Thursday, 12 November 2009

Is it?

Thursday 12th November

As a consequence of this new squatlessness, and in an effort to get myself off various sofas, I spent a good portion of my day traipsing round Belgravia trying to find Mark Guard and his merry band. The press has dubbed them the 'Belgravia Squatters' and Mark is their spokesperson and legal advisor. Under his stewardship they've opened some headline grabbing properties, including one on the same street as Baroness Thatcher. They reportedly took her a cake to celebrate her birthday and it is their stated aim to liberate every one of the 319 empty properties in the district of Belgravia; socialists with a sense of humour, it seems.

My eyes were much more attuned to empty property and I saw plenty of it, but none containing the ones I was looking for. I actually found their old house, recognising it from the pictures in the Telegraph but, despite tramping around in the rain, I couldn't find them. I even asked Maggie's MP5 wielding Metropolitan Police guard if he knew of their whereabouts but, if he did, he wasn't telling me. So it was with slightly heavy heart that I walked to Victoria - to catch a tube to my first crack at itinerant working - and the drizzle, which seems to be becoming a dark-clouded constant, a metronome to my misery, didn't help.

Some might view collecting names and email addresses for the support band to be something of a climb down from working on the most listened to drivetime radio show in Europe, but beggars can't be choosers; I wasn't quite a beggar but I had no wish to become one either. It was certainly a good way to see another side, to sneak up on society; to begin to deconstruct.

It was coming down pretty heavily by now and about seventy percent of people were just plain rude, as if their scorn could somehow keep them dry. The other thirty percent were a delight. Nobody really wants to be on a mailing list - isn't it enough that I'm here? It's about making it an acceptable enough compromise by showing a little humanity; a little give, a little take. So those that stopped to chat and sign up were already those open to making connections (and, later, almost exclusively those that were open to connections and had umbrellas). I did milk the human kindness a little by telling some that, although my union was currently in discussions, I was only getting paid about ten pence per name collected - which lead to a lot of people putting down lots more; friends or foes, very efficient either way. One teenage lad gave me the rest of the can of cider he couldn't finish before the door, and one couple took a photo with me; a moment captured and shared. I was wet but fairly singing in the rain.

Interestingly, some people seemed to be more likely to sign up if it was for the main band, Biffy Clyro. What more could they have to learn of Biffy? It was their popularity which made them popular, the mailing list becomes less about learning and more about being a part - the marketing machine making it all ok, all ok. There were a few, a very few, that in every single case were the young, who signed up for the exact opposite reason. Manchester Orchestra? Never heard of them; sign me up! Those for whom music is about discovery; where others got quite enough spam thank you very much, these were they that had confidence in their ability to filter for themselves. Spam me, baby, spam me - let every email and experience wash over my head; I'll sort out the good from the bad.

I finished my shift and arrived outside the station with cigarette to burn so stood a while rather than waste it. A large dreadlocked man in a shabby olive green fatigue jacket came over to beg of some change. 'I'm sorry, I just don't have any'. It felt strange to utter that phrase and it be completely genuine. We can always spare something and I often gave, usually food, and would miss that warming of the spirit that comes with an act of charity. Equally I would be without the nagging guilt for those times I was less generous. He went on, uncomfortably, to tell me that he had seen the presenter of X-Factor, Dermot O'Leary, earlier - the implication being that the very man holding the reins of our counterfeit culture, that runaway colt, had been more forthcoming; a celebrity endorsed act of charity, huh? I still had no money but I wasn't above talking, seeing what he had to say. He asked me if I was a weed smoker and I told him that I was but I didn't need any; it was getting too 10CC for words. Listen, he said, I just need two quid and then I'll give you some weed, y'know? 'I don't have any cash mate, I live in a squat'.

Not technically true anymore but the flash of recognition was instant as he affirmed, 'is it?' and we touched fists. Instant acceptance, a different kind of endorsement but an endorsement he could support; one on his terms. It was truly remarkable, and took me totally by surprise, but I suppose the connections are everywhere just waiting to be made. If it is making these connections which lift the human spirit, and I believe it is, then the more we can make the more elevated will our situation be. And, I suppose, all anyone really needs to make a connection is a chance to explain their position, to give a fair account of themselves...

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