Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ten days spent with three pairs of underwear, living on free Hare Krishna food for lunch and Ryvita crispbread for dinner; ten days of avoiding the mess at home and practically living in the the library and the postgraduate room. All this because of end of term deadlines, and a promise made long ago to produce some writing. My body is protesting loudly and any minimal stretching movement results in crippling effects. This is no way to live; please save me from the academic inferno. But at least it's done now. From tomorrow I'm cooking my own food.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A house of ghosts

There was some leak from the boiler in the kitchen; rust has appeared in the metal sink. Dishes I left in haste six weeks ago waited for me patiently, growing white mould and sticky texture. In the fridge a rotting lemon and piece of ginger joined to one indistiguishable matter. No one has been living there in the time I was away.

In the flat I am surrounded by people's things. Like all long-term squats the flat has become a sanctuary for people to store their things, temporarily - but temporality is squatting, and squatting is temporality. And so I find around me the belongings of former inhabitants, ex-lovers, friends, and housemates, people I knew and people I never met; three bicycles (none of them mine); dozens of boxes and suitcases; clothes and books, framed kitsch posters salvaged from the rubbish; a large oak-wood coffee table, personally imported from Latin America; market shopping trolleys; and more, much more. I have reasons to believe that most readers of this blog left something or other in the flat. And yes, my things are there too, three shelves of books, they have their place in this constellation of clutter.

What is it about this city

A few hours after I stepped out of Waterloo station I found myself staring at my reflection across my desk. In the dim light of late dusk my look seemed lost, dumb almost. Coming back I still did not have my defences ready. The city responded: it brought me down, reminded me of what it is capable of being; The feeling of complete helplessness; the realization that any control one has over one's life is only a sad illusion; everything feels so difficult and so random.

What is it about London that can bring me to my knees so easily? My precarious housing arrangements no doubt contribute to these moments of inexplicable despair. Yet I know that such experiences are common for Londoners, even for people in 'normal' housing situations, with hot water and heating. Depression comes so easily here: it is this city's second nature, it runs in its veins.

Partly it is about the city's magnitude. Stretching over such a large area, and encompassing eight million people, one feels a small insect in this colony of human ants. The size of the metropolis is de-humanising. But in London it seems that the solitude of a face in the crowd is more cruel than anywhere else.

Many times it feels like fighting a monster. Any simple task which involves the formal authorities or large corporate companies turns into mission impossible, devouring days and weeks of precious time, chasing forms and phone numbers. It is perhaps no surprise that the Corporation of London's chose the dragon as its symbol. Only Saint George can slay the beast, but he's busy doing riverside-highrise-development-speculation.

Often I feel it's London's architecture that is making it so hard and unwelcoming. There is something so anti-human about the architecture here, as if the buildings were designed to humble, to limit, to contain. I feel it in the street and at home, outside and inside, it always seems more than simple lack of attention to human needs (sunlight, space, comfort), but rather a conscious attempt to circumscribe one's movements, to teach you that you have a limited space.

All these anxieties somehow break free when I try to leave the house. The moments between outside and inside, when I give up the limited protection of the home, and yet cannot bring myself to step outside, often become long battles. London is watching me through the window; it wonders if I'll ever make it. It feigns disinterest and turns cold and dark. I am left inside, on my own, to collapse on the floor, and listen to the din of a full gas bottle, as my fingers tap on it rhythms of despair.

* * *

The next morning was different. Coffee-frenzied and optimistic with no reason, a walk from Liverpool St. Station to Bloomsbury, in two stages. Walk! I never walk in London. The streets moved around me, first steel and glass then brick and mortar. The fake old-new red lions on Theobald road smiled to me and threw some sunlight in my direction. Memories of skipping victories touched every corner. I felt that this is my city. I know its ways; as long as I don't tease the beast, or try to fight with it, it will take good care of me.