Since publishing my first fiction story in an underground London rave zine in 2002, I've written about techno, activism and counterculture for several websites and publications including: Datacide (London), Siegesaeule Magazine (Berlin), Urban Challenger Berlin (Berlin), Alternative Berlin (Berlin), Shlur (UK), Sensanostra (Berlin) and Bubble Jam Delite (London). Whether I'm relaying news from the dancefloor or weaving tales with strands drawn from my latest trip report, all my writing is drawn from firsthand, real-life experience. If you're looking for a glimpse of and authentic underground beneath the floodlit facade of the urban Western landscape, read on.
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When 22 year old expat Selene loses both her job and her home in London, she learns that, while a DJ can't save her life, a techno party just might.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/SwCqU 711 views
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It's late nineties London and 22 year Selene has arrived in the city with one goal: to erase herself. The city's fetish club and squat party scenes offer a dark anonymity that's perfect for pulling off the vanishing act she craves. After losing her job and home almost overnight due to a mixture of bad timing and bad taste though, she comes closer to self-destruction than she really wants to be. The squat scene offers her an unlikely escape from bad neighbours, sadistic bosses and perverted landlords - and a chance to start again. So, why does she feel like everything she lives for is about to end?
Chapter 1: Break n' Enter. It's May 1999 and Selene is being mugged at her squat. She ends up fighting for her last remaining possession - a crowbar - with a junkie. On acid, nonetheless.
Chapter 2: Into the Future. Story begins 8 months earlier with Selene getting herself fired from a temporary job. Or did she just get the wrong end of the office politics?
Chapter 3: Speedfreak. Selene, still jobless and a few days from eviction, is offered a dodgy live in 'job' by a slimy potential landlord. At the last minute, a passing acquaintance tells her there may be an easier way out. Her addiction to speed and delusions of invincibility get in the way of making what should be a straightforward choice, though.
Chapter 4: A Nice Place To Live. Selene meets the local squatters and decides to move in despite having a few reservations about the place: namely, its flesh eating insect infestation and resident black magic shamaness. (Well, wouldn't you?)
Chapter 5: After a run-in with her new next door neighbour (the shamaness) Selene goes to a squat party to unwind. The first person she talks to, however, turns out to be having a medical emergency that requires her urgent help. Typical!
Chapter 6: Selene reluctantly hangs out with Star, who she helped at the above party, and realizes that they actually have a lot in common. Since she's pretty much committed to living a life of grim obscurity by now, this throws a spanner in the works. Does she really need a friend? More importantly, can any friend really need her...?
Chapter 7: Everything Begins with an E. It's New Year's Eve 1998 and Selene's bleak perspective is about to be changed forever. There's a reason why 'eve' begins and ends with an 'e', you know...
Chapter 8: Build Up the Pressure. Just as Selene's finally found a reason to feel excited about her new life, the shamaness housemate seems strangely determined to take it all away from her. Cause and effect, or just more bad luck?
Chapter 9: Star Power. Selene and Star's friendship deepens, but maybe Selene wants more than Star's willing to give. Or is it the other way around?
Chapter 10: Two Lines of K. Selene has a near-death experience on Ketamine and yet somehow, emerges unchanged.
Chapter 11: High On A Ledge. A euphoric weekend takes a dark turn when a punter jumps out of a squat party window, forcing Selene to act on her beliefs. The fragile new friendship between Star and Selene is threatened; worst of all, after a fight with the shamaness, so are Selene's dreams.
Chapter 12: World War 303. Selene becomes increasingly impatient with Star's determination to harsh her vibe about how great squat parties are. The window-jumper incident has left Selene even more adamant that life as a squatter has to pay off, but in what currency and to whom? Star gives Selene an ultimatum: she has to leave her new studio squat or else the friendship. Guess which one Selene chooses?
Chapter 13: Break n' Enter . Continuation of first chapter. Selene realizes she's living in hell and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, decides to relocate. But has she already exhausted everyone's generosity?
