Friday, 9 November 2012

Activist squat: from the pub to the psychiatric hospital

View from the disused psychiatric hospital
The phone wakes me up. It's a squatter from the Cross Keys, the disused pub at the classy end of Chelsea. Bailiffs are due any time.

'Can you help us move to the new squat?'

I feel like Wendy with the Lost Boys. Or Ragueneau in Cyrano de Bergerac, the pastry-chef-poet who turns up with sustenance and transport when things get rough for the ramshackle Gascon cadets.

I hear a whisper. It's Margaret Thatcher saying the Good Samaritan had money. I've got enough cash for dog food and toilet paper.

In the sunless public bar at the Cross Keys, groaning figures wriggle out of sleeping bags. Tom stretches, rolls a fag and looks into the gas flame-effect fire. The light on his perfect cheekbones is Caravaggio. I don't have my drawing kit with me.

After much nagging from me he lugs some clothes out to the car.
'Cool car,' he says.
I haven't got time to tell him he's an activist and cars aren't cool.

The new squat, off the Kings Road, is a disused private psychiatric hospital for young people which was last cleaned in 2007 according to notices on the walls. The building is eerie with an unlit spiral staircase and blind corridors.

It's a landlocked Marie Celeste. The patients' notes, complete with names, have been left lying around in the office by the departed management. Chronicles of harm and self-loathing. A girl carved FAT on her foot with a paperclip. A successful escaper went to Birmingham by train then returned the next day.

Four storeys and 17,652 square feet of dustiness. Individual en suite rooms with nowhere to hang yourself. The windows are sealed so that you can't jump out.

One of the squatters, who camped outside St Paul's cathedral with Occupy through the chill of last winter, models later on for the life class I go to.

He tells me that last night the squatters ate rump steak and sausages retrieved from a waste bin outside Waitrose and cooked in the hospital kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. nice view...from the psychiatric hospital I mean :) good drawings too