A thousand huts

Sporadically looking at alternative homes at the moment. A Thousand Huts is a campaign to revive a declining interest in hutting – usually colonies of simply-structured, intermittently-used, often informal and haphazard dwellings without amenities in rural northern Europe. They grew up before the era of planning laws and their presence, like that of other intentional communities, is a reminder that the question of sustainable plentiful homes is ultimately a question of who owns the land.

There’s a video by Paul Wimbush about hutters at Carbeth – built to get the factory and shipyard people of Glasgow and Clydesbank into the country during the newly invented weekends. Their successors are now faced with rent rises which push their cost of living beyond most caravan sites, although caravan sites have far more in the way of amenities and services.

There’s a descriptive research report which identifies some perceived benefits of hutting – the peace, quiet, tranquility and escape – and patterns of use and expectations which place hutting in the category of seasonal retreat rather than year-round residence.

So hutting seems to be a matter of small numbers of people getting out into the country in summer in a way which sustains commitment to a community and to a rural economy. Small cabins in wild, off-grid locations, renovated or built from scratch and limited only by the owner or occupier’s skills and invention. And the land laws.

Clifton Mansions – home was where the house is

As far as the residents of Clifton Mansions, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, were concerned, Lambeth Council left 22 beautiful flats to rot. Squatters – families, friends –  moved in and took care of it, pretty well by all accounts. They formed a community of long standing and that deserved some respect.

By the time they were evicted onto a closed-off street this morning by many riot police, it was clear that Lambeth ‘zero-tolerance-on-squatting’ Council wasn’t intending to renovate Clifton Mansions for social housing. Worse, it opted to pay Camelot to prevent the building being reoccupied while a buyer is found at auction. There’s a general supposition they’ll soon be luxury flats, though the Estates Gazette wonders if an earlier idea of a creative industries cluster might happen. I guess the council would have been happy enough to announce that if it had still been on the cards.

Balthazar writes on his photo blog, “People were so upset. Evictions are terrible. Lives dumped on the pavement like rubbish.” OK, so the council suddenly woke up to an unexploited asset – certainly it should take control of it. But even if they couldn’t respect these homes and offer the Clifton Mansion residents their flats for a reasonable rent (and I’m not sure how these things work, how council housing places are allocated), why couldn’t they be added to Brixton’s drastically under-numbered social housing stock?

  • Carl Loben cross-posted on the Squash Campaign lists celebrity former squatters including Richard Branson (where are they when you need them?)
  • Shelter on the shortfall in affordable, secure housing, and what it means for some of the 1.8 million people on the waiting list in England alone.
  • Inside Housing, a very good site with a forum to ask landlord-related questions, interviews with people on social housing waiting lists, and a petition to free up land to build social housing
  • Defend Council Housing
  • The Independent on some of the Clifton Mansions residents.
  • Demotix, with photographs of the eviction
  • Urban75 on how the era ended not with a whimper but a shower of piss.
  • Squatted – a blogging project to counter the bad media publicity of squatters.

Thanks to my other half I have a spacious home, and there isn’t a night goes by when I get into my comfortable bed that it doesn’t occur to me how fortunate I am.

Consultation on criminalising squatting

According to emptyhomes there are 2186 empty homes in Redbridge, which by coincidence happens to be about 2.18% of all homes. We also have a hideously high waiting list for affordable housing and a huge shortfall in building the things. Something’s clearly gone very wrong.

And then the Government comes along and sets about criminalising squatting. See this post on t’local blog – in particular note the link to SQUASH at the bottom.

More green / life-hacking / time-and-money-saving top tips

Over the past year or so I’ve made a number of small discoveries which cause me ridiculous levels of satisfaction, so I’ll share them:

squeegee with suction hookPreventing black mould in the shower without chemicals

It took me long enough to work this out: get the water off the tiles, shower screen and any horizontal surfaces as required with a wide, rubber-bladed squeegee.

Tips: have the squeegee ready on a suction-hook in the shower; vertically downwards and then along, sluicing the water into the bath or shower tray, works for me; do this immediately before you get out.

