Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Puss in Boots Club

Friday was a particularly debauched evening at the Black Cap in Camden for Adam TPL’s birthday. I had thought, for a while, that I was going to all the wrong gay bars, as all the one’s I’d ever been to were horribly tacky meat-markets . The Black Cap was no exception, but I’m assured this is largely the point. We drank a lot, we danced a lot; all of which made Saturday evening working even more tedious than usual.

It had only been a week since I had been in the building but the harsh strip lighting hurt my eyes and made me a bit squinty; put me simultaneously off balance and on guard, like someone was shining a torch in my eyes. Heckles up, when a co-worker greeted me with a casual, ‘alright?’, the response sounded uneasy in my own ears; was I overcompensating? How to say this; I am alright…but not by your standards, not by any means. I had been homeless, am now squat-less, on the verge of being broke and wandering, half blind, around middle England’s bastion of broadcasting. It’s safe to say my thoughts were elsewhere.

But then, perhaps this place, in which my thoughts were currently residing, was just a better place. I find myself being nice to almost everyone these days; maybe this is because I have less to lose and can afford to give more of myself away. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything, after all. Maybe I have more to lose now and this new friendliness is inherent to it. By merely exercising my gains, like a muscle, it grows stronger and I can hold on to them, shore them up; the more I give the more I get.

After work I walked through Mayfair, which I was now becoming adept at navigating on foot, down to the Puss in Boots Club. Two weeks ago I had ridden passed this place, looking for an address that seemed not to exist, and it fairly stopped me in my tracks. The notice in the window said it had been empty for three years. Somebody had clearly forgotten to flip the switch on the way out, which meant, for a full three years, it had been teasing potential punters with that hot pink neon Puss in Boots Club sign; punters who, on closer inspection, were to be barred by a boarded-up entrance. It looked like a palace and, if you could gain access, would make a perfect squat.

Sometimes it’s troubling to think that there may be no original ideas left – indeed, what would be the point? At others it is comforting to know that others have had the same thoughts as you; they say great minds think alike and if somebody turns the intangible tangible what does it matter who it is, so long as we can all touch it and enjoy it? So I took solace in that the VHS Video Basement - who had previously given shelter to members of The Oubliette and were, seemingly, close affiliates - had moved in this very week.

I was on the mailing list and they had sent round an email inviting members of the arts community to come and use their new pad, to showcase something altogether less seedy than had gone before. In particular, they were looking for young film makers, which many of their number were, to share their celluloid. I had no celluloid to share but maybe I could offer something else; with no other options, it was certainly worth a shot.

Work had made me late for the meeting though, and when I arrived they were, like the former patrons before them, ensconced in the belly of the beast, safe from the unswerving gaze of the world, and too far out of earshot to hear its call anyway. Or my knocks, so it was time to beat a tactical retreat to TPL, my current base and former home. I got back and emailed them to arrange to come round the next day and thrash out the prospect of my moving in.

When I arrived the following day a young man with a beard and the straggly hair of a squatter was outside washing the windows, showing the place more care than anyone had done in recent memory. He informed me that El, with whom I had made virtual contact, was out but would be back at 5pm for a squat meeting. So I tramped up to Soho, paid for a hot chocolate with silver and bronze in The Breakfast Club and sat slowly drinking it for a good chapter and a half.

I returned to the Puss in Boots Club at the allotted hour and was taken inside to meet the rest of the group. I wasn’t wrong about its palatial status – it gleamed and shimmered with swings, poles and disco balls all still in situ. It was a little shabby, slightly dishevelled after waking from a long and deep slumber, but squatters were scurrying all around, making it more presentable and preparing it to be shown to the world. My guide took me through the bowels and upstairs to the nerve centre. A penthouse apartment in the middle of Mayfair, it had clearly been someone else’s nerve centre previously and, although the remnants of cocaine and spunk were no longer visible, the walls seemed to almost silently scream of the things they had seen; history hung heavily in the air.

I caught them just before the meeting and they seemed a good bunch, a little younger than myself, bright and about 12 in number. I put my case forward and even showed them the blog, that which had caused my dilemma in the first place. They seemed to understand the situation but, even so, it didn’t look good. I had already been kicked out of one squat, and a squat they were friends with at that. I was also a perfect stranger; they didn’t recruit like the Oubliette, everyone was friends already and I, well, I wasn’t. To make things worse, the inn seemed to be fairly heaving. I told them they were my last chance and left them to have their meeting; they were to have a read of the blog, discuss my proposal and let me know. I already felt nervous about being judged by what I had written, and the fact that it had, so far, only brought me expulsion didn’t help the situation.

Even during my brief time with The Oubliette I had come across the phenomena of the squat groupie, those who like to hang around and dig the vibe but will ultimately return home to dig the duvet, and I was worried I was becoming the VHS Video Basement’s. But I was neither squatting nor living like a regular member of society, so I had to jump one way and the obvious choice was one last ditch attempt at destitution.

My opportunity came when they opened up the club to the wider world for their celluloid swop on Tuesday night. I’ll go down softly softly, watch a few films and, when the time is right, hit them full in the face with all my powers of persuasion. Perfect.

I don't know why I had not counted on The Oubliette being there also. The two groups were good friends and this was their big opening night, of course they’d be there. I saw Dan from where I was standing in the shadows of the main vestibule but it was so dark that, despite being stood just a few feet away, he had not seen me. I stepped into the light and offered a hand - I thought I detected a slight flinch but maybe that’s just paranoia; or human nature. It all seemed amicable enough but, for the rest of the night, my group sat at one end of the former lap dancing club and The Oubliette sat at the other.

In the end, although I had said hello, The Oubliette’s presence had thrown me off guard and made me feel too awkward to go any further than pleasantries with El. I felt caught between two worlds; the ghost of Vyvian Raoul, not totally real in either. And so it was time to make that move back to respectability, to be assimilated by society once more. But not completely; a wave has washed over me and left a high water mark which will never fade. The boundaries of consciousness and understanding have been pushed, and the territory claimed, that fertile land, can never be taken back; it is mine in perpetuity...

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