Friday, 29 February 2008

letter to whoever


The Crofters have a dignified sounding name to be sure. These were Scottish folk who took over any abandoned house with no roof.
The term 'squatter' is used to describe cases of illegally occupied otherwise empty buildings. In Australia it was the way land was obtained in the first place, by remaining on it long enough and thus obtaining possession. Nowadays it is still used to describe people who occupy buildings not occupied by their owners. This can occur under English Law, though it has been a contentious issue over the years. 'Squat' of course also derives from the verb to squat, 'to sit with knees drawn up and heels close to or touching the hams', innocent enough in itself, yet which, to at least one childish mind, (mine) can imply squatting down on the surface of the earth to go to the toilet.
Squat is not even a word used in it's proper sense. It is much the way that squatters exist in this unofficial, transient way. So therefore there is this made up word to describe it. This is the only term in proper usage to describe the hugely varied lifestyles of people like me who live this way.
I imagine also that 'heathens', those people who live on the Heath (which is an area of nature cleared of trees) also had to squat in order to relieve themselves. It is also used to indicate non-Christian folk by Christians. This can be read as those who were there in the woods and glades before Christians and before Heaths.
Squatters last century were those that fought in the world wars and returned to no homes because of bombing etc. and had to squat in order to have any place at all. This was because the government under whose orders they fought provided scant housing for their returning warriors.
Both squatter and Heathen describe the likes of me, and many friends of mine, who may live in houses with toilets, or perhaps not.
It is not my objective to be puerile, merely to clarify terms that repeatedly and publically refer to certain lifestyles and which use of may create and perpetuate certain precepts in the mind.
My perogative is to squat in order to draw attention to environmental issues for this age, that otherwise may not be uncovered.
When I approached Islington Councillor Wally Burgess after a planning sub-commitee meeting concerning the fate of our grande and theatric dwelling, I broached the subject of squatting. He replied that it was illegal. I then corrected him , for this is not the case. It is legal under the charter of King John. Councillor Burgess then said was 'supra'-legal. Supra means on or above.
He must mean we get away with it but not strictly by the law. Occupying owned but empty buildings is legal. You will go through court and sooner or later be evicted by bailiffs.
I quite like it though, as it made me feel as if I was something moving with another law, a supra-squatter!!

