that was once used to detect whether or not there were dangerously high levels of poisonous gas in working mine shafts. It did this job by dying because of poisonous gas. In 1986, the practice was discontinued and over 200 canaries were made redundant.
‘Wharf’ is the noise that a dog makes when it regurgitates something that has made it feel ill. It is not a nice sound.
Animal Sacrifice-Dog Vomit.
Of course, this must be Canary Wharf.
But wait, this isn’t a tube stop. It’s a shopping centre. It’s all a trick. Passengers here, it would seem, are regularly forced to walk into an unsettling, slick, 3D rendering of the adverts they’ve been subjected to at other points within the system. It is all here, in real space, in live time. What sickening treachery.
Useful fact: If you put your Oyster card in the microwave it tops up.
6 hours in a question rears its head: how could something so predictably uneventful possibly serve as a suitably fulfilling all-day activity?
It could be thought of as a kind of meditative mundanity – a way of finding feeling in the contradiction between actively transporting from one place to another whilst really going no-place in particular. Dwelling in a calm understanding that everyone else on-board has got somewhere to be, but that this is not the case for they who travel with the curious aim of experiencing non-directional unpredictability, whose destination is an ever changing, always moving, though never rushing, nowhere.
A conscious water droplet decides to fall into its preferred body.
But getting back from this place will require planning.
At Euston 19:00 it peaks.
Steve Reich’s, Music For 18 Musicians, Section II, has been chosen specifically to accompany the detached spectatorship of one particular hurry home, as a train to someplace far beyond the reach of this limited network takes aboard a crowd of apprehension, the sound-assisted view is balletic, is imaginably akin to how it might feel to stand on set in some scene from a Jacques Tati film, only, in this reality, it is filled with a bustling indeterminacy that poses as imagined choreography. It is all of rarely-so-sincere emotional magnitude. It is how being semi-serendipitously in the right place, at the right time, with the right tune can make a person feel. It just is.
Timetabled chaos pulls away, and the faint sound of whistling can be heard from a young man who can be seen floating down an otherwise empty escalator.
All this, and yet the point of re-entry to whatever it was that stood before the closing of this circuit – however wastefully convoluted – is as necessary as the full stop is on the end of a sentence, if it is to have any conclusive grammatical sense, rather than being an open ended call for its completion by a different person, such as yourself.
8:10 South Ruislip. Not much going on here at this time on a Sunday.
The time has come for £1.90’s worth of travel (the whole journey actually totted up to £5.50 if the debt incurred on my Oyster card is included in the total) to find closure once again, in Greenford, now at 8:21 pm
Probably you’ve heard or read of the phrase, ‘crisis’ in some form of news and thought something along the lines of, “oh no, what are we going to do?” But there are quite a few crises, probably too many even.
First off, there’s the financial crisis, then there’s the world food crisis, the EU crisis, the climate crisis, the ISIS (crudely branded as being syntactically two thirds of a crisis), the refugee crisis, the housing crisis, and countless more if we include all the personal crises that are affecting us humans on a daily basis. There’s also the Crisis Crisis (that’s the crisis of their being too many crises). All of these are ongoing and I’m afraid that you are embroiled in their world-scuppering mess.
But what can a person do aside from lilt one dandyish hand across a woe-begotten forehead and moan skywards? ‘OOOooooooOOooo, wretched earth!’
Or join a political organisation?
Or go on demonstrations through town and city centres?
Or attempt to stage an insurrection?
Or make a scathing snark upon on the issues of the day?
Or just do anything to feel somehow better about ALL THIS CRISIS.
Though sometimes it might seem best to blank it out. Inebriate and forget about it.
Do the shifts, steer the path, watch the box set, play the game, read the thing, go to sleep – die if you absolutely must.
Who really has the time or energy to resist these days?
