Saturday, April 28, 2007

I'm going into thesis-writing-frenzy mode so I don't have time to write all the posts I want: about people in the street; about london's bricks and chimneys; about the people who made my house into a cave; about my visit to St. Thomas hospital; a Market Diaries entry on Mushroom picking in the Free Market, and another one on the peppers of Almeria, and Kenyan green beans; a post about my prostituting for market research; about finding calm while living under the threat of eviction; on Waterloo Bridge, the £10 season ticket, text and capital; on englishness and edge of darkness.

Will be back with some of these posts or others. At the meantime, greetings from the toffee-cheerful Spanish horse-chestnut tree I saw just outside Waterloo station. It's pink and happy. And so should you be.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hundreds of people are gathered outside the college. They look to the entrance stairs attentively.
What's going on? student protests? announcements, speeches?
Is it about global warming? Iraq? Darfur?

Of course not. It's a fire alarm.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

March on buses (2)

Again, I found myself using the bus in March this year, this time because my arms were too painful to cycle. As most readers of this blog do not take the bus in London. Let me tell you what you're missing:

1. Free newspapers - the most systematic brain-washing campaign I've ever been exposed to. You simply cannot avoid them, and I have not been able to resist reading them. Promoting celebrities, consumption and brain-death. And I didn't say a word about the waste of paper. Criminals.

2. Music- usually raggae or hiphop, coming from people's speakers, and most of the time suprisingly pleasant. Much better than mobile phone ringtones.

3. Most bus journeys are a constant reminder that this is Babylon: it is not unusual to hear on the same bus Polish, Portugese, Chinese, and French in African accents.

4. Passivity, alienation, and exasperating long journeys.

I'd rather be cycling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Skipping appliances - the anti-consumer beginner's Guide

What can you expect?
The streets of London are awash with discarded appliances, and most of them either work or can be easily fixed. It seems that people throw them away for a range of reasons - disfunctionality isn't the main one. More specifically:
  • Printers - I see them on the streets all the time and they usually work. But if you don't need one or can't be bothered carrying it home, look in the paper comparment. It's almost always full with A4 paper.
  • Vaccum Cleaners - never work. I've stopped trying long ago .
  • Computer screens - always work. But who needs them?
  • Fridges, washing machines, stoves.... mixed record of success. My skipping algorythm for these appliances: multiply necessity by distance then divide by housemates willing to carry the load. Allow colour to influence your decision.
Where's best to look?
Anywhere in London. More stuff appears in middle class areas but it's not unusual to find various treasures near estates in working class areas. Really posh areas, like the docklands, are the worst: everywhere is gated and fenced off and you have no chance of getting near the bins of plenty.

Carrying the load

Just put it on the back rack of your bike, and start rolling. You'd be amazed how much you can carry on a bike. You might have to walk it though.

Skipping things on the way home is another reason not to take the bus. It provides nice breaks to your journey where you can ponder about the state of the world and your household requirements (staring at a fax/photocopier off Shaftsberry Avenue at midnight - do I really need this? Well not with 2kwat of electricity supply).

The cut electric cord
Some people say that if the electric cord is cut and the plug is missing, this is a sign that the appliance doesn't work, and therefore do not bother.

However I'm pretty sure we've found appliances without a plug that worked just fine. I also have a vague recollection of myself cutting the plug of a fridge I found in the street because I needed the plug. Maybe it was people like me that destroyed this spotneneous popular sign system.

My Best finds

A washing machine - thrown away because the door handle was broken

Oil radiator heaters - I just found one the other day, this is my third, and of course it works fine. Heating with electricity is wasteful, but this is the most efficient way.

A disfunctional cash till - I made a clock from its buttons. NO SALE! is noon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All Semites Unite

For all fellow Hebrew and Arabic speakers: I just found the most useful thing on the internet: virtual keyboards for Arabic and Hebrew characters. You might know previous versions where you had to use the mouse to click on virtual buttons to choose letters. But here you type as you would normally - and it prints on the screen in the right alphabet, right to left. This means that you can blog, email and google in Hebrew/Arabic from every computer, no need to install anything.

What a great idea! I have both languages installed on my computer but it's a pain to have to carry the laptop everywhere.

Here are the links:
Hebrew Virtual Keyboard
Arabic Virtual Keyboard

Monday, April 16, 2007

This evening I went to my favourite sandwich chain on Tottenham Court Road, not far from college, to look for dinner in their rubbish. I do this sometimes when I plan to stay in college and work late. It's usually guarntied to find there a nice dinner, like lentil and rice salad or noodles with shrimps.

