Golden Lane: a discontiguous topography

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Note to reader:

There is no ‘Golden Lane’. Yes, it’s marked in all the maps, wedged between the fortress of the Barbican Estate on the south side and Old Street along its northernmost perimeter. Likewise, it is marked on street signs and addresses, just as if it was really there – mail is delivered, taxes are paid. People go in and out of buildings as though they were really real. But that is during the day. During the day it is always easy enough to misconstrue everything and, to the casual onlooker, the conceit is successful enough; this place, this substitute, functions just as well as the real Golden Lane would have done – if not better in some respects. But all this is literally neither here nor there; ‘Golden Lane’ is now merely a subterfuge – an empty signifier of the thing itself.

[My decision to explore Golden Lane in detail was first prompted by a series of rumours I had heard around town, all of which were hostile, denigrating the area as ‘separatist’ – as though Golden Lane was in the process of being annexed by some form of rogue political movement unique to the estate. Rumour is an indispensable indicator of popular opinion and carries its own pragmatic importance during a crisis of this kind, and thus I have made every effort to accurately record the conjectures of people even when they are fantastical indeed.]

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Derive #1

I begin my first study in Paul Street at the northeast edge of the subject area in an attempt to access Golden Lane directly. This area does seem to be more heavily fortified in contrast to the south London locations I have been charting recently, and my approach was immediately hindered by a cordon – constructed in an amateurish fashion – from Herras fencing panels which block each of the four exits to the adjacent roads. It is inaccessible from any direction, save for climbing over the fences – which is easier said than done – and I am forced to re-think my strategy for getting to Golden Lane. Under normal circumstances you would assume that this is a sign that gentrification is about to take place here, some exclusive new enclave of gated apartments to be constructed and sold to the eager and upwardly mobile. But in this instance, no works are to be carried out; this area has been blocked-off just to keep it from being useful – as it is in its present state – its final state. There is no sequel to these building works. It is simply wasteland. I shall call it terrain vague; a waste of space, a disused space, an inaccessible space, an ignored space – and the corresponding mental absences produced by these spaces in the mind.

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More and more terrain vague is appearing in this area, linked as it is to the attitude of non-productivity which has become so prevalent in these neighbourhoods, (which is an uncanny fact, inasmuch as it spreads from under the shadow of the neighbouring towers of the Financial City just a stone’s throw away.) This territorial degradation, this terrain vague, has created what people are now referring to as ‘blisters’ or ‘buboes’ – eruptions on the surface areas of the City which are manifest sometimes as islands of uselessness, sometimes as blockages or impediments to movement, sometimes as pockets of resistance, sometimes as polarised states of inertia and nihilism. Golden Lane is one such island. People quickly become stranded on these islands; houses, parks, roads, even entire postcodes are swallowed up as the islands join together to create much larger flotillas of uselessness, a Wilderness developing right here in the heart if the metropolis

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Having walked about for several futile but beautiful hours without reaching Golden Lane, I can only conclude that I am entirely lost. As night begins to fall the landscape appears to spontaneously modify itself as though it were little more than a series of interchangeable slices arranged on a flat plane. All points of reference are gone. The fabric of the city has evidently decayed to a startling degree, the area having been subject to divisive politics for too long, and the sense of danger, of threat, is so strong I am compelled to find a blind spot in which to hide, an out of the way corner some where I can continue to observe developments.

There is not much to see, however. The area became completely desolate by seven o’clock just as if someone had raised the alarm and everybody had scurried indoors. It concerns me somewhat that I am the only person out of doors on this territory, and so I do my best to conceal myself as well as possible in a thicket at the edge of a small park which I do not recall seeing before. Upon closer inspection, I realise that this is not a park at all, but a barren piece of scrub of the kind which usually develops in the year after a building is demolished; a few withered yellow flowers, green dandelion spurs pushing up all around the edges, rubble and litter confetti. I have become caught in a patch of terrain vague – most likely due to having become so lost – and everything here is foreign to me.

I decide against remaining here much further into the night because of the strange noises, and resolve to continue my investigations tomorrow.