Chapter 14: Acid Riot. At a Reclaim the Streets party in the City of London, J18, Star and Selene finally reunite and live happily ever after... or, as happily as they can after witnessing a few acts of harrowing police brutality. You can't have it all, I guess.
(Please note that this summary does not necessarily reflect the tone throughout the book, although the sense of fatalistic humour definitely plays some part in it).
I have a Twitter account (@unsceneberlin) that I'm actively expanding (600+ followers at present) and a new Facebook page for my personal blog, UnsceneBerlin.blogspot.com. I already use these to promote my latest writings and intend to do more of the same when published, to help raise the profile of my book. I'm also part of a small, Berlin-based community of international writers with shared interests that would be glad to help me in getting the word out.
Altered State - The story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House by Matthew Collin, Serpent's Tail, 1997.
There are quite a few important differences here: Vote Techno Party is fictionalized memoir, told from a first person perspective, whereas Altered State is a serious journalistic investigation of Ecstasy and dance music's influence on UK politics. So, what do they have in common? Just that Collin's book inspired me to write down my own experiences in London's squatting scene. The chapter from Altered States that's entitled "Techno Travellers" may as well be a prequel to my novel!
Vurt by Jeff Noon. Ringpull, 1993
Unlike my novel, Vurt's classic is a futuristic tale where almost nothing is recognizable or predictable, yet the mindset displayed by its characters will be strangely familiar to anyone who's ever taken drugs or been a part of an underground music scene. Although the novel was a hit with plenty of ravers, Noon was apparently inspired by the 1970s punk movement - a movement which, to me, has many parallels the UK squat rave scene.
Out Of Order by Molly MacIndoe
Out of Order probably has the closest similarity to my own work, even though it's 'just' a photo book. Macindoe photographed, lived and partied with some of the people and soundsystems that are referenced in Vote Techno Party. If you like my novel, please do yourself a favour and buy this book to go with it!
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An hour later, we were walking up to the abandoned nightclub in Bow. There was a palpable sense of action coming through those walls but you didn’t know why until you were almost at the door – then you smelled the smoke, heard the din of people and roar of music. And saw the queue. Luckily, a guy Star knew was on the door: a gap-toothed Irishman who kissed us both extravagantly on the cheek, then held the swarm of people back with an arm as he pushed us through the door. One by one, we were propelled into the building by the eager mass pushing from the back. Star’s complaints dissolved into manic giggles as we surfed the crest - chaos was her favourite ride.
The party was heaving. A mass of flushed faces was jostling to hard trance and acid techno in the cavern. There was no distinguishing the inanimate from the organic, in this place; it was all one seamless continuum of dereliction and debauchery. I’d overheard the door guy saying to Star that 3000 people had paid already tonight. It looked like slightly more.
As we threaded our way into the crowd, single file, The power kept switching on and off at random. Blinding lights and deafening music were suddenly cut to pitch darkness and stunned silence, punctuated by (terrified? Exhilarated?) screams. Every time, the party resumed a few moments later in a lurid pastiche of flashing lights and randomly-highlighted faces, the record winding slowly back up to four-four time.
Jenny, a Yankee who had just arrived in the UK a couple of weeks ago, was most affected by the heady atmosphere in the club.
"Ohmigod, I fucking love this!" she cried, clapping both hands to her face. She grabbed Lucy and dragged her us straight towards the centre of the dancefloor, leaving us trailing along in a reluctant conga-line. I say "reluctant" because the overheated, unyielding mass of people didn’t exactly welcome another five people with open arms. They were too busy trying to hang onto what little piece of the dancefloor they had, straining to make it accommodate their restless energy.
Jenny beat a path through all of them effortlessly enough, at first, but her enthusiasm waned as the crowd got denser. Eventually we were pressed back out to the edge of the room, and ended up next to a disused DJ booth at the back, as far from the speakers as we could humanly get. It was muffled and stuffy, but apparently the only free space left in the building.
Mike and his friends and I were more used to this kind of thing, being Londoners, but Jenny wasn't.