Maybe you rebelled a bit at school. Took up a resistant stance at a university, argued with figures of authority – the landlord, the warden, the manager, the bank clerk, the councillor, your parents, anyone who told you ‘no’ – maybe you are still trying to force change despite all this. But haven’t you got work to do now? Haven’t you got rent to pay? What about your future? And then there’s the debt.
What are you going to do about all that?
How are you performing in this crisis?
…But, wait, without wanting to sound offensively presumptuous here: are the crises that make up this crisis really crises, or would it perhaps be more accurate to reckon that they are actually the continuation of long-standing struggles, punctuated by sensational events? The housing crisis, for example, flourished with the occasional high-profile eviction or spectacular new building, involves many people struggling to find a place that allows for a decent overall standard of life. A new report tells us how homelessness is on the rise, whilst many don’t have enough cash left over after securing the daily essentials to enjoy themselves, and work cuts harshly into free time. When did this crisis begin exactly, and how does it compare to all the other things that we might think of as crisis?
Maybe housing is worse today than it was in the past. Maybe it’s totally correct to call it a crisis, in comparison to what the housing crisis would have been back then (whenever that was). After all, the word ‘crisis’ does carry significant propagandistic value. When an issue gets elevated to the level of ‘crisis’, it can zip right up to the top of a political agenda – an urgent appeal.
Whatever’s bothering you, call it a ‘crisis’ then and see what happens! But maybe consider that this ‘crisis’ word could be detracting from the visibility of certain historical through-lines and struggles that might be useful in alleviating wider issues. Is the housing crisis not just a continuing tension between working and living in an economic system that demands the subjugation of a majority through controlling the amount of pressure that is put upon workers? Rent and wages seem constantly maintained to squeeze as much out of people as possible, and I’m not so sure that this is a particularly recent phenomenon.
When we think about one specific kind of crisis, are other crises not always somehow related?
To draw a parallel, calling ‘crisis’ on something is a bit like announcing that you need a shit. Things won’t wait, something has to happen soon, it is very important, and so everybody should be on the lookout for a practical solution. But the shitting crisis is not an entirely new one either; at times it might feel sadly all too familiar. For just as needing a shit is part of a general struggle against the bowels, finding a home is part of a general struggle against the property and labour markets. These are age-old difficulties that we are probably quite accustomed to by now. And so it might be apparent to us, that when all of the typical solutions for experiencing essential relief appear to be blocked, finding a place to squat might be necessary.
The squat offers respite to those who find themselves unable to rent. Hans Prujit, who has written authoritatively on the subject, highlights four main types of squatting: Deprivation squatting, alternative housing strategy, political squatting, and entrepreneurial squatting. Common to all of these is the basic premise that an otherwise empty building should be utilized as living space until it is otherwise occupied – which would seem to make excellent sense in the midst of a ‘HOUSING CRISIS’.
(A large disused building near Hangar Lane, West London)
Deprivation squatting is the most strikingly necessary of these forms, and it’s probably the kind of squatting that seems most immediately apparent to an outsider. Someone gets evicted, they don’t know where to go, a squat can keep them safely indoors for a while. Very practical, very humane, very nice.
But why would anyone voluntarily do this? And isn’t it greedy or selfish to take up free spaces when there are so many struggling without?
Here’s where your other types come into play. Making these places happen is time consuming and involves a constant play of strategic manoeuvre against the forces of governance. An adaptive and resilient physical network has to be in place so that when one squat gets evicted, the actual-human-beings who have been forced into the street can have another place to be. So squatting is a form of resistance against housing shortage, and for some, this may seem to justify itself. If empty buildings exist, then occupying them constitutes a responsible political choice – but committing to this practical idea can be akin to having a full-time job. Convenient then, that squatting eradicates the issue of having to work full-time for rent.