***

Derive #2

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If you were unsuspecting enough to imagine that by following the directions on a standard London A-Z map that you would be able to get to Golden Lane with relative ease, you might then very easily be caught-out and exposed in this place at no little hazard to yourself. Upon further examination of my A-Z, I discovered that the place names were all correct for London, but the picture itself was a map of Stalingrad – and thus navigating by it is worse than useless. I can’t imagine what kind of clerical error can lead to such a gross invasion of London by a former Soviet city, but you wonder if it hadn’t been done on purpose, maliciously. Discarding the A-Z by an overflowing bin I press onwards by using street signs to approximate the location of Golden Lane, but all approach is useless. It seems to have moved. Having been there only yesterday evening, I am perplexed that I cannot now remember where I left it. I wander about up and down roads to see if I haven’t simply missed the turning, but that only succeeds in getting me utterly lost. It still appears to be physically possible to get to Golden Lane, but somehow I am unable to reach it. This worries me to the point where, whilst walking backwards and forwards, I mull over the possibility of some psychological impediment as to why I can’t find Golden Lane; am I subconsciously denying its existence, as though perhaps something terrible happened there yesterday? I doubt it. More than likely I am caught in some kind of malicious loop of conflicting signs which has led me astray over and over again. I make an effort to adjoin Golden indirectly, avoiding all adjoining roads and pathways – but this proves to be no improvement to the situation. The pavements, the roads, the buildings – none of these things seem to have any integrity left, straight lines no longer seem to agree with each other and the boundaries which once seemed static enough now migrate and move about. Growing suddenly concerned at the prospect of becoming permanently lost in this bizarre labyrinth I quickly resolve to mark the street corners with urine, which will help me to remember my own smell, and thus, find my way back out again after exploring.

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This appears to work, inasmuch as I am once again able to govern my own direction, but I am however left with a horrendous nausea or sea-sickness – as though the ground were all still moving. I vomit all over the pavement causing several old ladies to tut at me in quite an intimidating way, and I fight my way to some out-of-the-way place where I can settle my wits for a few minutes, drink some tea from my flask and try again at walking down the street. But my second attempt is still worse than the first, attracting more ire from the locals. It feels as though I am lost not only here but in life in general, and it contents me to sit against the kerb where children drain the silence of the street and bleed the evening dry. Pressing my ear to the ground I hear the movement of concrete blocks as they shift and slide about, creating what amounts to an ingenious puzzle or trap, abolishing territories and, furthermore, disorienting people into adopting the nomadology so clearly displayed by the residents here.

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I take photographs where I can, draw diagrams and jot a few notes, though the effort to be bothered to do so is overwhelming. I do not know if this place can even be accurately recorded, but I
comfort myself in staying semi-active. The sky is grey as concrete. We may as well just pretend that this is still Golden Lane, and spare anybody else the knowledge of what has happened here. I fall asleep in the park.

***

Derive #3

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What happened here? Perhaps by writing it down, drawing diagrams of it, I can bring things back into line again, or at least shake the memory of this place back from the oblivion in which it lies. I can fix the fragments of Golden Lane in my records, provide coordinates, and once more be able to navigate this reef without running aground, without being taken in again by the fluid consistency of the shifting blocks all around. There are more people around on the street today and everything generally seems to be in better order than during my previous two studies. People are walking all over the place like termites, as though there were some connection between the topographical shifting of the location and the movements of the residents here – a co-dependency. I begin to research this behaviour by following one of the elderly women who cursed at me yesterday to try and find out how things work here.

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From a static position, her movements look normal enough. After following her on several circuits around the estate however, it soon becomes apparent that she is following a set path, as though she had explicit instructions how and where to move about – though whether she knows about these instructions is impossible to tell. Whatever it may be, she seems to be charting a stable route through this maze that I cannot see, inasmuch as I experience no further nausea or disorientation when I duplicate her movements. Everybody else seems to be shuffling along in their own way, perhaps following similar invisible paths learned by trial and error, and I am able to switch between paths where they cross one another, all of which form a large network of paths through this Wilderness. Each person has a path to follow over and over, playing on a loop if you will, until seven o’clock comes and everybody disappears inside. By ensuring the stability of their environment by repeating the same actions over and over again, day in, day out, the residents have established a very secure enclave here that only they know how to negotiate safely, like rats in a laboratory maze learn quickly where the traps are. I am of the opinion that this is some kind of a security measure – infinitely more subtle than the physical barricades constructed in other enclaves around the city – a form of architectural encryption applied over the area to keep non-residents out. But as to who has applied these measures or exactly how they were implemented is in no way comprehensible – at least, not to me anyway.