"I'm hot," she panted. "The music's so good and I can't even dance because there's all these fucking people in the way."
"Maybe we should go somewhere else," suggested Lucy.
"Yeah," Star agreed. For some reason, all four of them stared at me.I looked around anxiously. The only place I could think of was the inside of the disused DJ booth we were standing next to. The only entrance was a knee-height hole smashed through its back wall, barely visible in the dark, and it was invariably empty as a result.
I waved for them to follow me and a few moments later, was straightening up inside the booth, that put us about 5 feet over the heads of the crowd. The others squeezed their way through the hole in the wall, emerging dusty and taking in the view with amazement. All four started chattering excitedly.
Jenny was predictably ecstatic about our new spot and she showed her approval by climbing up on the wall that enclosed the booth.
"I found space!" she beamed, straightening on the ledge with her arms outstretched, her figure silhouetted by the flashing lights behind her. we all started dancing. All except Star, who was suddenly shouting into my ear, asking me where the toilets were. Before I could even celebrate the fact the party was happening, she was gone, taking Lucy with her. Typical.
Mike started dividing a couple of more Mitsubishis, handing them out to the rest of us. It just seemed automatic to do that, like we were bonded in some direct and uncomplicated way. When he offered me some I shrugged, said ‘yeah okay,’ even though I wasn't feeling anything from the pills we’d already shared back in the car, before coming in. I suspected they weren't even working. But I still took more, just because he looked so hopeful that I would. Of course, if I would have known what to look for, I'd have found ample proof that the pills did work: Jenny had taken the same amount as us and she was dancing above us like something possessed. Her eyes were closed and every part of her - head, shoulders, arms, and hips - was moving to the music. She reacted to the steady beats and cascading 303's like they were something physical - reaching towards them, tossing her head away as they coursed over and around her.
"Don't you think Jenny looks like Lara Croft?" Mike gushed, settling next to me on a smashed in bench inside the booth, beneath her. His eyes were fixed on Jenny. She'd taken off the heavy sweater that she'd been wearing all-night and flung it on the rubble pile, next to him. Even in a tatty black tank top and cammos, I could see she had a great figure. A toned, almost-perfect hourglass shape.
I nodded like as if I agreed with Mike, even though I had no clue who 'Lara Croft' even was. Then I felt an irrational stab of jealousy, followed by a glow of joy when Mike smiled at me, a minute later. Both reactions surprised me because I had been telling myself I didn't fancy him - I barely knew the guy - to try and mute the disappointment that he’d come here with her. But no matter what I thought, it really felt like we were somehow more involved.
Lucy, who still looked stunned, asked me to help her get up on the ledge next to Jenny. Another couple got up beside the two of them… more people were pouring in through the hole in the back of the booth now - and it was getting really crowded, but I didn’t mind. It was like a party-within-a-party.
Mike kept chattering away at me, but I was finding it hard to focus on his words. My eyes kept on drifting away, following the multi-coloured lights that were spilling over the booth. I felt my mind floating along with them as they travelled across its floorboards, up the walls where they reflected off of the remains of full-length mirrors, stuck there like glittering mosaic. They stopped whenever they reached Jenny, who was still dancing hard up there. She seemed so weightless … I felt my mind reaching towards the sensation she embodied. Just then, a shower of strobes from the rig lit her flying hair, making it shimmer like rain. Its colour seemed so much brighter than I'd remembered it being before, like everything up there.
On the upper level catwalk that ran around the space, legs dangled through the railings, silhouettes leaned forward, eyes lit up in the lights. Rollies burned, cans were brandished, a continuum of restless action framing the heaving dancefloor below…
Suddenly, Mike brought me back down to ground-level by leaning over and asking me if I knew of any American expressions for 'coming up.' I drily replied that, ‘no I don't, because I’m not American’. He didn’t seem to register my sarcasm, which was fine because it wasn’t really meant.
