The International Writers Magazine
: Squat Party

Graham Attenborough

t was late. He lay still watching the droplets of water running across the ceiling. He watched with gathering fascination as the little silver autos raced faster and faster until suddenly they kissed, embraced, swelling into one, slowing to a stop. There they hung for a moment teetering on the edge of oblivion (a bit like him really) and then, all at once, drop. Clang.

The noise was like a trigger and despite being alone in the room he said ‘Better empty them frigging buckets.’ He leapt energetically from his disgusting bed. Happily, he found that he still wore his jeans, his socks and his favourite Joy Division T-shirt. Vigorously he roughed-up his short, red Mohican, collected the crusty bits of dried sleep from the corners of his eyes and began searching the floor for his boots.

His rising ritual complete, he strode across the room to an array of brimming buckets, pans, tins and bowls strategically placed to collect the night’s drips. One by one he poured the contents into the ragged hole, which he had previously smashed through the floorboards with an axe. A crude but effective arrangement considering he had no sink in this room and no way of stopping the water from dripping through the ceiling. Later he would go down to the basement and take a look at the enormous bulge in the ceiling below. He grinned as he imagined the moment when the old skin of yellow plaster would finally give way under the pressure and explode its bomb of filthy liquid into the already derelict cellar. ‘What a frigging show that would be’ he thought as he brushed away the overspill.

Throwing the broom into a corner, he pulled open the door and stepped out into the wide, empty hallway. Andy would still be asleep but judging from the sounds emanating from the room next door he deduced that Colin was up and no doubt doing something weird. He knocked, got no immediate answer and so opened the door and walked in anyway.

Colin’s room was dramatically different from his own, his being really, only half a room. This was due to the leak, which forced him to live at one end and to collect its water at the other. He was not bothered about this, Charlton Mansion was a huge house, three storeys with enormous (though mostly derelict) rooms and so his half-a-room was bigger than anywhere he had ever lived before. It was true that the noise of the drips clanging all night was a bloody nuisance but he was nothing if he wasn’t stoical and gradually he had got used to the random, disharmonious music that played in his room both day and night.

Colin, who had found this squat, had been entitled to choose the best room for him self. This he had done but he had also worked hard to make it comfortable and undeniably unusual by anyone’s standards. He stood now on a tall stool, which was itself on top of a wooden table. He had a row of drawing pins clasped between his white lips and was fiddling with a long piece of turquoise wool.
"Morning Col."
Colin only managed a kind of humming reply whilst reaching up to push his pins into the ceiling and wrapping wool about them.
"Can I have a rolly Col? Cheers mate."
Free of pins, Colin looked down at his daily visitor who was now sat in his burgundy, art deco armchair, his horrid great boots up upon the elegant glass-topped table, recently rescued from a skip in White Ladies Road and which, he hoped, might actually be a valuable antique.
"Yes, good morning Keith… please, help yourself." Keith had already rolled and lit his cigarette and now, as he breathed out his first smoke of the day he gazed up at Colin who had produced the ball of wool from his pocket and was unravelling a fresh length.
"What you doing then Col?"
Colin stopped whatever it was and began to fiddle with his glasses. They had snapped sometime ago (under suspicious circumstances and involving Keith actually) and were now held together with flesh-colourer, though quite filthy, sticking plaster.
"I’m making a web actually."
"A what?"
"A web, a spiders web, out of wool you see."
"Oh yea… what’s that for then?"
"Well it's… well it's not for anything really, it’s a web you see. I made one once before, a black one, when I was in hall’s at Leeds actually, but that, well, that one was rather small, ran out of wool actually. But then yesterday I found this ball of turquoise upstairs, in one of the cupboards, enough to make a much larger web so I thought… well, why not?"
Keith stared at the ceiling with its few blue threads stretching out from the corner trying to imagine the finished web.
"Wow, a bloody great spiders web… brilliant."

As Colin went back to work Keith pondered his strange friend, for despite being incredibly selfish, he did worry about his companions here in the squat and tried, after a fashion, to cheer them and to bring a little happiness to their otherwise boring, pointless lives. Take Colin for example, he was well into his thirties, middle-class, well educated but, lets face it, a total loser. He came from somewhere near London; some suburb that Keith had never heard of. Colin rarely talked about his family but it was evident that they didn’t care much about each other. Colin had a brother who had done well, at least in his parent’s eyes, but Colin had dropped out of university, drifted around, smoking dope, living in squats and growing weirder by the day and so they had lost contact. There was nothing unusual about that; Keith was in a similar boat though he’d never been to university. Colin’s biggest problem, or so it seemed to Keith, was women. It was obvious he wanted a girlfriend and it was true that women did like him but only as a friend, nothing more.

