[ 18:49 saturday 4 august 2018 – near broxbourne, hertfordshire ]
seated on the grass at the edge of a lake. droplets of water fall from my hair and run in silver trails down my body. my breathing is quickened from the exertion of swimming. even at this hour the sun is fierce, settling towards the horizon in a cloudless sky. above me willow leaves shake and rustle gently in a half-hearted breeze. the edge of the lake sparkles with a thousand azure damselflies, clasping the reeds that poke and sway above the water, each one pointing its body identically towards the sun in mysterious alignment.
this year i’m working as intensely as at any point in my life. one project has been particularly demanding. to keep myself in balance i’ve been trying to intersperse work with other activities. sometimes if there’s a gap between meetings i’ll throw the kayak in the water and paddle up the canal and back before starting again. or after a long stint at the screen i’ll bike up to hackney marshes to a curving section of the river lea, then swim against the current as hard as i can with the water weeds rippling at my belly. the lake where i’m sitting now has become a favourite escape at weekends. within an hour of closing my front door i can be here, far from the city, plunging into the dark water with not a soul in sight.
alongside these local escapes the year has also been punctuated with travels further afield; some for projects, others purely for pleasure. the spring brought trips to montenegro, helsinki, chamonix, cornwall and the basque country. summer took me to california, paris, warsaw, corsica and (again) cornwall. the next few months will see me in berlin, sailing with dad in cornwall, granada, california (again), gdansk and my very first visit to china. more and more of these journeys are in the company of alejandro, who’s been brightening my life for a year and a half now.
the strategy has worked wonders. most days i feel energised and ready to face the challenges ahead. on the occasional days when i feel weighed down, all it takes is a smile or laugh from alejandro to lift my spirits again.
time for one last swim, then i’ll head home and resume battle.
tomorrow voters in britain will choose our destiny in europe. for all its flaws i’m proud to be part of such a noble project as the european union. a community of diverse nations joining together to advance a shared vision of european civilisation. a union whose differences are settled by negotiation not war. a union that sets civil rights, workers rights and environmental standards higher than its members could individually. a union that gives its citizens the freedom to live and work anywhere in an entire continent. a union that removes barriers to trade within its borders. a union that speaks internationally with the force of the largest economic entity on the planet. a union that celebrates diversity, tolerance and openness.
the first 50 years of the union were the easy part. it was a time of optimism and wealth. the next 50 years will be infinitely harder. the world is a darker place. every value on which the union was founded is under attack. if it is to survive and continue to advance its ideals the union must evolve, and must do so dramatically. everyone who believes in its ideals must be ready to fight for the necessary changes. the siren calls to abandon the project are a perilous illusion.
tomorrow i shall cast my ballot for the uk to remain in the union. i hope that many others will do the same.
bazelgette’s 1860s northern outfall sewer where it crosses the river lee near my house plus a rare glimpse inside his cathedral-like abbey mills pumping station from 1868 complete with huge 1930s control panel; sulaiman with his new camera; gentleman bikers in becton; patrick in his studio; late summer sun at old ford lock; twilight and melancholy in margate; baroque keyboards in paladian splendour at finchcocks (thanks sam).
[ 22:31 friday 25 february – haggerston road, london ]
last march i spent a few sublime spring days in cornwall. the sky was clear, the air soft and filled with birdsong, the hedgerows bursting with fresh shoots and blossom. i made a small pilgrimage to madron well near penzance where i’d been just once before, more than a decade ago. one feels a sense of magic there. it’s easy to understand why so many people have considered it blessed through the centuries. here’s the film i shot.
here’s a short film from one of the social nights at the new krankenhouse squat, which i wrote about in my previous post. this was towards the end of march when the occupation was at its peak. the shift to a new location and the sheer magnitude of the space unleashed a wave of exuberant optimism and creativity in stark contrast to the grim factional bickering of the group’s final months in the old building. i hope a little of that positivity and excitement comes through in the film.
the community made great efforts to prepare the space for the night and the result was magical. turning an abandoned twenty-foot river boat into a tilted bar and lounge was a stroke of genius. some friends of the group had brought it round one day saying they needed a big enough space to repair it after which they promptly vanished. apparently it was cheaper to transport it to the warehouse and dump it than to scrap it.
the second huge space was turned into a skate and bike park for the night. you can glimpse some of the crazy re-engineered bikes which are created in the community. most of them are fiendishly difficult to ride.
