Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Dispondancy, disbandment and a smile that defies time...

Sunday 8th and Monday 9th November

Waking in a bed for the first time since Tuesday meant that becoming fully conscious, getting up, was a much more drawn out process that I had anticipated. After seeing some of my chums for Saturday night blood sports, the Big fight, I'd returned back to Turnpike Lane for the evening and, of course, the pull of my old life was strong. But The Oubliette was at a critical point, so I saddled up and rode out again.

When I returned there seemed to be a general air of despondency in the group. We were being evicted at midday, the Bailiff would be at our door at high noon, and we were yet to find another base to move to. We were on the verge of disbandment but before we could get too downhearted, Hubert was taking us all out for dinner.

I had heard of Hubert before I'd met him, and whenever people described him it was almost in a state of rapture. He's known Dan for at least five years, meaning he must have been squatting for at least that long, and probably longer. He had, therefore, the reputation of the ultimate squat-mate; highly practical, always the first to go foraging and ever-willing to share with you whatever he found. On my nervous first night he had said to me, fairly growled through his beard, 'you'll be fine, you look like trouble'. Rough living has not, it seems, dampened his human kindness, nor his humour, one bit.

Going out for dinner seemed strange to me; you mean, we're going to eat inside the restaurant? Indeed we were and this was to be funded by the recent sale of Hubert's rickshaw. It seems much of the rickshaw community (and almost all of the bike couriers in the capital) were also squatters; Dan had been and so had Hubert until the authorities had hijacked the means with which he earned his livelihood. He had lent his bike to a friend (it strikes me as I write this how apt it is that this story both begins and ends with an act of kindness) who had 'parked' it on double yellow lines whilst he went to relieve himself. When this friend returned, the Police were actually towing the vehicle away! This strikes me as a particularly vindictive and spiteful act, given that they could just as easily lifted it up and put it on the pavement. It should be obvious to anyone who cares to think about it that rickshaw drivers, a profession most normally associated with the Indian sub-continent, are amongst the poorest members of society so to punish them by taking away the tools with which he earns his living is at best counter-productive and costly, and, at worst, plain despicable. Give a man the means to catch his own fish and he'll feed himself for a lifetime; take away those means and he's fucked.

Apparently the courts - in not quite so many words, I'm sure - agreed, and returned the rickshaw to its rightful owner. Hubert is soon to depart for mainland Europe so, with the proceeds of the sale of his only real property - which, brand new, cost £3000 - he took us all out to dinner. We agreed not to talk shop and when I asked if this was something of a Last Supper, I was told it was more celebratory than that; more of a toast to bigger and better things - whenever and wherever they may come.

Over the course of the meal, he produced his old Polish ID card. The photo was probably at least five years old and showed a beaming but close-cropped, clean shaven Hubert which apparently had caused him trouble at the border as the authorities struggled to reconcile his old image with his new. It seemed to me that all he had to do was flash them that same broad grin, give a little of the glint, and he'd be instantly waved though; no denying the soul of the man, even in these nervous times.

We returned in high spirits and asked a passerby to take pictures of us in front of the temporary home which was about to be ours no longer. There was one more property to look at, a last ditch attempt to put a roof over our heads and avoid disbandment. Nate was staying behind to ‘keep’ the property (it’s quite reassuring to know that there will always be someone in, always someone burning the home fires) and I stayed with him for lack of transport. When they returned at 11pm I didn’t need to ask whether their - our - mission had been successful; their faces told of their frustration. Someone seemed to be watching and we couldn’t risk a call to the Police. Liberty is not something to take chances with, especially not when we had all paid a reasonably high price to attain it.

Compared with the previous night, it was an uneasy sleep, therefore. We were packed up and out a good thirty or forty minutes before the bailiffs were due to arrive. Thais and Talita had gone back to their flat in Hackney, Dan was to retreat to his long-term (four years in fact) squat in Balham which left Philip, Hubert, San and myself (Nate was at rehearsal) pulling a three wheeled cart from Leicester Square to a garage near Warren Street. Once we’d dropped the stuff, the boys headed to Aldgate and the hospitality of the VHS Basement Squat crew and I head back to TPL to unpack and re-pack; we didn’t know who would be there so we needed to take as little as possible and make the rest of it safe. Along the way, at a point when we’d stopped for a cigarette break, Hubert, true to form, had asked if I was ok. I was but I felt a little useless at not being able to help more, and more than a little sheepish at the prospect of having my tail between my legs in Turnpike Lane.

This was only compounded when, later that day, as I was preparing to rejoin the group I got a phone call from Dan asking if I was ok and where I was. Apparently, the Aldgate crew had been forcefully evicted by the police as they, less cautious than ourselves, had broken a board when they squatted their current abode. Strangely my second reaction to that news, my first being concern, was disappointment. I was disappointed not to have been there when it happened; history is made by those who turn up. I was currently physically comfortable but uncomfortable with being out of the loop. You decide your own level of involvement in this project so I had no-one to blame but myself, which compounded the feeling of regret.

As far as I know, Philip, Hubert and the American boys are currently camped out in Finchley Road. I’m about to leave TPL for Emma’s gig and the obvious place to go after this is Nic and Emma’s sofa but, after that, I’m going to attempt to rejoin the group. As Dan had said on the phone, it’s going to be a bumpy week but these bumps, I have no doubt, will make the destination all the more sweet when we finally arrive...


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