how right Gandhi was
From March through to June 2009 I was living in London. I went there for a variety of reasons, the mains one being to simply get out of Wales and away from Parents (this seemed particularly urgent at the time) and to live with the great activist friends I had made in Poznan.
It had been discussed in a dreamlike “oh imagine if” sort of way, that we’d move in together, create a communal space where we could cook, eat, campaign, sleep-a bit, and host visitors and workshops in our very own eco-camelot. But of course this was no ordinary group of people saying this, not the kind of people who generate ideas just to let them go and make the time pass; this was/is a group of highly motivated, off beat, doing people. And so do it we did.
On what turned out to be literally the worst day of my life, we signed the contract to a pink, 6 bed Victorian house in Chalk Farm. We had a house! And it had perfect railings for locking bikes to, a garden we could grow some of our food in, possibilities for a turf roof, space for bike maintenance and composting, an outdoor barbecue and lots of space for ALL the people! To top it off, at the end of our road is the best local you could wish for, it’s bar cum pub called Monkey Chews, that’s packed full of young and beautiful muso types and lots of luscious live music.
For me in particular it was a bit of a home from home. Where I live in Wales is a small town of lovely Georgian houses, each one painted a different colour. Our road or cul de sac as it was, consisted of about 7 houses each side, facing each other, all a different a colour with wide white windowsills and overflowing front gardens which led you to the steps up to the front door. So not only were the houses similar on the outside, the inhabitants could well have been transported from Aberaeron to Chalk Farm just to confuse me. They seemed to equally suffer from the village syndrome of curtain twitching. Having said that, it was nice to be a part of a small community in somewhere so huge as London, where it’s very easy to get lost and simply never speak to anyone. One of the threads that bound them all was their hatred of our house, or the ‘student house’ as they called it. Apparently everyone was dreading the new quota of people due to move in, but I think they were pleasantly surprised. Within the first 2 weeks Kirsty (a housemate) said it was time we did the rounds. So armed with homemade shortbread (both gluten free AND normal!) we descended on Modbury. Frankly, they cared more about the biscuits than us, so in some ways we had learnt how to keep them sweet, but we also got to know a lot about the inhabitants of Modbury Gardens, Chalk Farm. Most had lived there over 10 years, and had each other round for tea at some point in a week. No.1 was expecting a baby anytime soon, Patsy in No.13 baked amazing cakes (this came in handy when I discovered I didn’t have a tin to make Dans birthday cake in, so she lent a castle shaped tin, and I made him a Camelot cake!), Alec was a Tory who’d rebelled at the last election and voted Labour, and Sheila was a sweetie, but it turned out she did object to Kirsty singing and executing a dance routine for our entertainment at 3 in the morning when it was through the wall of her bedroom. oops.
The house never ceased to be manic and bursting at the seams, it could also be very stressful. But what do you expect when no-one has a normal existence or a 9-5 job? We’re all super busy and chores just take up valuable saving-the-world-time. All together there were 7 of us, only 2 weren’t environmentalists, Gemma and Nellie, but they answered our Gumtree ad because they wanted to make a positive change in their lives and thought they could learn from us, what a great start!
The 1st week consisted of eating everything with wooden cooking spoons and out of saucepans, while the only glasses available happened to be metal goblets! how very appropriate. Or as it turned out: how very Dan. Dan, the longest standing housemate to date, turned out to be an interesting person in terms of the things he bought with him for use in the house. He bought a MASSIVE wok-great for cooking en-masse, an electric rice cooker, plastic moulds that slotted together so you could make heart shaped sushi, 2 meat cleavers in a house of vegetarians, a 3 foot speaker and mixing desk and vegetable seeds! What Nellie and Gemma (to begin with collectively known as Lemon Jelly, which then became extremely hard to drop….) didn’t bank on was the house still looking like moving in day, at the beginning of week 3-only with slightly more tunnels through the stuff to allow for normal life to continue around it. This was because moving in could not have come at a worse time. 3 out of the 7 of us worked for the film Age of Stupid, the climate change film-documentary everyones talking about (www.ageofstupid.net). That meant not only were they working 14 hour days, unpaid, in the lead up to biggest film premiere ever (officially in the Guinness book of records), we were all helping too. (see an earlier blog post on the premier-march 09) The excitement of living together, all pitching in for this event, and the some of the campaign work afterwards, going to climate rushes and climate camps all made for an exciting segway into my new life in London, a whole world away from small town Wales.
As stuff settled down we decided to host a house-warming/earth hour party to show off the house to all our friends, we’d warned the neighbours, made the food, invited everyone and they in turn bought their friends, yet there was no one who we couldn’t connect back to the house in some way. That made for a great party, because everyone there respected what we were trying to do with the house, so there was hardly any mess to tidy, only some left over food, and best of all NO VOMIT! We felt, although people got wasted a happy house had spawned a happy party. 3 weeks later it was Dan and Matts birthdays, so we thought on the back of the last lets have another. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. All of a sudden Camelot was awash with random people, some had no connection to the house whatsoever, and as a result trashed the house. I awoke to carnage and sick in the shower. I had a horrible feeling the whole party long, being uncomfortable with types of people there and direction the party seemed to be taking. I’m so glad my favourite Camelot guest was there-Fraser, aka Dr love (he travels the world spreading love, peace and happiness wherever he goes-and he absolutely does!), he resolved to clean the shower of sick because “he thought he’d enjoy it the most out of everyone!” I can still picture Fraser telling us afterwards how he thought the sick found itself where it did: (in an Australian accent, and with a plaited beard) “they guys friend must have jsut grabbed his hair and taken aim with his head spraying the sick out like a watering can!” Lovely. Only mildly reassuring was Dans glee that so many influential and high profile climate activists had been there, including one that I’ve been in love with for years. We were fast becoming a hub for young environmentalists. Not that the neighbours cared! The next morning we had a handwritten letter signed “The Neighbours” (rubbish were they all in on it) complaining of our reckless partying, ridiculous sound levels (I concur with that one. Dan has a huge speaker and mixing desk from his DJVockster dats-I kid you not. And DJVockster drunk in charge= split eardrums) I only stayed up long enough so that I could say I’d danced to the Jackson 5 with Franny and Lizzie, director and producer of the Age of Stupid! That was me done for the night.
What ensued was a day of cleaning up and a house get together. Everyone decided they were uncomfortable with what had happened so it wouldnt happen again, as Nic pointed out, parties like thatr are not sustainable, not only physically for us but also in terms of waste. If we recalled why we were there, really massive piss-ups with people who don’t respect our house and lifestyle just dont come into it. To placate the neighbours we gathered a share of Dans lovingly tended and grown from seed tomato plants, about 20cm tall, and we stood on doorsteos doling them out along with doleful faces full or remorse and promising nothing like that would happen again. And it didn’t-we just go to other people’s houses and party!
part 2 coming up……..