Friday 6th October
We had leads on more potential property so I spent around 6hours cycling all across London, peering through windows and lifting up letterboxes, in the pouring down rain. The total saturation of seemingly everything in the world by this downpour rendered the brakes on the bike almost totally worthless and an interesting quirk of all this extra moisture meant that the handlebars would now twist back and forth through the front set. High levels of concentration were required, with which a nagging hunger didn't help.
And yet, despite being completely soaked, and more than a little hungry by now, there was still a smile on my face as I rode around the richest areas of Central and West London. It occured to me that we squatters are essentially the same in our aims and ambitions as those that occupy these lavish palaces. Like the rich, all we want is to be surrounded by beauty - whether that be architecture, art or individuals - and a little bit of freedom; to be above the rules. Living in Leicester Square is sometimes a little like living in Never Never Land and it should come as no surprise that the uber-rich will often use their wealth to build theme parks and other bastions of fun which are childish in their conception. We're both looking for a return to innocence, to a time before it was corrupted by adulthood. The difference being that we can enjoy our freedom because we didn't trample over anyone to get it, and ours is open to everyone. Hard to have fun at a party when someone else is crying in the corner, no?
If I'd allowed myself a low point then it would have been trying to sate my hunger by staking out a Prêt a Manger. I still hadn't been skipping and as I cycled up Tottenham Court Road I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was 18.45 and the shop closed at 19.30 so I decided to go in and warm up with a hot chocolate, which also allowed me an opportunity to eye up the plentiful bounty inside. Racks and racks of fresh food, including lots of fruit salads - which induced a fairly Pavlovian response in my vitamin-C starved saliva glands - were lined up, ready to be thrown out. In my mind, they'd been carefully prepared earlier in the day especially for me.
I sat with my hands around a hot drink for as long as I thought vaguely reasonable. This meant I still had another twenty minutes til zero hour so I went outside to do my best Philip Marlowe impression; a dirty private dick, a greedy gumshoe. As I waited in the dark, leaning against a tree a few yards down the street, I caught an unfamiliar smell and it took me a while to realise this was the perfume of my impromptu leaning post; this being the closest I'd been to a tree in three years of living in the capital. These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as, slowly, the shop started to pack up for the day. Chairs were bought inside, rubbish was taken outside and lights were switched off; I was, by now, very excited. About to pounce and take my prey, all the more satisfying for all this stalking. And, just at the peak of my excitement, at the apex of my appetite, a van with 'Pret Charity Run' written on the side pulled up and snatched it all away from me.
But you can't complain about that can you? Charity begins at home after all. I'd asked Thais earlier in the week if there was such a thing as too much skipping. This thought had occurred to me and then I'd dismissed it; this stuff was waste, right? No one wants it so we can just fill our boots. Wrong. There are countless others out there who are also skipping, a whole skipping community, and an etiquette that goes along with that. You only take as much as you need and leave what's left behind in as decent a state as possible. So if the recipients of the Pret Charity Run need it more than I do, then so be it.
Later that night I went to my first social event of the week outside of the squat; a party in Earl's Court with Sam, a former resident of TPL, and his girlfriend Anna. I didn't arrive until gone midnight, by which time it was in full swing. There didn't seem to be any unattractive people at the party at all, and they had an a-board with the DJ rota for the night which went right through until 7am before inviting people to 'pony off'; everything had been thought of.
The hostess was one of Anna's friends so I knew some people, but not everyone. Sam had a horror of tact in any case and any shred that may have remained was by now completely obliterated by booze and drugs. This meant that every time he introduced me to someone, it was in this fashion; 'Craig, this is X, he/she works in finance/law. X, this is Craig, he lives in a squat.' In truth, this cut through a lot of the usual bullshit and people were either genuinely interested or else genuinely disgusted; a great way to trim the party people fat.
One guy I met, let's call him Josh (for that was his name), asked a lot of questions and, as the conversation was a little stunted, I asked him similar questions back. But he seemed utterly ashamed of all his responses, apologetic even. I made no judgement of his life per se but the way in which he described it deserves a little further analysis.
We seem to be a nation of apologisers. We were born innocent and then, almost straight away, we inherit the collective guilt of society and the more personal guilt of religion. It is thought that there are some amongst our number who feel so guilty that they submit false confessions to the authorities, or even go out and commit crimes, just to gain a little relief from the overwhelming feeling of having done something wrong. Perhaps, when we talk of freedom, it is merely liberation from this saturation of shame we seek, an allowance of innocence and a loosening of the noose which has, unbeknown to us, been around our necks from birth. Certainly, I had never noticed it was there but, once you do, you can start to untie it, to liberate yourself, and it's like breathing fresh air for the very first time...