He said, “I’m only asking because last year, I went to this rave with an American exchange student and we took these E's,” he paused, seeming taken aback, then exhaled and carried on: “And when we were coming up, he used this cool expression; it was something like, 'spiralling'. Have you ever heard that one before, Selene?" I shook my head; my focus shifting to my stomach, which I suddenly noticed was knotted like I had butterflies, all struggling to get out at once.
I had been queasy for a while actually, as the competing moods of the night wrangled for dominance. Now that we were here, though, the feeling hadn’t gone away. The tension was progressing into something more like motion sickness, or drunkenness. I shook my cider: it was still half full, and warm because I’d hardly touched it for an hour.
"I think that's what he called it," Mike was saying, "'spiralling'. That's what these pills make me feel like, like I'm going around and around, in circles..." He spun a finger through the air as he said this, trailing an afterglow behind it. I looked away and saw that there was a similar glow around other things that I looked at, like double vision. Again, I found it hard to believe I wasn't drunk. I blinked my eyes a couple of times and re-focussed them on Mike.
I noticed that he looked different than before - glow-y, like I was seeing him through a soft-focus lens. More touchable. The thought came to me that Mike was kind of cuddly and a giggle burst out of me. He stopped mid-sentence and smiled uncertainly. "What?" he asked in a low voice that I heard perfectly over the din.
I started to tell him why I was giggling but before I could, a sudden, upwards surge from the pit of my stomach made me clap a hand over my mouth. My vision filled with stars, like the ones I usually saw after standing up too fast. I looked away.
"Selene, are you okay?" Mike asked. I shook my head, but didn't try to speak again. Who knew what would come out of my mouth if I did?
The surge moved quickly up to my head and didn't stop there: it kept going, taking my insides with it. I forced myself to stay focused on the booth, on answering Mike's question.
"I think I'm coming up," I blurted, once the feeling passed like a wave. I put my head between my knees, sensed Mike's hunched profile hovering anxiously over me his concern as clear as day the dark. "I've never come up on a pill before," I said in a rush.
Mike's anxiety gave way to dismay.
"Really? You've never E'd before?"
‘E’d’. That was a verb Star would use… a dialect from a country that I'd never set foot in. Until now. My previously flat existence was filling out, giving substance to her language. My world becoming hers. It was like reality, but… amplified.
"I've taken a bit of E, but it wasn't like this..." I said as another upwards surge came, and another explosion of stars. They seemed to be more inside my head than in front of my eyes… like someone had freed a jar of fireflies in them. I could see more lights around me too, overlapping the coloured lights from the rig. They were multiplying.
There was no doubt left in my mind at all whether or not this was a 'natural' high. but I still found it hard to connect this with the little white fragments I'd eaten. Something so small was unleashing all this? Impossible. 'This' was nothing like the inoffensive love drug I'd built ecstasy up to be in my mind. It wasn’t yuppie speed. None of the harm reduction pamphlets I'd ever read mentioned anything about being propelled, from the inside out, into another world.
Mike was saying something but the words faded into the background, swallowed by acid trance as the volume suddenly started going up and up. His mouth was moving, miming speech soundlessly. Each facet of the tune was sharpening, coming into focus like the soundsystem was pushing towards +10, but the sound didn't blur. The 303, bass and snares strained at my ears without distortion. Rising above all of them was a plaintive, digitally altered chant. A female voice, it broke free of the layer of sequences and ascended like the sensation surging up from my stomach. I hunched over in my seat, and took a deep breath, bracing myself for another surge.
‘Just go with it.’
Were those Mike's words, momentarily coming through the music, or did I think of them myself? Whoever they belonged to, I followed them, and the feeling moving up through my body. I'd been afraid to give into it until now… not because it was bad, but because I was afraid where it would take me. But either it was too strong or my fear was too weak, because 'going with it' suddenly made perfect sense.
I exhaled and felt the surge overtake me, merging with the air at the same time as my breath. Joining me with the music and excitement that filled it…
‘Just GO with it.’