watching the film again i cannot help but feel sad knowing it wasn’t destined to last. within a month the building had been repossessed and everyone had moved on. but in the squatting community i get the sense that the most beautiful things are often fleeting.
following on from my previous post, the breakthrough in the krankenhouse’s search for a new building came with word that another group was planning to take over an abandoned courier warehouse in bermondsey for one night for a party. the krankenhouse group had been told that if they wanted to stay on afterwards and try to occupy the building they were welcome to do so. it sounded like the space was enormous, big enough to accommodate everyone from the group.
i arrived at the new space around 3am the night of the opening party with bertrand and a couple of other friends. the space was even bigger than i imagined, two vast open sheds with a two-storey office block attached on one side. by the time we arrived the police had already paid a visit and shut down the largest of the three sound systems. but the remaining two provided ample entertainment for the rest of the night. i cycled home at dawn.
as the party wound down a group of half a dozen krankenhousers established themselves with sleeping bags, water, an electric heater and canned food in one of the smaller rooms of the office block. i visited whenever i had a chance over the subsequent two weeks. the group’s primary objectives were to fend off any attempt by the building’s owner to regain possession of the building or any attempt by a rival group of squatter to displace them. just a few days after the party in the early hours of the morning an alarm was raised that some people were trying to break down one of the doors with a battering ram. the group rushed to defend the door and after a short skirmish they prevailed. that was the only serious attempt to disrupt the occupation.
on the day the crouch end building was evicted a steady convoy of refugees arrived at the new building with their belongings. by evening the floor of one of the sheds was covered with a patchwork of furniture, audio equipment, juggling kit and assorted bric a brac. for a few days people slept wherever they felt like throughout the office block but gradually pressure grew for a permanent allocation of rooms.
a couple of squat meetings were called where it was expected the question of rooms would be decided but each time it was put off. finally a day came when it couldn’t be avoided any longer. there was still a reluctance to broach such a contentious question but in the end one of the girls grasped the nettle and posed the question of how the allocation should be decided. several suggestions were made but it was rapidly agreed that the whole group should walk round the building looking at all the available rooms and people should put their names against a maximum of three rooms each. wherever a claim was uncontested the room would be allotted straight away. where claims were contested people would negotiate room by room until everyone had been assigned a place.
determining who gets which part of the building is the primary resource allocation question for any new squat. it’s an extremely complex problem and must be settled by a strong consensus if the squat is to be harmonious. if anyone feels resentful at the result or regards the process as unfair it can store up trouble for the whole community. as an ethnographer, and particularly as one with an insatiable interest in emergent collective decision-making, it was a great privilege to be permitted to be with the group during the process when this was decided.
it took an hour and a half for the group to make its way around the building, stopping at each room and discussing its pros and cons, then listing the people who wanted to make a bid for it. in some of the larger rooms various possibilities for sub-division were floated and a consensus needed to be reached on this before people could bid on parts of the space. there were a couple of heated moments when individuals sought to make a case that they had a particular right to a room they liked but otherwise the process was good-natured and slightly chaotic. the same girl who’d started the discussion took responsibility for making the list of rooms and bids. she also subtly defused the moments of aggro that cropped up. as the tour progressed i grew more and more impressed by her gentle shaping of the process.
after all the rooms had been inspected, all the sub-divisions had been agreed and everyone had put their names down against the rooms they wanted the group returned to the common room downstairs. with pleasing continuity this was the same room the advance group had lived in during the first weeks of occupation. people got themselves beers, settled down and the allocation process commenced. first the easy ones were apportioned, where only one person had made a bid. then the slightly trickier ones with two or three bidders. gradually the complexity increased and the trade-offs involved more steps. after a couple of hours i had to leave but i understand the process was still continuing two hours later. in the end only two people out of twenty-five felt unhappy with their lot, an amazing result from a process based entirely on consensus where there was no possibility for any person to impose a decision on anyone else. i think this experience did more to reaffirm my belief in democracy than anything i’ve witnessed before or since.
it was a joy seeing the community take root in the new space. such a huge blank canvas unleashed a surge of creativity and excitement in the group. by the end of march a bicycle stunt park had been constructed in one shed, a bar and lounge had been created from a twenty-five foot river boat in the other, the walls were decorated with artwork and smart graffiti. there were a couple of magical parties.
but the writing was already on the wall, hopes that agreement could be reached with the owner permitting the group to remain had come to nothing. it was clear eviction would come within a month and the tribe would have to move again.
slideshow and thumbnails below. the album is also on flickr.