Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Going underground...

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?


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