I looked around me. This world, this reality, was full of colour, music, and light. I’d never really seen it before but had somehow always known that it was here; it was what I'd been coming to these parties to try and get close to. I’d been close but not a part of it, not really. Not until now.
It is dark when I get back to Dalston from the party. I get off the
bus and float down to Queensbridge Road. My weightlessness is a good
gauge of how much unnecessary crap has been burned off in the last 48
hours. The trip still hasn’t faded away, but sheer exhaustion takes the
edge off it. I feel almost meditative - the perfect headspace for
painting, recording that moment before consciousness kicks back in, and
you’re still acting on the brilliance in your soul, as it was when it
was still intact and pure, unsoiled by contact with the world. This
The derelict tower block is still mostly empty, despite everybody’s
efforts to try and fill it and turn it into an actual community (instead
of a local eyesore for people to stare in horror at/shoot up/hook up
/mug people/overdose in).
The more immersed in this trip that I get, though, the more clearly I
can see and feel what is really underpinning all the facades, whether
they’re beautiful or… well, Hackney. There’s a part that never changes
in it, and in me, but that is continually driving all these changes with
its inexorable progress towards an idyllic state. The final frontier is
also the first one.
At the end of every trip I see the edges of that extending a little
further and bleeding into whatever is underpinning all reality, as
well. At the party last night, when I was peaking on that microdot, I
glanced at a sheet of hologram cloth covering a stall and my vision
actually turned into fractals, shimmering little three dimensional
squares and triangles that rippled whenever something around me moved.
‘I can’t see,’ I’d thought. ‘Either that or I’m seeing for the first
time’. (I was still really grateful when it stopped doing that,
though). For the past weeks I’ve struggled with trying to understand
why the design I’ve mapped out on two of my four walls feels incomplete.
Now it dawns on me - I must figure out how to keep it moving, morphing
it to fit me like the energy at a party does. For some reason it seems
sort of frozen in the wrong moment. I’m sure the reason for that is
something simple, so obvious, it’s right on the tip of my proverbial
tongue. All that’s needed is fresh eyes. But I can’t take the risk of
inviting an outsider in now, at this critical moment - so I’ve been
taking more and more acid, instead.
Almost all the windows in my tower block are dark. Just a few dots
of flickering candle light or bare bulbs, connected to outside power
lines through an open window. The broad lawn around the tower and its
neighbouring twin tower are empty, as always; no sane person every lets
their kids play here.
Angry traffic is shooting past, on my left. The traffic always seems
to be angry on Queensbridge Road. Like as if, after all the things
that people have been through during the day, they are bitter at being
slapped in the face with these fortress-like towers too when they get
back home. Blockaded them from the inside of their own borough, by
sky-high walls and endless security gates.
The way that this street looks and feels isn’t an accident though. It
is all methodical. Someone has implemented this vision, step by
deliberate step. The system’s vision. And for all its flaws, I think
that our vision - the squatters’ vision - is better. It is always a
work in progress. It never forces people to squeeze their
personalities, relationships, dreams, into permanent and confining
I fantasize about changing my own allotment of walls so profoundly
that, when I walk into it, I won’t even be able to see walls anymore -
just what is beyond them, connecting each person to the other.
As I walk into the block’s ground floor foyer, I pass a crowd of my
fellow occupants. Their faded colours - of dreads, hawks, caps, the
ubiquitous Underground vests - can’t plaster over their pallor of fear. I
feel it too - another reason why the acid’s appreciated now more than
ever. It’s energy is more relentless than speed, at least after you’ve
taken one thousand or so mics.
They’re having some sort of a meeting. Listening with earnest and
wired faces, as some bloke holding up a chain lock (inexplicably) talks
energetically about… something. It all still sounds a bit jumbled, but I
have an idea what the topic is. This tower block’s been slated for
demolition in December… that’s why it is vacant, except for us and a
couple of pensioners who probably won’t survive if they have to move
I feel reflexively guilty for not wanting to take part, and pause at
the back of the crowd to pretend like I’m listening. Besides, they
might just say anything that I might absorb, or add to. But the banter
is all jumping around too fast for me to catch; a dozen accents woven
into a seamless narrative that gelled long ago; as always, it happened
when I wasn’t around. You mean because you weren’t around, sneers that
voice in the back of my head.