Particularly well organized and undisturbed squats can turn into proper community centres, which is a little problematic since this lets local councils off the hook – if anything has a duty to create these spaces, it’s government, not people. Still though, in times of ‘crisis’ perhaps this sort of alternative strategy is the only effective means of setting up new public areas. And perhaps the social togetherness that emerges from creating, running, and partaking in these projects offers a whole lot of beneficial experiences for people. However, since 2012 the laws about squatting have tightened, with more arrests and faster eviction rates , resulting in less time available for building long-term projects that might offer genuinely helpful services. The Sisters Uncut project in Peckham was just one recent example of this kind of squat, focusing politically on domestic abuse whilst offering childcare, accommodation, and a supportive place for those who have been drastically let down by their council.
So should government step up to the challenge of alleviating these struggles by making more public spaces available and offering better housing support for those who need it, or might they tighten the law further and keep prosecuting people until the problem just goes away for ever?
As things stand, we’ve been lumped with the latter approach, as the Conservative party forces a necessary reaction from the public.
“Agitate, to alleviate.
Theresa May: exterminate.”
-Contemporary folk chant, highlighting a need for disruptive social movements. Alludes to speculation surrounding the British prime minister’s possible identity as a Dalek.
Finally, however, there are the jobsworth wastrel artists who just want to live for as little as possible so they can work on their ‘art’ – which is probably all crap and definitely not the sort of stuff that any right thinking person would ever want to hang on a wall, have in their house, or play to their family over a pleasant Sunday luncheon. These disgraceful reprobates have no right to live outside the system, they’re only in it for themselves, and it’s evident that all they really want is to avoid doing a Hard Day’s Work like everybody else does. Utterly Inexcusable.
“Unsuccessful artists who do not work are parasites on society, they contribute nothing of any real value and never invite me to their parties.” – Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
This perspective aside, some, such as Mark Fisher, have argued for the cultural benefits of squatting. “It’s no accident that the efflorescences of cultural invention in London and New York in the late 1970’s and early 80’s (in the punk and post-punk scenes) coincided with the availability of squatted and cheap property in those cities. Since then, the decline of social housing, the attacks on squatting, and the delirious rise in property prices have meant that the amount of time and energy available for cultural production has massively diminished.”
Wave Machines – Punk Spirit
If we think that cultural movements are worthwhile, then perhaps we could be doing more to help foster the social conditions that enable them. Becoming an artist requires quite a lot of free time along with physical support networks, which unpopular comedian, Stewart Lee, believes have now largely disappeared. “Squats, and student grants, have all gone. We’ve got this whole thing where London celebrates punk rock this year, as if it’s some part of our heritage. But it fundamentally would never have existed, in this city now. Because it’s the music of cheap accommodation.”
What we seem left with today is an increasingly small group of people who believe that they can afford (in terms of both time and money) to seek out ways of getting around the dominant system of wage n’ rent. In return we receive an sickeningly-exclusive, weak-assed, depoliticized death and mummification of our culture (See: Mumford and Son’s).
How can we expect a thriving culture of resistance when the people best placed to contribute are already living comfortably within the existing system?
What would be more desirable then, is if wannabe creators across the entire social spectrum could see for themselves a realistic future in building up large-scale, culturally significant ‘alternative housing strategies’. Perhaps beginning with a popular resurgence in squatting.
…Are you interested in this?
Although the outlook might not seem quite so prime as it once did ‘back in the day’, squats do still exist and can be found/created in London. There is a real network, and though it might not be possible to waltz into a squat at first moment’s notice, the peoples and ambitions are out there, ready to be discovered by anyone who believes in the collective project.
Every week, London plays host to ‘practical squatting nights’, where those with hopes for living without rent can find others with similar goals, talk with those who have done it already, and learn more about how to become practically involved.
This old machine hasn’t given up the ghost quite yet.
Rent too much? Landlord negligent? Don’t want to work in a job that you hate all the time? Better things to doing in life than dealing with all this accumulating hokum?
Too right, pal.
Devout followers of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens might not want to hear a word of it, but The Bible does offer a handy get out clause for paying rent:
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8
Can’t say fairer than that when the bailiffs come knocking.
See also the following relevant Christian ditty:
From hell it was sent!
Usurped from your wage, an ungodly percent.