As I pass by an elderly couple I overhear fragments of a hushed conversation in which the word ‘separatists’ is mentioned several times. This strikes me as a trifle odd at first, but by paying careful attention to other fragments of information spoken by other people as they pass I am able to put together a sketch of the situation here in Golden Lane. There is clearly a great fear of ‘nomads’ moving in here, and some concerted effort is being made by the whole community to ensure that this does not happen. Their singular movements during the day and their sudden disappearance at night concurs with this hypothesis, and whether or not there is any real threat of an impending ‘nomad invasion’, or if perhaps a well-oiled machine is at work here churning out xenophobic propaganda for some political end remains to be seen. But whatever it is, ‘Golden Lane’ should be treated as a litmus test for what may soon break-out in other metropolitan areas in the future.

 


 

 

The Body Politic: The Waste Problem

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Explore ‘The Waste Problem’ at The Unstitute

What sort of ‘waste problem’ are we dealing with here? It is true that the health of the whole body politic rests on the sanitary measures taken to deal with its waste, but to reduce this ‘problem’ to a concern for hygiene in the regular sense would be to somewhat miss the object of CADE’s  enquiry. ‘Hygiene’ could conceivably indicate some form of ‘racial hygiene’, (attested by increasingly frequent outbreaks of fascism, like buboes on the skin of society,) a mendacious attitude towards ‘cultural cleanliness’ even, or a division of the clean and unclean; it may refer to a physical blockage in the waste-disposal system of the city, (as in the sewerage pipes we see stuffed with dog carcasses by operatives from Thames Water,) or it may even point towards a mental attitude towards waste which itself is becoming problematic – things formerly considered ‘useful’ are re-categorised unconsciously into the ‘useless’, provoking widespread nausea and apathy towards the value of things. One thing is certain however; CADE takes no moral stance on this rubbishing of everything – indeed, he seems quite at home, nestled amongst the spreading tendrils of entropy all around, a lotus-eater. His writings indicate no critique of post-industrial capitalism and its excesses; no Camorra-style syndicate is holding politicians to ransom with garbage; no general strike amongst sanitation contractors is prostrating the system. There is in fact no good reason why it should be so, but there it is: CADE presents a compromised system in which everything is in a process of ‘being-wasted’ – including its people.

On several occasions CADE himself displays the tendency towards purposeless drifting – swept along, object-like, mysterious to himself – to everything. His records are begrimed with apathy:

 “A machine for the production of rubbish.”

This phrase, written out several times in his journal, must make us reconsider what is meant by rubbish and by what is not meant by rubbish; are things becoming rubbish even before they are used? There is doubtless more, (or perhaps even less,) than meets the eye. After touching this material, watching it, hearing it, reading it, one gets a stale odour on one’s fingers, so to speak – used, spent, empty. This system, as it is perceived, is in the process of losing its useful energy at a highly accelerated pace, decay is encrusting every corner and every object in ambiguity, and the cohesion between the sensible and the impossible is becoming meaningless – is becoming rubbish, in fact. The apparently systematic methods employed by CADE in gathering this material is not one of retrieving something meaningful or useful out of the rubbish-heap; rather, in his method is a peculiar desire to join with this rubbish, to become part of a system which is in the process of becoming useless as we speak. And perhaps CADE’s ‘machine for the production of rubbish’ is some kind of entropic engine, devaluing the usefulness of anything, a Heraclitean cosmic-accelerator in which the cohesion of the meaningful tends ultimately towards dissolution and chaos. Another quote from his journal seems conclusive:

“The universe is a great pile of rubbish, heaped up at random.”

