The Struggle to Continue Living & Working in a Marketised City Owned by Invisible People who Don’t Even Live In It

Well, since I feel I have a kind of emergency, maybe I should write about that today. I’ve always been good at, and unashamed about crying for help. It’s such a terrible and difficult time for so many people in the world that my own problems may seem ‘first-world’ (as they say) i.e. relatively slight, and the outcome of living close to the pinnacle of human wealth and comfort – given a global, relative scale, but nevertheless, they are MY problems today and loom large over the keyboard as I write.

Basically, the landlady has to sell the flat in which myself and my partner live and work. It’s not a particularly large flat. In fact you could walk around all its spaces and say you’ve seen the flat in about 10 seconds. But in terms of London apartments it has one or two unique charms plus one or two spatial idiosyncrasies which we have learned to utilise and ultimately fill. As artists on low and variable income our home is also our studio, the place where we have made and designed our works, shows, books and music over the years. It’s also become a storage place for our archives of works and for equipment we’ve collected along the way as we experimented with various media. Then there is a quite extensive library of books, a place with good broadband from which to teach-online, room to store our bikes (essential to cheap travel in the city). And then there are boxes of as yet unsold books, hidden away in just about every other remaining ‘nook’ or ‘cranny’ of the flat.

The problem is that London rents have gone up and up while ours, while still accounting for about 80% of our income, has remained the same for a few years. And so, now when we look for a way out and in to a new home/workplace we can’t see anything for a similar price that could contain and sustain all that we have accrued and developed here. So, I suppose I am just devoting the first part of this Blog post to a kind of appeal, asking anyone who reads it if they might have or know of any exception to the voracious market rule that might allow us to carry on building our life and work without too much of a crushing interruption or downturn in our fortunes (if so, you please leave a Reply to my cry in the Blog’s Comments section).

If that’s not particularly interesting in terms of writing and art, perhaps it’s worth just saying a little more about place, and home, and security, and disruption as they all pertain to the subject of writing and art. I’ve been through many crises in the 40 + years that I’ve struggled and strived to be an artist in London. I’ve never given up the fight, even though a few times I was driven out of the city and forced to start all over again from the beginning, literally. Whenever I made significant progress, against all odds, persisting in this way always proved worthwhile, vindicated and justified. Never, not once in my life, have I decided when I was going to leave my home, and where and when I was going to move and live next. I’ve never had the power or finance to do that and so it’s always been decided by someone else who had power over my life. Sadly, as above, I am still in that position, and despite now having completed 20 years of excellent academic work, published a bunch of books, and about 200 professional articles etc.

It’s harder, now I am older, to rally once again to find a way through this kind of crisis, which literally disrupts every foundation of what I am currently doing and aiming to do. It also comes at the busiest time of the academic year, when I am already overflowing with work and responsibilities – finding a new home is a substantial task, a job in itself. But somehow, I just have to believe that this won’t be disastrous, that somehow I’ll find my way to the next island, the next temporary shelter, where I can carry on trying to do my best work, which is all, I realise, that I ever wanted from life, and all I ever wanted to do. Today every London apartment is part of a ‘housing market’ or ‘property ladder’, but I have absolutely no interest in owning a property, nor in the notion of housing as a profitable investment. I just want a roof, and a desk, a kitchen and bathroom, a little bit of space, as well as a good relationship with a few editors if possible, a way to continue making my own books if I can, and a lively dialogue with life, with experience, with history, culture and with other voices and other minds. It’s sad, and quite frightening to see that, in our society and in our city the market has all-but pressed out all alternatives to itself, all exceptions to itself – though I still believe that in all the complexities of the city and its infinitely complex inhabitants, some exceptions and alternatives might just still be found. Here’s hoping!

Finally, I can’t help noting the irony that, in the past ten years, since a right wing party slipped into governmental power and gradually consolidated itself, this city has been ravaged by the rapid and relentless building of literally thousands and tens of thousands of new homes, in hundreds of ugly towers and developments that have sprung up North, South, East & West, while for someone like myself, who has lived and worked, contributed, strived and struggled here for 40 + years here, not one of those apartments is available to me, because of their exorbitant price. Worst still, it seems that many of them remain empty, rarely, if ever, visited, utilised only as parts of ‘investment portfolios’ that generate vast sums of money for invisible, absent people who never even visit the city, who know nothing about its streets, its people, its communities, its real and actual history and culture.

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