Monday, 28 February 2011
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
The Dehavilland Museum is just off the M25 and a labour of love for the old men in overalls who keep it going; keep it, like the 60 year old engines that they miraculously bring back to life, ticking over. One of these distinguished diesal-heads is Colin.
Colin had been something of a maverick pilot in his time, once flying low over a lake, opening the door so that he could dip his fingers in the water, and crashing spectacularly in the process. He was also part of the team that installed the Dakota wing in Simon's flat.
Two DeHavilland Vampire wings lay abandoned in one of the fields next to the museum - they would have been rusting were they not made of aluminium. They needed to be moved, a children's play area taking their spot; old making way for new. Whilst they are totally useless for their original purpose, they are far, far too good to be scrapped.
But it seems Simon may know a man who will arrange the transportation: the crane that will lift these 3tonne behomths onto the low-rider that will be escorted by police outriders back to London. It's a 50/50 split: this man will cut his up and turn it into posh, art furniture but Simon's finder's fee will be the other wing, which will also be kept in storage at the wing-furniture factory. As we left we also salvaged, from the museum's skip, a switch (which was useful for the wires protruding from Simon's dash that, when melded together, charged his iPhone) and a big, bright yellow bag that once belonged to the signal corps (and would now be a basket for his two cats).
There are no pictures of the rest of the day, but it was spent drinking tea with Ed on a boat that, were it not for the Tibetan flags and armchairs on deck, would have been more at home in the North Sea, battling through rough waters than on a squatted mooring near Kew Bridge; eating posh sausages on rye bread with mustard in Simon's flat, as the drizzle came down outside and the cats got used to the scent of their new basket; watching Ghost Dance in the dark, upstairs in a high ceilinged Edwardian bedroom at the Really Free School (that was soon to fall back into the hands of the evil Baron von Ritchie), whilst flash bulbs popped outside; being taught how to make an origami crane by Sophie; and sprinting for the night bus, propelled by Red Stripe and adrenalin, with Saul. It was very heaven.
Friday, 18 February 2011
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
This is something that the Really Free School – based in a beautiful Bloomsbury mansion block turned squat – really understands. As the Eton crew crank up the cost of education to unaffordable, RFS sticks two fingers up to Cameron et al by giving the stuff away for free. No curriculum, no agenda, it’s all about sharing both space and knowledge. They have classrooms to spare and anyone can become a teacher, as long as you have something interesting and edifying to share – to contribute to the collective experience – you can step up to the front of the class and start expanding minds.
Some of the things they’ve shared already include film screenings, Arabic lessons and talks on all manner of subjects, from ex-hedge fund manners turned anti-capitalists to home education enthusiasts; coming up are guitar lessons, free hair cuts and a home décor workshop. You may also catch them running around Bloomsbury playing capture the flag, or forming a human shield outside the British Museum in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution. Apart from all this good, wholesome, free stuff, the place is a veritable palace; how often do you get to hang around in a Bloomsbury mansion house?
I’m doing my own mass edification event with them, by way of the Writers’ Room. Appropriated (apt, the cynics may say) from Alain de Botton’s notion that it’s almost impossible to make the words come when sat in a study, behind a desk, the writers’ room is intended to provide a space for inspiration. The idea being that anyone who’s ever even thought of putting pen to paper can come down, breathe in Bloomsbury’s literary past, bathe in the beauty and do some scribing.
They may also take encouragement from those around them. Everyone is asked to bring a book that they have loved and learnt from (from which, by copying it out, others can get a free literary) and the beautiful 1969 Olivetti Valentine will be hanging around to help you fall all the more deeply for the words that you have written. And if that doesn’t help you beat the block, a series of speakers – from Tariq Goddard to the Russell Brand Show’s former poet laureate, Mr. Gee, will be on hand to help you bash down the wall.
“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration: light out after it with a club…’”
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
You don’t normally associate squatting with fine dining and fancy dinner parties, but recently I tried to bring them together. In an attempt to get a fancy five course meal for free, I got in touch with Ms Marmite Lover and offered to swap my labour in return for a feed at her Underground Restaurant. A former squatter and anarchist herself, she went for it and the date was set.
My first task was to write up the evening’s menu in chalk pens on the mirror in their beautiful dining room (which used to be their beautiful living room). To say my efforts were childlike probably does an enormous disservice to children everywhere, but apparently the wobbliness was not without its charm. And I redeemed myself artistically by making epiphany crowns for the galette de rois (king cake) that were much more pleasing to the eye.
The last time I did any actual waiting, I was seventeen and hated it. It seemed to be degrading and servile: ‘why should one human being serve another?’ I thought, in my naïve teenage desire for egalitarianism. This time was different: as with most things in life, you can pretty much choose how you react to it, and with waiting I decided to treat it as a performance. Channelling every example of old school, English, well-mannered manservant, I was Alfred, I was Jeeves, I was Parker.
It turns out that if you can forget your ego - properly prostrate yourself for other people’s pleasure - and know that there’s no shame in that, in serving, then you can enjoy it too. If, through your actions, other people have a good time, then so can you; if you can make them joyful, just think what you receive in return.
In the end, there wasn’t really time to eat much more than a foccacia button and a slither of the king cake. But I didn’t really mind: the evening was excellent and I got to interact with a lot of very interesting people; the types that attend illicit restaurants in garden-flats in north west London are generally a fun bunch (tonight that bunch included the bassist from Friendly Fires). It’s telling that, despite being tired and facing the prospect of a two hour bus back to Brockley, I stayed around chatting until the early hours.
She’s generally up for offers of help; when I was there she was also playing host to a Californian intern who was on a placement from her gastronomy course in Naples. You need to have dined in the restaurant first but, believe me, that’s no bad thing.
Last Saturday was our turn to pop something up. The electricity bill looms large and the means to pay it are still missing. So we opened up our bar and ballroom area and did a Werner Herzog double bill, in what we called the People’s Picturehouse. We can hardly charge for the space (I mean, we could, but we definitely don’t want to; this is more about sharing than it is about the bill) so the films were free but we laid on a cocktail bar and some very good vegetarian food.
We can say it was a hit. Secret Cinema somehow found our blog and posted it on their facebook page, and within a couple of days we had nearly two hundred responses asking for the address; replying to just 17 of these - along with friends and associated associates & squatters – was enough to pack the place out. The appetite for edification seems to be enormous, so we’re doing another one again this Saturday. We’d love to get as many people in as possible. Do get in touch if you’d like to visit; who knows how long we’ll have the space to share?