Bettany Unction

Chief Curator

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Non-conductor

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There’s a lot to be said about inertia. I myself have been inert for…seven years now, ever since the old Routemaster buses were taken out of service. Yeah, I was a conductor, see. Oh, It was a merry old life we had back in the old days. Great times, they were…yeah…nah, hold on a minute…that’s a lie. A complete lie. I just told you a complete…listen; I had an awful time back in the old days. Working every day for sod all money, having horrible people shout at you for no reason on that filthy old bus that stank of vomit half the time…thirty-eight years of it. Even then I used to nag about how things were better in the old days! And now here I am, saying that even those old days I used to hate were better than these days are now. How do people go on like that, always complaining about the present, in the present? If anyone sours the taste of the present, it’s me – let’s face facts here! It’s not as though its got something to do with all this progress that’s…what do you call it…decadent, is it? You know, like how even though we’re progressing into ‘a better world’ and all that guff, somehow life was always better in the past. I mean, it must be me who’s wrong…it can’t be ‘our age’ that’s up the spout, can it?

Sorry…rambling away there…completely lost my thread. Don’t get much chance to speak to anyone these days. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I used to work on the Routemaster number 38 bus that ran from Clapton Pond to Victoria Station ‘til it was decommissioned seven years ago. There was a big hoo-ha about cutting down on expenditures, and how my job was seen as expendable, you know, unnecessary…so I got made redundant, didn’t I? Well, it had quite some effect on me, that did. You see, it all happened when I was reading through the redundancy notice the bus company sent me. Hold on a minute…I’ve got it somewhere…here it is. I’ll read it to you, shall I?

Dated April the 9th, 2005

Dear Mr Bus-Conductor Man,
(that’s me, see,)
Dear Mr Bus-Conductor Man,

This bus company don’t need you no more, right, so you better get yourself gone real quick. If you don’t, I’ll eat your children, though you probably don’t have any ‘cause you’re such a massive tosser.’

Yours with deep affection, etc, etc,

Sir Frederic Cunthole, CEO

Well, apart from this personal letter I received, (which I thought was lovely, you know, that ‘personal touch’ helps soften the blow in these instances, dunnit?) I also got an information pack about why they was making blokes redundant, and I was reading about how ‘by cutting down on unnecessary labour the company could save money and deliver a better service, ready to face the challenges of an uncertain economic future’, etc, etc, etc, etc. Well…I was struck – suddenly – by an idea. I mean, what if it was true? Perhaps I ought to treat this redundancy note as a word of warning, you know, sent by providence? Perhaps I should cut down on excess labour – that might help me progress into an uncertain economic future, ready to face the challenges I might find there? I mean, blimey! What’s this future going to look like, eh?…I got…well, I got bleedin’ worried about the future, didn’t I, and I thought…well, I’d better get my arse in gear and start cutting down on unnecessary labour.

Well, I started out small; you know, by sitting at rest and not bumbling about all day. I don’t know if you ever been put out of work, but you tend to bumble about all day, worrying about bumbling about all day. So I just sat in my chair. I thought it’d be best to meet this uncertain future by expressing the minimum amount of effort physically possible. It was weird though, ‘cause I’d been travelling along that same route every day now for the past thirty-eight years, and all of a sudden, I has this sudden great change in velocity thrust upon me, like a lifetime’s movement suddenly stopped, and now there’s, there’s nothing but this…inertia! But I tried to keep calm and carry on, you know, being inert. Well, since then, I haven’t moved from my armchair. No kidding…I’ve resisted every impulse to get up and move about, and taken my redundancy completely literally.

You know, things really spiralled out of control after that, cause, you know, my wife tried everything she could think of to get me out of my inertial state, (which she took to be some kind of melancholy, albeit a lot less psychological, ‘cause, err, ‘cause I got less psychology than the average man, according to my doctor,) and there were doctors and social workers here all the time, prodding me about and asking questions. But I just sat here, and after a bit, they buggered off. Well, after my wife left me, strange thing happened…I had these people round from the TV company, see, and they wanted to do a story on me. I didn’t mind, ‘cause, err, I just sat here. You know, it didn’t affect my inertia one bit, ‘cause, you know, I’d taken remedial measures against the uncertain future, like. But then, right, weird thing is, is after this programme goes out on daytime TV right, all these young people started coming round. Yeah, they would just…sit…you know, all over the place. I could have as many as two hundred people round here at any one time, just sitting about. On the landing, the stairs, the cooker, all over the place. It was like…I started some kind of movement or something…except it weren’t moving nowhere! Or, or, like I’d become the conductor of some kind of force…some kind of resistance or something. It was like being back on the bus again, with these people coming in and sitting about before moving on. Except we didn’t go nowhere.