Lately they've started to take the sandwiches and salads out of their paper and plastic wrapping so no-one could eat them. It makes me really angry. To throw away so many sandwiches and salads (perfectly good) every night is one thing. To make a concious effort so no-one else could eat them is another step up the ladder of criminal waste of our planet resources. Why do they do this? Do they think I - or any other person who survives this way - will buy their sandwiches? not likely.

Thankfully, they throw away so much food that they didn't bother to do it to all the sandwiches. I could still manage to find a wrapped roast-beef baguet and a ham-and-egg sandwich, which kept me happy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (51)

Middle-Eastern people not allowed in this park

Thursday, April 12, 2007

scholarly life

One of the advantages of being a student in Bloomsbury is the easy availability of free refreshments. I gave up the opportunity to hear the honorable MP Tony Benn speaking on the future of the World Bank, but found it useful to attend the reception afterword. Buiscits were dry but the coffee was very strong. I was mingling with myself while the small crowd was busily discussing the prospects of international development. With my cup finished, I retreated to SOAS library upstairs.

Cofee is such a drug, I can't believe it's legal. For an hour I was racing like mad through the library. Each book looked just the one I needed. Everything seemed connected, it all made sense. The completion of the thesis seemed a matter of days. But then it came to a halt. I felt tired, hungry, and lost. I looked round and found myself surrounded by stale and dusty books. I had to leave.

Outside, the queue for the Hare Krishna food stall was unprecendently short.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Summer in the City

Thursday evening and you are cycling back home. The air is warm and inviting, and people fill the streets. The Easter holiday is starting tomorrow, and you can sense good will, and relief. A very different feeling from the random harshness of weekend desperation to have a good time at all costs. Winter has bowed one last time and disappeared. You find yourself smiling.

The last couple of weeks have not been easy. Among other reasons for anxiety, your house is now under threat. There is no reason for immediate concern, this is only a prelude to a saga that might unfold in the next weeks and months. But the feeling is unsettling. Every knock on the door stratles you. Answer it, or pretend you are not there? There is nothing worse than hiding. You cringe like a snail in its shell. The precariousness of your position - a squatter - which laid dormant for many months, now comes back to haunt you.

When you board that train of thoughts, it will race through your mind all night. Constantly considering possibilities, and strategies, only to come back again and again to the same point: you have almost no control over the situation. A thought hard to reconcile yourself with. Squatting keeps you on your toes, said S long ago, but you've been standing on your toes enough to apply for the Royal Ballet.

It takes you some days to distance yourself from the anxiety. You remind yourself that these are probably your final months of squatting; that you had been evicted in the past. Uncertainty is hard to accept. But the ability to live with uncertainty is the source of much strength.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Market Diaries: blood oranges and tarragon

After a long month away, finally back to the market today. With a sunny April day, with lots of fellow scavengers around - Polish punks. Indian men. Chinese ladies. Today was a day of herbs - tarragon, majoram, corriander, dill and chevrill (parsley's lame cousin); and oranges - blood oranges from sicily, organic oranges from spain, and mandarins, and.... Korean mushrooms. Today was a day I promised myself I won't linger, but stayed for over an hour and came back with far too much. Another bag of organic produce skipped on the way out. How can I say no to purple greens?

Perhaps they should be named 'purples'.

I want to be happy with my finds. I am: I had pasta with morrel mushrooms for lunch, and organic sprouted alfalfa on the side, in the pleasure of sunny russel square's meadow - the Plain trees blossoming any day. I live on luxary food for free. I get a great diet from the the rejects of capitalism. Who would complain.

But there is something that cries, constantly, shouts, whispers: this is wrong. This is so wrong that I don't even know where to start to explain. Maybe I should be more informative, and maybe even bring statsics, science, facts. Hard figures that would convince everyone. But come to the market: you'll see with your own eeys. You don't need statistics, scientific explanations, or facts to know: this is wrong. This cannot be sustained. This is suicide. We are burrying the future of this planet in landfills.

Free oranges anyone?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (50): Weapons of Mass Destruction

Destroying the envrionment
Killing pedestrians and cyclysts
Destroying our cities
Atomising our socieities:
The 20th century's most deadly machine
Ban cars now!