Cat said to ring when I got the squat. Her text message described it as an old boarded up building located near the city centre. I knew I was at the right place because of the bikes chained up outside, a tandem and two old racers, one colored green the other coloured red – pedal power for the people.
So I rang. Cat answered. Her Northern Ireland accent pitched and fell. “Yer outside are ye? She asked. “I’ll be out to ye in a minute.”
Seconds later a side door opened. She walked out, petite and slim, wearing a long woolly jumper, pale jeans, trainers and a thatch of straw-coloured hair tucked into the neck of her woolly.
She was in the middle of a life-art class in the squat. She was the life art.
Cat returned, stripped naked and climbed into the well of the window to pose. Artists resumed their brush strokes, woolly jumper no more.
From another room, the sound of a guitar being plucked leaked through, finger style with an easy tempo and an echo – there wasn’t enough furniture to absorb the sound. A smell of sweet tobacco filled the air. Candles burned.
Cat switched to another pose, moving from relaxed to the acrobatic with effortless ease. She tumbled into the wall arms first to perform a handstand, naked.
She said she’d hold the position for as long as she could. Her hair fell down around her face and painters scribbled furiously until she fell down too.
In the next room a long table was laid out with biscuits, fairy cakes, a kettle and some mugs. An activity timetable was stuck to the wall, six foot long by three foot wide – laughter yoga, still-life poetry, media training. That type of thing.
Cat made tea and dressed now, went downstairs to get some milk. The stairwell was dark and the steps, nothing but cold bare concrete. Power cables hung low enough to dip under. Electricity was being brought in from outside. The building had been stripped of its power points long before they arrived six months ago.
In the kitchen a girl with blue hair was making port; lots of port, boiling it up in a big cauldron. It was a full moon tonight after all. In the oven, a quiche was baking, retrieved from a food skip used by the supermarket giant, Iceland.
Upstairs on the wall, a list carried the street locations of food skips used by Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys and Waitrose.
A teaching assistant, with a quiet manner was reviewing her work from the still life class. Four art sheets for four different poses of Cat. A Malaysian man with big teeth and long hair asked if she had ever drawn an Octopus. “They’re pretty cool,” he declared, lighting a joint.
Upstairs, Cat pointed to where people slept, on mattresses, on a floor made from a carpet of shoes and a tangle of clothes.
In the corner loomed a coffin. Someone had squatted an old funeral parlour. The coffin, well, it was a souvenir brought along for the ride.
In the corner a man slept, curled up in the clutter.
There was a poetry workshop starting on the fifth floor – the rooftop, my reason for being here. By now, it kinda felt like I needed one by now.
I decided to pass on shaving in the morning, but I stood out as a member of society, as society is typically defined.
I didn’t look like I was going to drop out. I didn’t look like somebody who would typically drop in either. Not to a happening squat building toward a full moon party.
Some guy landed on the roof top with curly hair and words of performance advice he learned at stage school.
“Recite it aloud like it is someone else’s work,” he declared. Some girl call Shaa with dreadlocks, cooed and giggled at the sight of two pigeons pecking at one another, kissing she called it. A menacing looking northerner stared out across the cityscape and declared that he “loved the smell of Napalm in the morning,” when encouraged to introduce some sensory adjectives to his poetry.
Pound-for-pound he was the squat’s best example of non-conformity, all shaved head and Doc Martin boots.
“Iambic pentameter,” he announced, to no one in particular and he strummed a chord of his guitar to highlight what he had just said, like a drummer crashing his symbol.
Squat-life in London! Just a glimpse.