Well, then they stopped comin’ round all of a sudden, didn’t they. The youths. And then some geezer from the Department of Health comes round, and he prods me about and asks me a load of ‘questions’. I mean, ‘questions’! The bleedin’ cheek of it! And he tells me it’s a ‘Risk Assessment’ or something. I mean, what’s going to happen to me! I took all these measures against the uncertain future, didn’t I, and now me future’s all bleedin’ uncertain again, isn’t it!

Bleedin’ council!

 

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A Small Plastic Dog

This page contains a 2-part micro-narrative broken into separate channels; the moving image, and the text. The moving image does not exactly have the same effect as the text, and the text doesn’t express quite the same thing as the video. A certain degree of cognitive dissonance is therefore required on the part of the viewer to combine the two in such a way as suits their own interpretation best, or so as to not need to interpret anything at all…

#1: Video extract

#2: Journal extract

On the Waterloo Road I became aware that I was being followed. I first realised this at the sound of a faint clicking noise somewhere in the distance behind me. I veered right past the Old Vic so I could get a brief look behind me without betraying my awareness to my pursuer; but I saw nobody looking suspicious. I turned sharply onto Greet Street, which was deserted, so as to better isolate my pursuant. As I approached the railway arches, the clicking sound was almost upon me and I spun round to make a confrontation. I found a small plastic dog.

It was not moving. I pushed it along with my foot and it made a clicking sound as the wheels turned the dog’s head by means of a simple mechanism. Cheaply manufactured in China, such toys have become popular through retail chains such as Argos and may be found in almost any home in the UK. Children attach the dog to a nylon lead and walk around with it as though it was a real dog. But there was no child attached to this one.

As it was causing no harm I allowed the dog to tail me at its own leisure, and anyway, it seems to be impossible to get rid of it. The irritating noise can easily be drowned out by moving into busy areas and for brief intervals I can create the impression I am not being followed at all. But moving through crowds like this – using a herd of people for cover, I mean – is really not my style. I cannot help but get the impression I am being herded in some way, and this is a feeling I do not like. After several failed attempts I succeed in losing it near Borough Market after giving it a good kicking and running away.

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Towards the creation of a continuity engine

‘wrong’ is part of the series ‘Bermondsey Psychogeographic’ – a cluster of micro-narratives drawn-out of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, London. The themes are common – a breakdown in subjectivity, the architecture of alienation, behaviour indicating a crisis…though the evidence points to the contrary. Narratives such as these lurk inside everyday places, waiting for the casual passer-by to give them voice.

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Architectural Irregularities Display Crisis Mind-Set, Despite No Apparent Threat

1) This house has blocked up all its doors and windows.weaponised_6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) These tunnel openings probably serve the housing estate in times of siege.

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3) This house has been poorly camouflaged at street level, but from above it is practically invisible.

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4) The domino theory of social collapse gains currency.

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5) An old house serves as façade for a massive burrow entrance, leading to London’s largest network of tunnels spanning 17 hectares.

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6) The occupants here forged legal documents and signage to make it look like their home was condemned. There are weird noises on the other side.

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7) The high wall of an old building serves to make these apartments into an armoured citadel.

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8) This house is under siege from the inside. Practically erupting garbage of all kinds, the occupants are being evicted by their own filth.

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9) Another Chelsea penthouse to have been ‘weaponised’, so to speak – this time with Javelin Surface to Air Missiles. Source of weapon unknown.

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10) Barricaded in or out? With some buildings it’s impossible to be certain.

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11) Preparations for the night-time in Chelsea harbour. No damage is expected, but residents don’t want to see what goes on in the street after dark.

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12) A show of support for a local Residents Association. Note the total absence of rubbish or disorder.

