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EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun -  © 1990 Chris Faiers

Chapter 2 - 144 Piccadilly Squat

L'Auberge Cafe
    ceramic Thames winds
        past teacups

A concert in Hyde Park lured downtown London.  The Edgar Broughton Band.  A group from L'Auberge took the tube to Hyde Park, where we lolled in the patchy grass through the concert.  I remember everyone doodling all over my white turtleneck with coloured marker pens  -  it was a great excuse to roll around and get female attention and enjoy the camaraderie.  The band finished with its trademark shout-along finale exorcism of "Out Demons, Out!"  High from all the excitement we poured through the downtown streets, and three of us decided to take a stroll past the big squat that was being sensationalised in the newspapers.

144 Piccadilly was a huge, decaying stone building in the heart of the business district.  Carefully we crossed the board planks laid across the moat-like no-man's land.  Like crossing the drawbridge into a decrepit urban castle.  We had only planned to visit but we were so immediately accepted as kindred spirits that we just hung in.  In one of the huge rooms upstairs a "war council" was being held.  Many of the leaders were French students from the 1968 demonstrations in Paris.  We huddled in a corner and basked in the excitement and dusty funkiness of it all.

We ended up in a little room with a couple in a sleeping-bag trying to make uncomfortable love:

    stuffed, squirming
        on bare boards

I went for a recon stroll and ended up on guard duty with a greaser.  By now I realised that most of the original squatters had left and had been replaced by English "Hell's Angels", greasers (sort of understudy Angels), and other hippies and dossers like the couple in the sleeping-bag.  The front yard of 144 remained no man's land.  Occasionally a few Angels would foray into the yard for a skirmish.  A line of bobbies separated us from a howling mob of skinheads in Green Park across the street.  The yowling, aggro skinheads reminded me of the orcs in Lord of the RingsOur ammunition was rubber balls, most of which had been pumped full of water from hypodermic syringes  -  these were the waning days of legal junkiedom in the UK.  Thousands of these toy balls had been stored in the basement.  The greaser and I shared a turret-like window, peering into the dimming light at the bobbies and the taunting army of skinheads.  Watch me nail that bobby, the greaser bragged, and he bopped one of Britain's finest in the helmet.  My turn on guard.  Three or four stories below us a limo was winding its way passed the entrenched riot.  I thought 'I'll teach you to arrogantly drive through a battle zone like fucking tourists' and threw a ball.  I don't know if I dented the roof, but the car sped away, and in that moment I felt the thrill and danger of committment.  Certainly I was now going to get a year or two in a British cell for throwing that ball.  For me, the revolution was here.

We stayed a day or so.  Tiring of the diet of countercultural soup and the building paranoia of an impending police raid, we decided to try and get out.  We weren't sure if we would be allowed to leave by the other squatters, and I was sure that if we were, I was going to be arrested on damning evidence taken by a police photographer.  Incredible tension was in the air when we got downstars to the main hallway.  Everyone was preparing for an all-out assault by the police.  Angels and greasers were running round with balls and clubs and wrapping leather belts around their wrists.  The biggest, meanest, ugliest renegade skinhead I had ever seen was standing guard by the front door with a great big club.  Nobody tried to stop us, or even seemed to mind that we were leaving the impending battle scene.  Perhaps they thought we would be beaten by the police anyway.  We did.  We crossed carefully back over the planks of no man's land towards the waiting line of blue.  The worst was about to come  -  beaten silly on a London street, then beaten again at the police station, and finally five years in a cell.  'Just a couple of dossers', one of the cops sneered as we reached the end of the planks.  Amazed we just kept walking.  Freedom!  We couldn't believe it.  Later the police raided.  We had walked out hours before the siege ended.

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revised 8 March 2017