A hole in the pocket to surely resent.
If not at all the time, give it up just for lent.”
See, bible proves it.
However, I am aware that many are committed to a strict doctrine of so-called ‘rationality’ and may therefore be ideologically opposed to any form of theological argumentum. Thankfully then, alternative housing strategies have been proposed by non-theistic bodies as well:
“Oh really your folks are away now? Alright I’m coming, I’ll be right there.”
– The Stokes 12:51
Living in friendly people’s spare spaces might play a vital role in transitioning from rent paying to full-time living, allowing as it does the spare time for exploring local possibilities in setting up collective housing solutions.
“At a certain season of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house…Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly.”
– Henry David Thoreau, in his book Walden, forms a nineteenth century precursor to the phrase, ‘Squat the lot’.
So finding ways to experience life without having an unreasonable chunk of it devoted to the age-old tradition of living in a place that has a roof, can be done with reference to ethical and political arguments. Squatting is socially responsible as it provides direct help for people without homes, it is politically useful as a form of protest that enables organisation, and it is also a pragmatic solution for individuals who want to try living outside the system, which could hopefully lead to the creation of things that the Daily Mail will dislike.
To live without rent is to be part of an emancipatory project.
…Options to do this are available, and if you think the ethical arguments for exploring them can be balanced with what it actually seems possible to do, then this might well determine how visible the range of opportunities is for a greater number of people. More people rejecting rent, either in theory or in practice, means more people questioning and challenging the dominating logic of work/rent that seems to have primarily engineered this whole housing mess in the first place.
Where then to focus? Are we still in a crisis?
How is the crisis performed? Can anyone be involved?
Is it just about people who are without homes?
Is anyone who is at all involved with any sort of property a part of this?
Are we all performing the housing crisis?
What you are encountering here is my own attempt at performing the housing crisis.
I’m not trying to diagnose the ‘housing crisis’, surely there are enough projects out there already devoted to this task. Nor am I trying to directly raise awareness of the issues involved (See: LSE’s programme of housing related short films that do this very well). At least, these two aims do not fall into the primary challenge I have set myself of personally exploring this crisis in order to produce work that might directly counter some of its affects. I also hope that it could provide some sort of entertainment, though I can’t help but doubt that it will.
I made my plans for this semi-public by first posting a brief explanation and accompanying plea for accommodation on Facebook, followed by an update of how it was going. Somebody asked me what the end goal of this is. But that’s not really how I have been thinking about it. The approach that I take here is borrowed from one of philosophy’s top-of-the-range serial pontificators, Jacque Derrida. Succinctly summarized by Catherine Turner, Derrida’s term, ‘deconstruction’, “is not a method but simply a way of reading, writing, thinking and acting. Rather than seeking an endpoint or a solid conclusion, the means cannot be distinguished from the end. The ongoing process of questioning is the end in itself.” Deconstruct, seems like an appropriate verb to enact upon the housing crisis.
So I decided to see about exploring this whole mess by turning my life into something of an exhibition.
With a vertigo inducing degree of unoccupied time extending ahead of me after the completion of my studies, I decided not to get a bullshit job or find a room to rent. Instead, I hired a garage in North London that would serve as my storage space and emergency sleep den. Since then I have been living around the city in any place that will have me for free. I have been fortunate, as friends and comrades have been ready to support me since I made this potentially very daft decision.
(Whilst spending a night in the garage, I noticed how a sticker on one of my boxes now held new significance and resemblance to my own life as never before. Just one of the many life-changing revelations that occurred to me whist engaging with this issue.)
From experience I’d say that doing this allows a person to write, think, create, read, and learn more than at any other point in life. It offers access to a wide spectrum of conversations and allows for active engagement in grassroots politics, making possible the attendance of protests, discussion groups, meetings, and strikes. It allows time to be devoted to all kinds of productive projects. But I felt bad because nobody else I knew was doing it.