Another person, a woman, takes the bike lock from the guy, holds it
up and asks the crowd about tactics to obstruct the demolition crew.
Other voices chime in, mentioning something about personal safety… and
more important subjects. Etc. All I really register here is tone.
After so many hours of my brain going around in spirals, A does not
lead to B anymore: it just leads to A over and over again. The circular
channels that repetition has carved in my mind aren’t so easily
redirected, now, back into the straight lines of logic.
The same woman says that all of us should just move closer together
in the building. But I chose my isolated, second-floor flat precisely
because it didn’t require me to use the lifts to get upstairs (muggings
happen in them all the time, and they break down a lot. If there’s
anything worse than being mugged in a lift, it has to be being trapped
in a lift with the guy that just mugged you). A young guy in a
fluorescent yellow vest is suggesting that everyone should move up to
the 12th floor. I am pretty sure that if I did this, they’d immediately
hold another meeting and decide to relocate to the 2nd floor because
the lifts are so unreliable. So I figure, it’s best just to sit tight
and wait for them to come to that realization on their own.
The discussion turns grim, before I have a chance to get away and
blank it out, when a small dark eyed man, French, announces that two
dead bodies that were found outside, this morning. That cuts straight
through my post-acid, post techno-daze. Forcing all those swirly lines
into rigid, fight or flight pathways of thought. It hurts. I have to
get out of here…
I rush past the group, towards the stairs, cause I don’t want to hear
any more; don’t want the trip taking a last-minute swan dive. I just
can’t afford to disrupt the light, intricate optimism I’ve cultivated
out of the intensity of that trip; not when I’m so close to finally
finishing that painting, putting it into solid form at long last...
Anyway, for all my reservations about this place, nothing bad has
ever happened to me here. Or at least, nothing that makes the endless
tension that I feel seem justifiable. The tension’s probably coming from
inside of my own head - where the majority of my problems seem to
At least I have a couple of nice ‘neighbours’. There’s Ricardo, who
lives with a quiet, dark friend of his in the flat just underneath
mine. Ricardo’s Spanish and he’s in his mid twenties, with a square
face sandy rocker hair, always pulled back into a loose ponytail. All of
his shirts have the sleeves ripped off to display his bulging muscles.
Or as if his biceps just tore through them in a single flex, a la the
I shouldn’t take the piss, though. Ricardo is the one who abseiled
from my flat to his, in order to run the electric cable between the two
of them. He made it look as easy as crossing a street. Because of him,
I now have light and sound in my flat. He once joked that, if I had any
more break-ins at my place, I could always tug on that cable like a
diver’s lifeline and then he’d come running. There was a seriously
steely edge to his laugh afterward though, like as if he was already
preparing for the worst.
They all are, all the time, and yet it never happens. At squat
parties I’m always in a state of grace, as long as I keep tracing their
wavelength. And to do that, one has to stay awake. Stay up forever, as
Another announcement now, that another squatter is running a bona
fide crack den. There are dark mutters and shaking heads all round. That
ain’t news to me - his flat’s above mine. Needless to say, I haven’t
been round for tea there, yet. Another squatter lives at the far end of
my hall. And there’s a pensioner who’s probably too scared to leave
her flat is at the other far end.
It’s not a great place to be all alone, this tower block, but after
what happened at the Barnsbury squat, and after at Star’s flat, I
realize that living alone is the only way. However badly I want to do
it any other way, I can’t… I just hate to see people’s high opinion of
me falling day by day into something pedestrian, or worse. And I can't
afford to actually rent a flat of my own on pub wages, can I? That just
After the second week of painting in my flat, I had started taking
acid to help me see the subtle differences in the murals better.
