Alternative Living?

Our basement

When I was a little girl growing up in suburbia the last thing I thought I’d be doing at the age of twenty-two was living in an abandoned, broken-down building in the ghettos of London without heating or hot water, eating cold baked beans out of the can. But I am. Life’s funny like that. But this is my life, and over the past three years of living what the majority of the population would consider an alternative (and somewhat repulsive) way of life, I have come to love my life of squalor. Wearing clothes found on the street, rummaging through the garbage for food, sitting on sofas made out of shopping carts- it’s all part of the fun. Admittedly, there are times when I want to stab myself in the face (like when I get a throat infection from living amongst so much mould, or when one of my squat-mates drags a mattress infested with bedbugs in off the street and I’m left scratching for the next six months). But most of the time it just makes me feel like a pirate. Like I’m a courageous pirate venturing into new and unknown territory- except my sword has been replaced with a crowbar and instead of stealing gold coins I’m shoplifting milk and robbing electricity from my next-door neighbours. You get the idea.

To add to the shambolic nature of my life, I live with freaks. Seriously. Their brains work in ways I will never understand. It’s not uncommon for me to walk into the living room and find my housemates in the midst of a heated discussion about worm AIDS, snake orgies, or gay astronauts. Just last night I fell asleep to the sound of my housemates Darren and Amy fighting over what paedophiles smell like. “Duh! Everyone knows paedophiles smell like dried blood and semen!” was the last thing I heard before drifting off into the land of nod. However, I have found that there is a positive side to immersing yourself in a life of complete hysteria, surrounded by a bunch of utter mentalists, and that is that nothing is ever boring.

To give you an example of how mentally stimulating my house is, yesterday we declared our squat an independent state. We deemed our new state “Squatland,” then spent the entire day designing our own flag (a section 6, of course), and fighting over what the national currency should be. We’ve narrowed it down to either condoms or ecstasy pills. We have yet to decide. We also tend to spend an absurd amount of time decorating our squat. You know, to make it feel more like a home than a rat infested death trap. Our walls, which were once covered in chipped paint and asbestos, are now beautifully adorned in fake fruit we found in a dumpster, African scarves, surrealist portraits of Phil Collins, broken violins, and other various things we’ve found on the street. Sometimes the “decorating” gets a bit out of hand. For example, the words “gerbil vagina” are painted in giant letter on the wall in the basement. Except gerbil is spelt gerbel because whoever wrote it is an asshole. We have a sofa made out of an old baby’s crib. We’ve turned our bathtub into a miniature garden where we grow tomatoes (and weed, on occasion). We also used to have a naked mannequin in the corner of the living room but now miraculously there’s only his torso left. No one seems to know where the rest of him went, but his head had been mysteriously replaced with a pineapple.

Along with expanding your mind, there are other perks that come from living in a hellhole. For example, when you’re renting a house it’s unacceptable to knock down walls with fire extinguishers just for fun. When you live in a squat, however, there’s no one to tell you no. “It looks better like this. It feels more spacious, ” was our rationalization after what was once our living room wall was left lying in a pile of rubble on the floor. Once in a while someone will come over who isn’t so accustomed to our lifestyle and the look of horror on their face will remind us that the way we live is slightly unusual, but other than that everything seems totally normal. Normal- that’s a funny word. Relative– there’s another good one. For many people sharing your living space with roughly 50 million mice would be considered the exact opposite of normal. For us, it’s just part of our daily routine. We made one attempt to get ride of the grubby little fucks not too long ago. My housemate James spent nearly a week concocting a home made electronic mousetrap to capture them. The next morning we awoke to four tiny white mice in the trap. The next problem was where to put them. The logical place, you’d think, would be outside. James, however, seeing the tiny mice whimpering in their trap decided he felt sorry for them and let them go in the kitchen. “What’s four more?” he argued. He had a point.

To be perfectly honest, I’m at the point now where I can no longer decipher whether all of this- the bin food, the obsession with paedophiles, the drinking each other’s blood- stems from such an excessive and violent amount of creative genius stirring within us that it inhibits us from living normal lives, or if we’re all just mentally insane dirtbags with an incredibly skewered view of reality. Fuck it. I like to think that in thirty years I’ll be able to look back on this time of my life, laugh, and say something like “oh goodness, how crazy I once was!” while sipping cocktails next to my Olympic sized swimming pool and getting a foot massage from
my future husband, Jamie Bell. Although I highly doubt it.

The stairs are crumbling.

I wasn’t kidding about the fire extinguishers.

Mind expansion through paint fight.

Seance in the basement. Simon’s blood tastes like milkshake.

Bet you don’t have a rope swing in your house.



6 Replies to “Alternative Living?”

  1. I used to live in what was known as The Leonard Street Compound(Holler) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was a pretty well known squat in that area, seemingly similar to your situation. When my friends ask me what it was like living there I always say that it just had this feeling of being on this ridiculous pirate ship. It was a sad day when that era ended. The days when you could count on a bum that your roommate had invited to stay in the house would come banging on your bedroom door harassing you for a “pull” of your bong. And walking into your living room and finding a kid with his face covered in dried blood sleeping in his own piss with no pants on and a raging boner was part of the routine occurrences. It was definitely two of the best years of my life. Enjoy sailing the seven seas.

  2. I actually had a dream once where all the squats of south london were pirate ships of differing sizes and we had tyres strapped to the sides and we just sailed about in a kind of armada to tropical islands and shit. I remember thinking, this is fucking great, why isn’t everyone a pirate?

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