Diary Of A Squat (1989)
Written by Jean Delarue
Read by Dorothy Spencer and Carl Cattermole
We loved this very rare and beautiful book so much that we made it into a free audiobook.
Jean Delarue wrote this diary during his time spent at an autonomous squat operated by people who were homeless during Thatcher’s 1980s.
It was situated in Belgravia Children’s Hospital. If you know South London you’ll know the building: opposite Oval Tube, a tall and ornate red brick Victorian ‘arts and crafts’ vestige that was designed by Charles Holden (most famous for his Art Deco London Underground stations like Arnos Grove and Park Royal).
The squat housed capitalism’s castaways: migrants finding their feet, pensioners without pensions, ex-prisoners, thieves, depressed philosophers, punks, drug addicts and middle-class idealists.
Jean tells of veggie curries cooked with scrounged ingredients, the feeling of being on top of the world just because you’ve managed to get a working fridge, interpersonal conflicts and communal bicycles. Having squatted in the exact area for close to a decade, I’ll tell you not much has changed.
At the crux is the tale of damaged individuals building a community in a relentlessly mercenary city. It’s a delicate process and the threats are many: council, charities, churches, orthodox activists, alcoholism, authoritarian individuals and the occasional arsonist.
Freedom Bookshop gets a mention of course. After a suspicious fire on the top floor, ‘Richard’ returns home while the house is conducting an emergency meeting, clutching Freedom Press pamphlets on why setting things on fire is OK. Unfortunate timing.
Some of Jean’s ideas and language will now be frowned upon in leftie circles, but bear with him because the broader lessons (less theory, more practical application, less dogma, more acceptance) are excellent and can be applied to our predicaments of present.
And best believe we need it. Thirty years later we have Thatcherism on bath salts. Million-pound apartments are empty investment chips, homelessness is at epidemic levels, councils deploy anti-homeless spikes in doorways and enforcement officers to sweep the problem under the carpet where possible, and charity complexes keep liberals in a slumber.
We also have similar glimmers of hope: while local councils sat on their hands during 2018’s freezing winter, the excellent Streets Kitchen went hands-on and opened Sofia House in Central London. If anyone listens to this and has time or money then direct it towards these ‘solidarity not charity’ type operations. Museum of Homelessness also does relentlessly good work.
The book was recommended to us by 56a Archive (a social centre in Elephant And Castle, London). Dorothy Spencer has recently been published by Lumpen – very worth a read. Since publication, Jean has been in touch and is over the moon about renewed light coming to the diary.
We hope you enjoy the audiobook as much as we enjoyed the written version. More info and pictures included in the download. If you want a poster send a self-addressed envelope to Dorothy+Carl, 56a Crampton Street, SE17 3AE. Free download here.