Costs: squeegee and good power-lock suction hook c. £5

Saving: money on mould remover or even re-doing your grout and sealant; pollution and packaging; in hard water areas you save time cleaning limescale off the tiles – it just doesn’t build up nearly as fast.

Paper potter for seedlings

You can turn old newspapers into little seedling pots with this inexpensive bit of kit. I feel it does need an endorsement since it looks so improbable. The great advantage of these is that you don’t have to remove the seeds from them when potting on – the paper rots down in the soil and the roots penetrate out through it.

Tips: since these are paper they best retain water and their shape if packed together pretty snugly; feel with a desert spoon if you don’t have a scoop; don’t buy trays – save any plastic packaging trays and use those, or cardboard packaging lined with waste plastic e.g. from junk mail or mags with supplements.

Costs: c.£7 for the potter

Saving: I think this saves time – potting-on and particularly cleaning; space storing plastic pots; perhaps seedling lives since there’s less disturbance at potting-on time.

Spinning wet salad leaves without the spinner

We wash salad leaves (the garden is watered from a slimy old water butt). But who has the space to store a stupid salad spinner or the time to dab the water of wet lettuce? Instead place wet leaves in a clean tea towel, draw the corners together in your hand go outside and whirl the towel round and round to create a centrifugal effect. The water flies out and the towel doesn’t even seem to get wet.

Tips: if you don’t have an outside I think even using the shower cubicle is less silly than having a bulky bit of plastic that is only good for one thing.

Costs: none.

Savings: space, the cost of a salad spinner.

Co-op biodegradable fragrance-free wet wipes

I like to bathe at night but this winter I became soap-shy because of the cold. So I decided to shower only every other day, instead applying a strictly rationed number of wet wipes (one in the morning, two in the evening) to various body surfaces as needed.

Tips: compost the wipes (this is good – our compost is too wet and needs more cellulose); there is an order – one wipe for face, neck, ears, under-croft, then the other for underarms lastly feet. I don’t bother with the rest – it doesn’t get dirty. Is this too much information?

Saving: steam, water, misery

Hair washing over the bath

Why did it take me so long to unhitch washing my hair from having a shower?

Tips: you need to be quite supple to do this comfortably – commence yoga practice early autumn.

Costs: none.

Saving: unsure.

Blanket rather than winter/summer duvet

This winter we made a discovery during a week in Devon at New Year: king size duvets prevent drafts. When we returned I went looking for one in Ilford but even in the January sales the costs were prohibitive. So I went into TK Maxx and happened upon a navy waffle-weave jacquard cotton bedspread, quite heavy, from Portugal. That struck me as a better idea because in summer we could use it over a sheet and stow the duvet. And as it turned out, we were much warmer and as summer advances, cooler too.

Tips: it’s all about keeping out the drafts that come in round your neck so the blanket needs to be big enough and of the right heft to pull up and settle round your neck and come right down over the sides of the bed

Costs: this cost me £14. I’ve seen similarly promising bed-spreads in charity shops and the spare bed sports a white fringed rose-studded candlewick.

Savings: space storing an extra duvet; misery.

And now to the Alternative Vote debate

Respect Demolition. Good. Stop The War next? SWP is the kiss of death.

Galloway said it himself – a coalition of Socialists and Muslims was always going to be like “porcupines making love“.

Duelling conferences today marked the end of the Respect Coalition. By way of background: the SWP acted scurrilously and passed resolutions after a meeting had finished; Galloway spat his dummy with the immortal ejaculation “Go on, fuck off – fuck off, the lot of you”; Galloway’s lot changed the locks on the Respect headquarters so the SWP couldn’t get in; the SWP kept control of the Web site; a councillor who split from Galloway got a kicking (well, people did say it would end in violence). You can read all about the run-up to this happy disaster on Harry’s Place.