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13) Walls are springing up everywhere across newly-disclosed strategic lines across the city, creating annexes, strongholds and checkpoints.

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Fire Brigade “couldn’t care less” about London’s Shadow Homes

Thousands of people in London are living in ‘homes-within-homes’ – often in dangerous conditions – just because they feel like it.

Our reporters found people paying to live almost anywhere; on abandoned industrial estates, underneath piles of garbage and dead dogs – even inside other peoples’ bodies.

This ‘shadow’ housing market – as it is now being called – is causing the London Fire Brigade to “pull their own heads off”.

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‘Shit’

Carlos moved to London from somewhere else four years ago in search of a better life for his two teenage daughters. But he was wrong.

Now all three share a cramped room with innumerable packs of nomads above a car repair shop on some industrial estate in north-west London.

The transient residents, who are impossible to count because of their continual migration, share three tiny rooms and a kitchenette, while mechanics work on customers down below with picks and shovels. The owner of the building, Jonathan Profits, said he needed to keep the nomads in a constant supply of raw meat, otherwise who knows what they would do.

Carlos’ daughters, now aged 18 and 21, never sleep but instead just watch their father all day long with impassive expressions. He worries about them sometimes. He thinks they might be going mouldy.

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‘Fun’

Tim Awful, enforcement manager for Hackney Council, told us that homes hidden away inside other homes were his favourite part of the job. When he can be bothered, he and his team of volunteer ‘Enforcement Officers’ crack-down on these “beds in sheds” as they are affectionately called, just because they can.

“The uniforms get us in anywhere” he said.

Information almost always comes in the form of tip-offs from civic-minded neighbours living in real houses nearby, but sometimes, he admits, it is purely fabricated.

“Anonymous notes don’t need to be forged” he said.

Thousands of letters are either received, recycled or produced at the enforcement office every day – too many to ever read or organise – and ‘enforcement officers’ are constantly tunnelling underneath mountains of paperwork just to get out of the office to do some enforcing.

“The best part about investigating this type of accommodation is that none of it really exists. The people living in these places – if you can even call them people – are usually vulnerable and most of them don’t even speak proper. But that only makes it easier and more amusing to throw them out.”

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‘Escape

But it is not just nomads and émigrés who find themselves in squalid living conditions. Anyone can do it if they really try.

For almost a year Babs, 24, lived in the Thames – paying £250 a month for nothing whatsoever.

She came to London looking for work in the television industry just like everyone else, but the friend who offered her a couch to sleep on suddenly capsized, leaving nothing but a big hole in the ground where her house used to be.

“It was as if she just tunneled her way out” she said.

Her landlord said he was working to improve living conditions in the Thames, even though it wasn’t true. He was delighted that the river could offer people “nothing whatsoever when they could afford little else”.

 

‘Beyond good and evil’

Isobel, 28, doesn’t care about anything.

In Hackney Wick, under the malevolent shadow of the Olympic Stadium, dozens of former factories and warehouses now house what is said to be the biggest nomad swarm in Europe.

Like Isobel, the residents are attracted by small things, like the way a woman walks along the street with a blue plastic bag, trying to get home to her child.

“I do feel something, but I don’t know what. Does it matter?” she said.

Isobel says she has no permission to live where she does because it doesn’t mean anything. But our reporters spoke to people who lived in buildings where landlords had ruthlessly created ‘hidden homes’ – right inside other people’s houses.

“The building was so badly maintained because it was all made out of newspaper” said Alexis, 32.

“The apartment I was renting was inside someone else’s living room – and they didn’t know about it. But it wasn’t just me. There were twelve other apartments nested right inside the main house. We had to dig tunnels to get around because nobody had a key to the front door.”

The owner of the building told us he would eat anyone he found living there.

 

‘Council’

The Minister for Housing Christopher McInterest said he had a lovely house with walls and everything.

“I’m giving myself a bonus.” he said.

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But Brigitte Assets, the deputy commissioner of something or other, believes the problem will go away by itself if she stops thinking about it.

“Fundamentally there are many, many people looking for places to live in London, but that’s not my fault.”

 

Some names in this article have been changed, as well as all of the facts.

 

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