Staying awake painting for 18 hours at a time because, when I’m
tripping, I feel like I need to paint more, to fit all the parts of my
Seeing as the shifting, tenuous quality of my character has always
been a challenge for me to come to grips with, it probably would have
been a good idea to stop taking mind altering hallucinogens altogether.
But they make me feel even more aware of the 'core' that centres me. I
need to find out what it is; to give it a name and a face. Paint it.
And when I’ve done that, I can start painting it on the wall and save it
for later. After what, I can’t really say; I just always feel certain
that there’s an after. A return to the stasis I came from.
I am just unlocking the padlock on the door to my second floor flat
when I see the movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn: he is so
emaciated he doesn’t seem to make any impression on the world around
him, like a spectre. I have the strangest feeling he’s been waiting for
me, in the alcove between the stairs and my flat. That he knows that
it’s my blind spot.
“Excuse me, miss,” he calls, with such shrill, piercing
neediness that I jump. He’s tall, gaunt and standing a respectful
distance away from me…. For now, anyway. I quickly notice that he’s
positioned himself between me and the stairs, cutting off my escape
route with typical junkie-mugger canniness. That sort of instinct seems
to be inborn with his lot.
I hope all he wants to do is mug me. If not… well, none of the other
squatters will be in their flats right now. If I scream they won’t hear
– they’re all at the community meeting, discussing personal safety.
All I can think is, ‘Shit’ and ‘this could only happen to me.’
Could I at least hold him off in a struggle I think, as he comes
closer. He’s skinny, but looms over me. I’ve seen skinny, strung out
junkies doing stuff that I have trouble doing even when I’m sober:
scrambling over eight-foot-high walls to break into a house, or running
like the wind from a cruiser that pulls up with its lights on, while
they’re smoking a rock outside of Boots.
His movements are jerky; eyes ratcheted open and bloodshot, refusing
to rest until he’s found whatever he is trying to score. It looks like
he’s been on a bender for days. Or weeks. His teeth grit into a
grimace when he isn’t speaking. His dishevelled sandy hair has acquired
a shadow, near the roots, of soot and grease. Weirdly, he’s wearing a
cream suit jacket with a yellow paisley lining, and yellow-brown tie
that have both long since been pulled and stretched to breaking point,
probably from sleeping rough. And his face has that weathered,
darkened-skin look of someone who’d taken too much sun and smog,
No, he’s been at this for months. Probably since he lost a job or a home last year… like me.
It dawns on me, then, that I probably should have started looking for
another place to live a couple of weeks ago, after the first break-in.
Or the second. Or the third. ‘Tomorrow,’ I tell myself, ‘I’m going to
start looking at living in another area, for sure.’
Until now I’ve just been thinking that, if I spent enough time around
this block of flats, then the veil of apparent danger would lift from
it, the same way that it always did when I was at a party. The
appearance of menace would fade and my fears would be exposed as petty,
Suddenly, I remember that I still have my crowbar. It’s in my
hand. It was up my sleeve when I came into the block – I always
carried it wherever I went, hidden, just in case I ran into a mugger and
needed an advantage over him - but I’d had to take it out to unlock my
door just now. So the element of surprise is definitely gone.
I hug the bar to my chest as the crackhead takes a step towards me,
thrumming with energy. He’s skin and bones, but he still looks quick
and violent. I brace myself but all he does is hold out a shaking
“Please miss, can you spare 50 pence?” he whinges at me. His voice
sounds like a balloon with a hole in it, constantly leaking air out
before it reaches his words. It is kind of pitiful. My guard drops a
little, but I am still wary.
Usually I always have a 50p piece in my wallet, just to fob off guys
like this. They’re a common nuisance in our building. They ask the
squatters for 50p and they either take the money with breezy thanks, or
else they grab your wallet and run off with that. So most of us have
taken to keeping 50 p in your pocket, separate from our wallets, just in
Now that I finally have run into one of them, though, I don’t have
the 50p. Typical. I’ve come home penniless because I spent so long in
that squat party in Waterden Road. Brandy and coke after brandy and
coke, to take the acid’s edge off. I’m kicking myself for that insane
indulgence, now. But I just casually shrug and say, “Sorry mate. I
don’t have my purse on me,” in the most confident tone I can muster. I
don’t feel tough but I sense that the more sure of myself I sound, the
more likely it is he’ll just leave.