During this planning sub-commitee public meeting it was decided that the pre-Knights Templar and true Elizibethan playhouse dimensioned octagonal building my friends and I are occupying, St George's Theatre 49 Tufnell Park Road would return to use as a church, and certain alterations be made to it's structure. Our resident ex-caretaker of the grade two listed building stood up at this point and told how that when he had worked at the theatre, Health and Safety would not allow him the slightest alteration for purposes of safety at height when working as a lightsman.
Therefore it was surprising, or not surprising that the change of use and proposed structural changes to this wonderful ex-church cum round Theatre got the go-ahead.
This could well be because the decision process happened too quickly to acknowledge the correct legal procedure customary for such proposals.
For some reason the chairperson declared that noone (exept themselves) was allowed to make a video or any other kind of recording of this decisive meeting, so no accessible record actually exists. Only the few people who were there know the speed that the issues were whisked through to make the bid legal.
This method of decision making seems to me common, which is disturbing as it is illegal. Though it pretends to, this process could not have properly consulted an appropriate catchment area of it's wishes for this significant building, though it says it does. It is of course our audacity to want to hold the place for our purposes, which are immediately for the community and the environment. A public pronouncement of the HOTR's intentions to do this was hastily and somewhat ostentaciously made a few days before the planning meeting, was pushed through the local doors.
Present that meeting were a planning professor, a knowledgable lady who had worked for Islington planning , who spoke out confirming, along with another gentleman, that correct court proceedure had in no way been adhered to.
As I mentioned, I am one of these 'squatters', but none of us go to the toilet over the theatre and it's grounds. We use the toilets, which, along with the rest of the building, we keep as clean as we can with our limited resources, for ourselves and our many visitors.
We provide wholesome , mostly organic food for guests that call by. It is illegal for squatters
to charge for this service, so we have to ask for donations. Not many people actually contribute to our 'magic hat', so you could say we do most of this for free exept that it comes from our own pockets and from what small amounts we accrue from donations given as entry for our different performances.
Performance!! Of course, this is a theatre, and the reason that I am here and hold any interest in this building is because I am a performer and St George's posseses unique and perfect dimensions condusive for this work. Though at first, we hosted several large parties with sizable sound systems, our in-house policy soon became subject to a Noise Abatement Order that says we keep under 85 decibels or be closed down. So it came to be that we do lower volume music and theatre, of a balanced political-spiritual environmentally aware outlook, using the present form of the theatre as just that. This we have dilligently stuck to. The place is set up for old style acoustic human voice resonances, which it does magically. I do not know if House on the Rock consider the immediately noticable sonorous quality of their building's inherant geometric excellence as of particular significance. If so, why are they going to insert a gallery and bang out a wall thus interfering with the already perfect shape.
In 1960 the Church of England decommissioned the building because it did not suit them as a church building. House on the Rock have also recently penned statements declaring their commitment to the community, that they will let the community use the place as a theatre at certain times for certain prices.
Holloway does not have a proper theatre and my stay here , along with fellow squatter caretakers is, in a real sense, to see that the law is being properly adhered to. Far from being illegal, or even a grey area in the law, squatting is legal and we know that by law, a council must replace a theatre if one is closed down and there is not another in the area to use instead.
The difficulty here is that councils do not favour theatre as of primary need in a community.
The late George Murcell, actor, who bought the place and made it an Elizibethan Shakesperian Theatre, instinctively recognised it's outstanding acoustic and sightline possibilities. In fact, these architectural considerations surpass those of the present Globe Theatre, constructed 1992 in Southwark, which has had to concede that it has poor acoustics and sightlines for performance.
Considering the past, it should be remembered here that in his own time, our now universally revered Great Bard Shakespeare was not permitted to perform his plays publically in the City proper and had to set up south of the river, in bawdy Southwark and theatre folk did not , unless patronised, have any standing in society.
Also at that time, we know that Queen Elizibeth the First had her reign and that she became a great supporter of the arts and theatre. Her passion for this is widely known and she gave permission for the great playhouses to be constructed.
That Shakespeare had to rehearse with, at all times, Queen's officers present to check nothing unloyal was introduced to the plays gives us a sign of Elizibeth's shrewdness and her awareness of the power of theatre to instill ideas into an audience. A genuine lover of theatre, dancing and the arts, she was of coarse also manipulative and cunning to use the theatre to project her own requirements for what the people should be exposed to regarding her public projection of propaganda for the growing Empire. She knew the power that performance has to influence people, and allowed John Dee, her beloved, trusted servant, also renouned alchemist, astronomer and architect to design the marvel of the London playhouses with the specifics he could access through his vast knowledge. So it was with mathematical information forgotten in this modern world, Dee created the playhouses to allow a human voice and form give proper theatric expression to the gamut of human experiences that is a great play. Through this geometric design, and artworks said to have existed upon hangings from the ceiling that depicted the procession of the equinox and the astrological heavens, the inherant oneness of humans within the greater universe, refered to in Shakespeare's words and stage directions was there to behold. These measurements of stone architecture are taken from roots in the work of the Roman architect Vetruvius and also in those that the Knight's Templar retained in their buildings after living 90 years in the Dome on the Rock, Jerusalem, which was the old site of the Temple of Soloman itself. It is a place purpose built for making music dance and dramas of and for the spheres, at once universal and human, micro- and macrocosmic. That is it's significance.
Seven playhouses extolling these qualities in their architecture were build and used to great effect for performances by the King's Men and other legitimate companys of actors.
Soon, however, the Puritans destroyed all of these buildings and acting became largely illegal again. The dimensions of sacred geometry used by Dee were lost, the Elizebethan age where art,theatre and dancing flourished ended.