The SWP ran this year’s campaign for an academic boycott of Israel. I’m glad their coalition has fallen around their ears and look forward to witnessing the same with their repulsive Stop The War Coalition which hosts Hesbollah media man Ibrahim Mousawi and produces “We Are All Hesbollah Now” placards. Their war on the War on Terror involves cuddling terrorists. Literally, the SWP is hateful.
That said, who in their right mind would even consider Galloway as an alternative? His wedges from the SWP are:

  1. God
  2. being anti-abortion
  3. being anti gay-rights
  4. being conservative in a Jamaat, MAB kind of way
  5. being pro-Israel*

So when we hear from PM (BBC Radio 4, Saturday 17th Nov) that:

“You’ve got George Galloway and quite a lot of the Muslim groups going off in one direction and you’ve got the more white – let’s be frank about this – Socialist Workers Party going off in another direction, and the split has gone so deep that even one group changed the locks on the party headquarters so the other lot couldn’t get in about two weeks ago.”

and look at the pictures of the assembly which confirm the PM report to some extent (no pics from the SWP faction’s Respect conference yet) you have to put two and two together and surmise that Galloway has indeed been forced to assume a new role as the useful face of Jamaat-i-Islami (a.k.a. Muslim Brotherhood). This sect will surely be the final resting place of his British political career. He’ll only attract extremists now. I predict that by 2010 he’ll have emigrated to Iran.

It’s good that Jamaat is now in a state of conspicuous isolation. Anti-gay. Anti-women. Anti-Jewish. Into God. Conservative. All that remains is to shun them (and also keep an eye on them).
Oh – according to the SWP our real enemies are still New Labour and the Right Wing. Nice to know they’ve sorted their priorities out to take account of global developments. Internationalist my arse. What a bunch of clefts.
Anyway, Harry’s Place will do this more justice, so go there and find it all out.

* Haha.

Another day in paradise

That’s Barkingside and Ilford.

Got up with the larks and cleaned the house extremely thoroughly – under the bed, each venetian blind, the little wells on the hob, under the sofa pads – everything, because I want to return to a clean house at the end of next week. Did a couple of washes (and a clean bed). Coughed my guts up continually. Collected my boot from the cobblers – the glue job went well – the man is clearly passionate about patching up old footwear so I plan to drop in my 50yo knee-highs next week – and clipframe which turned out to be plastic – grr – teach me to buy unseen, and swapped some music at the library for walking to drown out the sound of Brian and Matt prattling about clothes, makeup, depillation and all that boy stuff.

Went to Ilford on the 169 – sat with P for a bit and we talked about the cowboys who threatened to take A’s roof tiles off if he didn’t pay them some extra money they weren’t entitled to. Shopped for underwear, cord for hanging pictures, ribbon for tying bags made of Matt’s old shirts round around old lavender (last Sunday one of my friends, a recent parent, accused me of having too much time on my hands – she should see how much I blog these days! To be fair, I used to fill my spare time with friends but they’ve dispersed with their babies to 3-bed semis in the home counties and I’ve little choice but to sit here talking to myself. Well, I could work on my career… Anyway:) and rucksack liners. Came home with additional fake meat by Redwood (it’s filthy but I love it) and fake fabric birkenstocks by Millets for £3.49 – should fit in at the youth hostels. On the way back I took my voucher to Hi-Juice and had a Brain Food. The little girls who work there are delightful. Then went to Army & Navy for a second rucksack liner and got an earful from the guv for crossing his threshold with a Millets bag. I wanted a 25-45l rucksack liner but he only had one size – up to 75l. On inspection it turned out to be an orange rubble sack pretty much so I said I’d leave it. On the way out (he needed to go to the bank) he asked me what I’d bought from Millets. When I told him a rucksack liner he asked the price, hooted when I told him £6.99 but laughed when I told him it was a proper one, not just an orange binbag. In all the times I’ve been in there I’ve never bought a thing, but I feel bad about the Millets bag and I’ll make Army & Navy my first port of call in future.

Fleshisgrass. Keeping it real on the high street 😉

Frog in the front

It was dark when I got out of the tube today at around 8pm. That was a nasty seasonal shock. And raining – good for parched East London. When I got home, I made the few steps up the front path, sidestepping the humungus weed between the concrete slabs of the path and drive, and I felt something cold and clammy brush, or more accurately, thump, my bare ankle. I whipped round suspiciously and peered down into the dark, and saw the street light glistening on a handsome and good-sized frog or toad. I said “Hello!” in the voice I reserve for animals and babies, and it hopped away into the lavender.