Sunday, 11 May 2014

Paper version just published!

                                                                                                           Liz, Trouble and Rocco

                                                     Walterton Road,February, 1975  Pic:Esperanza Romero

It has been a long time coming, but finally I have a paper version of "Squat City Rocks" published via "Create Space" and available now at or from Amazon as from 19th May 2014. This is an extract from the 1st chapter, a little snapshot of life in our west London squatland, back in 1974:

A dull thud. Another. A rhythmic thumping, which I at first confuse with my temple’s muffled pulse on pillow. Familiar forms become distinct as the early morning twilight filters in through meagre, makeshift curtains. Another sound – an alarmed blackbird screeches up the street. Again a banging from below. Of course. It’s them. It’s them and their night prowlings. A slow rhythmic thudding from below. Could be many things. Not to worry. Turnover, cuddle up, back to sleep … and … that … dream …It’s morning. The weekend, so no hurry. She’s gorgeous and she’s next to me, but she is a very slow waker. I bore from plying her with my unreturned attentions. Mattress on the floor, a draped-over suitcase as a bedside table. A threadbare mat covers part of the floorboards. Practically all my possessions picked out of a builder’s skip, or from a street market, more often than not left behind by an irate stallholder anxious to get home late on a Saturday afternoon. On a rickety table my records, a clarinet, some books … The daylight streaming in now. How I love this room. Two tall bay windows from floor to ceiling. A large, leafy sycamore outside, and little noise from the street. Ah…that noise last night, was it a dream or … a thudding downstairs…all night a dull thudding.- “Did you hear it?"- "Hear what?"- "The noise they were making. Our friends… I woke to a banging….." - "Something ..maybe…”We finally get up and stumble down a flight of broken stairs, no carpets of course and almost without banisters. The bathroom is basic. No bath but at least with a noisy old heater for hot water. The kitchen is stark. Cracked panes in the window looking out over a stretch of barren land. The muffled cries of a couple of kids kicking around a football. The gas stove is filthy. A week old heap of empty booze bottles in a corner, old fag ends rotting in their dregs. Dirty plates and cups piled in the sink, vying for space with a mass of tea leaves and other unidentifiable vegetable matter. No other movement in the house; our fellow occupants, the night Prowlers, are in their daylight land of dreams. Esperanza, my girlfriend, goes round to the corner shop while I put the kettle on. I pour the Shreddies into a couple of chipped bowls. Hang on. There’s something wrong here. It’s the cutlery. So that was the racket last night. All the spoons and all the forks, as flat as pennies. What a strange imagination! The Prowlers’ latest midnight amusement - banging out flat all our culinary utensils. The forks weren’t too much of a problem, but have you ever tried eating your cereal with a flat spoon?Maida Hill, west London, summer 1974. The area mostly dilapidated with rows of corrugated iron–clad houses awaiting an uncertain future. Streets of empty council houses mingling with boarded-up shops, a half empty hospital and the inevitable abandoned cinema, but it had a couple of good Irish pubs, while the sizeable West Indian immigrant population added a spice that the drab and drizzly Harrow Rd couldn’t quite douse… My house had known better times, but still retained traces of its former grandeur. Number 86 Chippenham road, between Shirland road and Elgin Avenue. Squatted, but definitely classy. A flight of ten or so broad stone steps leading between a pair of Doric columns to the front door. On entering, your first impressions might begin to waver. A strong smell of petrol. No door to the first room on your left, and the remains of its splintered door frame hanging off the broken plaster. Black oil marks on the floor led the way to a partially destroyed staircase.The squat had been opened up by the Prowlers some months before I arrived. It wasn’t the first time that I’d lived in the neighbourhood. The previous year I had been staying in another squat around the corner in Walterton Rd. It had been in the last year of a degree course I was taking, but for the final three months I had to make a temporary move; study was impossible for me in that house. Far too many distractions. So, with the exams finished, I had come back to the area, looking to reinstall myself. Over a half of

"…as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was  normal practice…"
                                                                                                                                     Drawing: Esperanza Romero

bitter one night in the Chippenham Arms I had met Nick of the Prowlers, and he’d offered me a room in their house. I didn’t know him or the mate he was with: a very large, hairy, fat, bearded biker with a blotchy red face, and an incoherent mutter, but Nick seemed ok. Housing problem solved. Back in the neighbourhood and with my friends up the street in number 23, and round the corner in 101 Walterton Rd. I soon discovered that Nick had other strange acquaintances living with him apart from the Bear.  B.S.A.’s and Bonnevilles, benzedrine and booze were their loves. The entrance flight of ten steps was no problem for a befuddled biker with repairs  to do on his machine. A couple of planks leading from the pavement to the front door had apparently solved the problem. I never saw their entrance, but the proof was there. Two semi stripped down 750’s in the ground floor front room.The only real problem I ever had with them was over a cat. It was before I’d met Esperanza and I was  living alone in my fine, first floor, front room. I didn’t know exactly how or from where it came, but occasionally a young cat would trip in through one of the front bay windows from an outside balcony. With a disconcerting assurance it would twine itself around my legs and settle down on a vacant cushion. Flattered by such a display of confidence in me, and happy to share my space with this part-time pet, I looked forward to these sporadic feline visits. One afternoon a friend of Nick came in to my room for something or other. He saw the cat and in one swift move picked it up and threw it out of the open window. I hit the roof as the cat hit the pavement, and all he did was stare at me in amazement, as if throwing cats out of first floor windows was  normal practice. I went down to the front of the house expecting to find, if not a mangled corpse, at least traces of the mishap, but there were none. Life in this neighbourhood, for cats and humans, required the full quota of lives.There were few dull moments in 86 Chippenham Road, although generally the day was more peaceful than the night. It was usually after the pubs had shut that my companions would start to enjoy themselves. One night I spent trying to sleep as they fine - tuned a spluttering carburettor on the Bonneville, and another night of crashing and banging had given rise to the sorry state of the stairs. I had come down one morning with the banisters in a mangled heap in the hallway. But what was amusing was their own subsequent reaction to this their latest antic. When I came back later the same day it was to sheepish grins and “sorry ‘bout last night”. There they were, hammer and nails in hand, attempting to repair their previous night’s excesses.
Most of their escapades were harmless, but occasionally things did get a bit out of hand. I was in my room going about my business. A knock on the door. For some reason I never quite understood, the prowlers maintained a respectful distance from my area in the house.  It was Nick:“Rich. Come up on to the roof. Have a butchers at this.”
We climbed out onto the roof and saw, ducked down behind a parapet, the Bear, as usual the front of his tee-shirt soaked with sweat and booze,  a couple of other Prowlers, a carton of wine, and a couple of joints on the go. A right regular little party, with everyone in a strange and overly happy  mood. There was an expectancy in the air, the reason for which I was soon to discover.“Get yer ‘ead down and look out over there!”

Next to our abode at number 86, there was an empty plot and beyond it a derelict house looking as if it had not been touched since the London Blitz. It wasn’t really squatted but I knew that from time to time it was used as a doss-house by tramps. Suddenly, a shadowy figure sneaks out from the front garden, and within seconds a flash of fire erupts from a window. The basement  is ablaze in no time at all. My companions on the roof also erupt – in a cackle of mirth, heightened by the arrival of police and fire-brigade….  suppressed giggles like ten year old  kids. I confess that for me the arrival of the law is a relief ….what if the winos had been in there sleeping off their sorrows?? I should  have been down there to make sure they were safe, instead I’m dumbstruck on the roof like a courtier on Nero’s balcony...

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