Perhaps this is because there is a strong expectation that people should be in full-time work, which Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek refer to as the ‘ethic of work’. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but they argue that in order to build a world in which doing work that we hate does not come to dominate our lives, organisation must occur between disgruntled workers and wider social movements. “This, at first, involves taking tentative steps and creating communal models of living and building support systems. But if this is to move beyond a mere survival mechanism or niche lifestyle pursuit, its aim can only be the transformation of our world into a truly post-work society.”
So when I began to feel pressured by this ‘ethic of work’ (“Shouldn’t I just get a real job and try to function like most other people?”) I would then think to myself, “work hard? We’re all working hard in one way or another. It’s just that some of us are working hard trying to think of ways and ideas that will enable us all to work less hard.”
This thought made me feel better about things. It probably also means that my project is de-facto situated within a wide-ranging, future-oriented political aim of transitioning to a ‘post-work’ society, one that aims at reducing the amount of time people have to spend on working at repetitive jobs for unnecessarily long hours. All the while, everybody’s livelihood is, (within this framework), to be supplemented with a ‘Universal Basic Income’. This position is advocated by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, quoted above and in their book Inventing The Future, Post-capitalism and a World Without Work, and also by Paul Mason in his 2015 book, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.
I supplement this section with one final quote from an interview with Angry Worker’s World group, who have been a significant inspiration to me, with their excellent commitment to organizing forms of worker’s resistance in West London warehouses:
“To question and change our own position in society should be part of the collective process to question and transform it.”
What is this about debt?
We are born into debt. I was born into lots and am accumulating still more yet. This debt is what I’ve nabbed off society, in one way or another. That’s all the favours anyone has ever done me, inspiration given, stories borrowed, times when I’ve been given the benefit of doubt, supportive laughter, and though I have sometimes fought not to admit it, emotional care. It’s the selective school I went to, access to music, a well-maintained bookshelf, all the material goods I was given as well. Basically, everything I have ever used to eke out a place in society.
That’s cultural, social, and economic capital. And the overall debt is incalculable, but probably enormous. Though it was accrued mostly by virtue of good luck and a deeply flawed political system, to excuse myself from the responsibility that I have to repay it all would be criminal.
The value of everything that went into giving me this questionable position should be transformed into something worthwhile. But what could I possibly add to society? It is what I’m trying to find out.
How to express capital in a way that is socially beneficial becomes a core problem. Spend it on consumer goods? Invest it in business? Give it away to good causes? Save it for later? Use it to free up time for developing a project specifically aimed at addressing issues that stem from capital inequality?
To utilize resources in a way that broadens our sense of society and aids in dissolving hierarchical barriers between people seems pretty responsible to me, so I make the choice to do that. Perhaps I am going about this in a deeply incorrect way, but from my position, the project seems an ethical duty, and I hope that what I am doing is at least marginally useful.
For all of this, housing seemed like a suitable site of conflict to stage a beginning.
 Hans Pruijt, Squatting in Europe in the Squatting Europe Kollective (eds.), Squatting in Europe, Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles, Minor Compositions, 2013
 Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, Zero Books, 2011, P.17
 Catherine Turner, Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction, Critical Legal Thinking, May 2016, http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/05/27/jacques-derrida-deconstruction/
 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Superconversations Day 86: Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams respond to Antonio Negri, “Notes on the Abstract Strike”, E-flux, September 2015
 These terms are lifted from the work of Pierre Bourdieu, which he uses in The Forms of Capital (1986) to draw distinctions between the different kinds of capital that have been utilized for sustaining divisions and inequalities in society.
“There’s Been a Donkey Holocaust.”
The comical effect of excessive exposure to a certain phrase.
Like ‘donkey holocaust’, there’s been a donkey holocaust.
A donkey holocaust.
There has been a donkey holocaust.
I looked it up on google and can confirm,
that there has been,
a donkey holocaust.
Don’t look it up on google.
You would never want to see the look of,
a donkey holocaust.
And now I think that you and I
have maybe looked a little too much at…