He doesn’t seem to have heard what I just said, in fact - he just
stands there waiting, hand outstretched, like he is patiently expecting
the 50 p to materialize.
I feel the urge to run away while he’s still slouching there all
passive, but the guy is so long limbed, I’m sure he would get to the
stairwell at the same time as me, reaching it in a single bound. Then
he’d grab me as I was running down the stairs. I don’t know why but I’d
rather stay here than get into an even smaller enclosed space with the
He stares at me; I stare forcefully back, trying to look indignant.
My heart is pounding. The staring contest ends as, slowly,
understanding begins dawning in his face.
“You don’t have 50 p,” he demands with more vehemence. Seems outraged.
I shrug. “Course not! It’s why I’m squatting, ‘cos I’m skint.” I’m
barely managing to keep the quaver out of my voice and make it sound
He takes another step toward me, a little more assertively, but I
stand my ground. He runs his eyes up and down my kit, trying to figure
out what else I have of value that he can ponce or steal. His eyes
settle on the crowbar, and he points to that.
“Give me that, then,” he demands – still in a whiny voice.
“No,” I blurt. “It’s mine.”
“I just wanna borrow it for a few minutes,” he whinges. I pause, and pretend to consider this.
“Why?” I ask conversationally.
“I’m... locked out of my flat... not sure where I left my key.” He
starts feeling his pockets, for show. I roll my eyes, but pretend to
“You live here too?” I ask conversationally. “What floor?”
“Fifteenth,” he says.
“There is no fifteenth floor!” I blurt, incredulous.
“Ninth, then.” He shrugs. Jesus. He can’t even be bothered to lie properly.
“You don’t even know your own floor? What the hell.” I shake my head.
He shakes his head a tad more aggressively than me, then takes another
step forward. I step back.
“Come on!” he demands. “I only need to borrow it for, like, fifteen minutes.”
I shake my head again, firmly.
“Let me have it ten minutes, then,” he says more impatiently.
I purse my lips in an imitation of regret, shrug and say, “Sorry.”
His face goes all squirrelly with frustration then and he lunges for
the crowbar; I can see it coming a few seconds early but even then, I’m
taken off-guard. He’s got a steely grip and starts yanking the bar,
hard, pulling it towards him with every jerk. I’m not strong enough to
pull it back, but barely manage to hold on anyway.
“Give it to me,” he bellows, petulant. What is it with crack-heads? I
think. Being told they can’t have what they want always seems to blow
their minds. It’s like he thinks my crowbar belongs to him already, and
I’m just sort of in the way.
I should have whacked him and run before he even said anything, I
think. That was when I still had a chance. Now I’m just delaying the
inevitable… well, here’s hoping that this crowbar’s the only thing he’s
He jerks it backwards and I stumble forward, but before I can lose my
balance I yank backwards, putting my entire body weight into my end of
the tug-of-war. He almost falls on top of me. His crusty face is
directly over mine: twisted and dirty and furious. Yikes.
“You’re not having this crowbar!” I yell. For fuck’s sake, it cost
8.99. No way am I giving it up! In the middle of the scuffle, I’ve
somehow forgotten to be scared. I actually feel pretty angry for a
The junkie must realize that the crowbar is worth something. How? Ah.
I see I’ve left the price tag on it. Great. That‘s probably why he
isn’t letting go, I think. He wants going to sell my crowbar. For
drugs. After breaking into someone’s flat with it. What a prick.
"Let go!" he glares down at me.
“No - you let go!” I snap, glaring up at him.
And then I hear the sound of someone moving, behind me.
Oh fuck, I think. He isn’t alone… That means I’m screwed. I’m really
screwed. And this time, pretending that I’m not just isn’t going to
Chapter 7: Everything Begins with an E
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