Saturday, June 10, 2006

Flat 19

Flat 19, in which I've lived in the last three months and which I am leaving today, was the first squat I ever visited. In November 2001 we stayed here for four days, with Tanya. This is how I wrote about it at the time.

London, Brixton. 22.11.2001
Somebody outside is shouting Robert, Ro----bert, and it's sounds Israeli. The R is light, throatal, purposefull, and the emphasis so different from English, the stress is different. Not the French Ro-ber, nor the quick English Ro-bert. Tanya says she's French, she thinks, she's shouting for the key, can you throw it from the window, I forgot it somewhere. A window opens, a key is thrown, it doesnt' open, Danielle, can you hear me. Now it does; maybe Danielle went down to help her.

A London squat. Bars on the window, opens to a courtyard, and above a strip of sky, pale, soon it will darken. The courtyard itself is grey, and everything a little stifled, working-class melancholy. This is London; this is how I imagined it, this is how it is. The flat itself is full of charm, the poetics of abandoned houses, a bare brick wall, slashed and torn, its lower half painted red. Two small rooms, one opens to the other, a small kitchen, toilets, there's no shower and no fridge, but that's ok, it's cold enough here. There was no floor when she moved in, she and dave built the floor, padded a 40cm hole with stones, concrete, wooden boards and more boards, so today you enter on a collage of wood boards brown, sparkling varnished boards, and a few doors. This is her floor. In the living room, or the study, there is an architect working desk, and a mirror shaped like an elephant head, very abstract. Two big ears, one fat head.

It was left abandoned for a long time, before she moved in. Myabe nine years. Em opened it, sorted it a bit, but couldn't really be fucked, passed it over to Tanya on a tripped-out New Year's eve party. She went in, got very excited by it, worked on it a lot, but the winter is so dark in here and even in summer there's not direct sun light and it makes it sad. EM just passed through, sorting stuff out on the way to his trip in New Zealand. Red-painted dreadlocks and piercing, he scared me a bit, till I remembered my earrings look the same. He spoke of the Council evicting people, and how Section 6 is just bullshit, it doesn't protect you from anything. They're hiring private bailiffs, and if they come and you're not at home they drill the lock, confiscate your stuff, lock and seal the flat, he knows a guy that lost his Playstation like this, he had to break in through the balcony to get his stuff back. It's bullocks, because the Law protects you only if you're inside the house, if you're out than you're fucked baby. So why don't they evict everybody this way, wondered Tanya, EM didn't know. People think that once they're in for thirty days theyr'e protected, but it's actually thirty days after the landlords know you're inside, so it can be even after six years.

The people in the flat upstairs got evicted last week. At the end of a long legal process the Council won possession, so the squatters moved their stuff out the night before, waited until the Council changed the lock, and then moved back in again. Or maybe that's what they're planning to do, I didn't quite understand. A bizzare bureaucratic world, the Council rents out buildings, and then forgets about them, and suddently decides to get them back, wastes time and money in legal battles that last for years, instead of getting possession on whole buildings they fight it flat-by-flat, it doesn't make any sense, however you look at it. Why do they suddenly evict people, who do they suddenly give up or forget, the answers are hidden in the drawrs of the Council's archives.

* * *
A postcard on Tanya's wall:
People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth. Raoul Vaneigem
. The image above the quote shows a building covered by scaffoldings, and half of it is hidden behind corrugated iron. Two persons are standing on a crane, one of them is looking upwards, the other is holding one of the iron boards diagonally, a board that has covered, or will cover, one of the windows. One of the windows is open, you can even see a pot plant, the building is not deserted. They are wrapping it. They are covering it, corrugating it, they choke it, they impose conformity, grey unformity that leaves no space for immagination.

Or perhaps they're unwrapping it, they're opening it to sunshine, uncovering the open window and the pot plant. There are open windows underneath. Cold and monotone ideology can be undone, the dead skin of the political discourse can be scrubbed.

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