I'm walking down Gorway Road, somewhere I rode along early every morning for two years or so as a teenager, delivering the day's news. Telegraphs, Times' and Daily Mails. Almost unbearably heavy on a Sunday; when they were filling the weekend with all that supplementary shit, they did not have the paper boy's back, nor his listing bike, tyres flattened from the extra weight, in mind. Still, these are the houses of the small-town good and great – rugby club in winter, cricket club in summer – and they tip well at Christmas.
They're bathed in bright, crisp light: the kind that makes everything on a film set look beautiful. And unreal. The houses fairly glimmer, sparking and smiling in the sunshine - proud property wearing glorious, finely tailored, gardens. I walk passed the first: 'is that...?'. It is: wooden boards where the windows should be. My heart races, my pulse quickens.
Be cool, walk on, come back. I look up: the next house is boarded and abandoned, too. A fire that spread? Then the next, and the next. Some sort of development, a compulsorily-purchased bypass system? Not for the good and great. The amazement plays across my face and I run from door to door, back and forth across the street – everywhere the same. No need to be cool any more, the world is deserted, a disaster movie. The whole street is shut up; all these abandoned properties and I am the only person alive in the universe: their only salvation. The farmer has left the gate open, and these horny, homely heifers are winking at me, giving me the big come on.
I used to dream of occupying these houses as a kid, and now I am again. I wake up in my bed, hopeful but knowing that in a month's time my bed will be somewhere else. It's the lot of the squat. No yin of occupation without the inevitable yang of eviction.
A similar experience recently, a waking dream this time, in northern France. I was hitching to Paris over Easter and had gotten stuck in Dunkirk late at night. Too late for anyone to seriously consider picking me up but too early to bed down, I decided to use the time by walking to Calais, some 30km. It didn't look that far on the map.
I'm exhausted from a day by the side of the dusty road (all roads are dusty, it turns out, though some roads are dustier than others), in the heavy sun, with a heavy bag; the cool night air makes my skin tingle and I know I've been scorched. I've got no water and am using the last of my cigarettes to quench my thirst, although they burn. Je suis tres, tres, fatigue. I'm definitely making bad decisions, and this walk is one of them.
Ambling along a country lane, I come across a village that is just a collection of houses along the side of the road. They don't even have a post office, and everywhere in France has a post office. Walking passed the first house and it's all shut up. Oh shit, look at that; shame I'm only passing through.
And then it happens again: the next house is shut up, and the next. I look across the street and it's the same on that side. De ja vu doesn't quite do it: my mind wobbles. 'This is too weird, it's just like that dream I had last month.' But this is reality...isn't it? Confusion reigns for a while, and then I realise, it dawns on me: that's not sitex, that's a cultural housing difference; France brings down its shutters every evening. Hell is other people, at least after dark. Reality snaps back and it's me, the pains shooting through my shoulders, and the road again.
Always on the road, always looking forward. At the moment that means looking forward to eviction tomorrow and moving to a former technical college that we've already had court papers for, before we've moved in. The place turns out to be owned by the local magistrates court, and naturally they're not hanging around. This makes the claimant of our case the Secretary of State for Communities (check the irony) and Local Government: none other than Jabba the Cunt, Eric Pickles. It looks sticky, alright, but the dream doesn't get any closer while you're standing still...