Yet we learn that this building we have squatted somehow posseses the same measurements as those old playhouses. The integral, proportional measurement is a square of 72 feet
that forms the basis of all the other measurements.
Surely this is of note to somebody who cares about theatre nowadays. I think it extraordinary that we environmentalists are using a building perfect for projecting our ideas of a better future out to the communities of London and beyond.
It would appear that the council draw a blank here.
In some accord with this down the ages, very soon after Murcell opened his theatre, the council of the early seventies did not share or want to help his cultural dream. Though it became world famous none-the-less, and had television film Shakespearian seasons here which broadcasted our Great Bard's hallowed words to audiences who would not have seen it otherwise, the council didn't consider it
worthwhile, or financially viable or fit for anything it must be concluded, and helped this status by withdrawing it's funding. Such authorities, it seems have not cared for theatre down the years, as I have shown, and now this is no different.
Now the legal term for my existance is 'squatter'. This legality is contested by good councillor Burgess, who spoke of being appalled that we should be in this building that he incorrectly described in the paper as a 'church'. He also said we were not local. This is incorrect as well. I was born next to Hampstead Heath, where I was living nearby in a caravan until I came to St George's. I regard the building ,
as it is, as a great treasure in my community.
Our agenda of theatrical goings on with environmental emphasis far outstrips the councils efforts to fullfill the recommendation of the Agenda "21st century" agreed between 179 countries towards sustainable developement, a.k.a. survival in the next century through awareness and action regarding global environmental issues.
However, my status as a 'squatter'/Heath en who happens to oppose the conversion of this precious theatre, may put people off, as if people like me are not eligable for the proper legal procedures. This is why a friend with money and position did cause the judge to remember he allowed us an appeal, when before permission was witheld.
This theatre is in fact what is called 'strategic' by the greater council of London. This term covers far a more than local catchement area and is strategic in the sense of offering culture to a very wide area.
St' George's Theatre can easily become a centre for an area certainly as wide as North London, notwithstanding the greater area of South England and visitors from the rest of the world.
I wish only to draw attention to the lack of a full public announcement of the intended conversion. The planners declared that 200 leaflets to some local peoples houses, had been given out. This, it was said, was above the requirement nessicery to inform the whole community.
We squatters have been spurred to action because this process has not allowed people information or time to full consider the implications of this rushed decision to convert. In other words, if Wally Burgess says we are illegal, one has to disagree and simply say by extension that his council are behaving illegally.
Though I may make enemies by this, it is not my intention. I am thinking soley of considerations of an proper base for a sustainable future that the arts nowadays must champion and display to the population, seeing as the authorities are avoiding the issue and keep evicting us and not dealing with the issues that we are highlighting.
I enjoyed talking to Wally Burgess. I have tried to speak to the members of the Nigerian Church, but they will not talk. This makes my mind wonder why exactly they won't discuss these with anyone exept their solicitors. Of coarse I must irritate them, because we are in their building. However, I am truly of this area, and though a squatter, I, and many many others of this area have an opinion that they need, or did need to listen to, seeing as it is required that the catchement be informed and consulted about their wishes.
As for us squatters I would hope this to continue as a treasure for the common the un common and the heathen people, the uptowns and downtowns. That through it's future it can assist in drawing people to a better understanding and to take and inspire action for our common environment with the dream we must sustain to have any future.
I have nothing against Nigerians, I wish their country could be a happier place and love the work of their poet Ben Okri. I have sent many prayers over the years for the tribespeople of the Ogoni and Ibu and others who have lost lives and land to the oil industry takeover there, which is deplorable to me.
Many squatters have little money, often not favoring work too much as it inhibits time we can spend at saving small environments here and there, that for whatever reason, we feel are worth saving. We are not allowed to charge normal rates because we are only squatters.
As a sprawling environmental network for 12 and more years, it cannot be said that the Rainbow Circus has made any money through state backing. I do believe the Church has not been operative as long as we, yet it has much more established financial connection.
I feel it is imperative for our collective future on this earth that inspiring centres such as St George's appear and flourish. Just like Queen Elizebeth who used theatre to help create the empire, so it shall come to show people the way to a better future

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