Once, when Colin was particularly drunk on a bottle of gin (which Keith had stolen from the supermarket to celebrate Andy’s escape), he had told Keith that he was still a virgin. Worse still, he had once had a girlfriend named Barbara but throughout their three-year relationship he had not been allowed to so much as kiss her. In tears, Colin had told Keith that, one day, he had received a letter from Barbara informing him that their relationship was over and that, although she thought very highly of him, she had felt nothing but revulsion at the thought of their ‘doing it together’ as she had put it. She went on to say that she had recently met a nice young man who was an apprentice telecom engineer and, once qualified, would have his own van. They were soon to be married and he was invited to the wedding reception so long as he wore a suit and tie.

Not sure how best to respond to these revelations, Keith had asked if the reception had been any good. Sadly, Colin could not be sure because due to Barbara’s ‘forgetting’ to give him any details he was not able to attend.

Keith worried about Colin but he was still optimistic. He had made inquires, researched the matter, and his findings showed that a disappointing one hundred per cent of all women asked in his survey, insisted that they would never sleep with Colin under any circumstances whatsoever. Admittedly, he had only used a sample of five but nevertheless his findings were conclusvive.

He had even gone so far as to question two of their closer, female mates (Anna and Hannah who lived upstairs in the attics) about their views concerning Colin and each had given roughly the same reply, that there was something missing in Colin; basically, he had no ‘sex appeal’ none at all, not even a bit. It was as simple as that. They both agreed however, that Colin was a great guy, they enjoyed his company, felt safe being alone with him (despite his being a little weird) but the thought of ever having any kind of sexual relationship with him had simply never entered their heads. Determined to understand, Keith had now forced that particular idea into their minds and their reactions had been to pull faces, shake their heads in the negative, and laugh in that exclusive sort of way, which Keith had experienced before in the company of women but which he could never quite understand.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Keith felt certain that there must be someone, somewhere who would fall for Colin… it was just a question of whether or not they would ever actually meet.
He pondered this as Colin dragged the table and stool a few feet further into the centre of the room. With wool and pins stuffed into his pockets he clambered back up to the ceiling. Keith watched and waited as the web began to take shape. Eventually, an idea popped into his head.
"Col, what you reckon to a party?" Colin dropped his ball of wool and seeing that Keith had no intention of getting it for him, began to climb down from the stool. He stood on the table the sun shinning on his back as he looked down at Keith.
"A party, here… well I’m not really."
"Come on Col, think about it, we’ve got all this space and look at this room, it’s party perfect." Colin thought of his room full of drunken punk rockers leaping about breaking things, stealing things, anything could happen, furniture ruined by cigarette burns, alcohol stains, vomit. He tried to be assertive.
"Keith, I really don’t think…"
"We’ve got the squat of squats Col, the cream of squats, the best squat in the world and we don’t do nothing with it. Just look at this room for Christ’s sake, its brilliant, what with the mobile mirrors, the metal flowers, the sea-worn tree trunk and now, a bloody great spiders web. Brilliant, bloody brilliant." Colin was really worried now.
"I’m not really a party sort of person."
"Exactly, all the more reason to have one."
"I’m not sure I follow your logic really… I’m, well I..." Just then there was a knock at the door and Andy walked in. He was tall and dark and had the look of a man who rarely slept. Keith turned to him.
"Andy, me and Col were just saying what a great idea it would be if we had a party, here, in Colin’s room, what do you think?"
"Yea great." Said Andy rolling a cigarette from Colin’s pouch.
"Brilliant, obviously it’ll have to be on a giro day so we can buy loads of booze and we’ll need speed, loads of speed and dope obviously we’ll need loads of dope." Andy lit up, nodding in agreement.
"Yea, next Friday. Better start inviting people." Colin still stood on the table. He felt cold despite the sun. He said.
"I’m sorry, I’m not sure…"
"Brilliant!" Shouts Keith as he jumps up from his chair. "I’ll go tell the punks upstairs."

Andy was a thief. He liked to think of himself as a serious and experienced housebreaker, the sort of villain who could tell, through experience, whether a particular drum was worth breaking into or not. The trouble was, he knew that in reality he was a crap thief, the kind of suspicious looking character that hangs about in well-to-do suburban streets, hands stuffed into the pockets of his black bomber-jacket looking shifty and obviously up to no good. On more than one occasion he had been arrested before he had even broken in and on those occasions when he did manage to get into a house, it was rare that he would find anything of much value.

Andy was on the run. As usual he had come out of prison with a great new scam, which he had worked well. The scam involved forging Post-Office savings books and he had made a packet for about three months. In fact he had done so well that he could have fulfilled his dream of travelling around the world and maybe smuggling a load of smack back into the country when he returned but, as always, he had gone too far, been too greedy and got caught. The judge gave him five years for the PO books but after a few months they had put him in the open prison at Lay Hill and he and another guy had escaped. He would never forget the thrill of that night, the daring belly-crawl across a railway bridge to freedom, the screws all running about flashing their torches and shouting to one another. And the amazement on the faces of the others when he arrived here, at the squat, the following morning, they had celebrated all day and into the night and Keith had toasted him as a latter-day Robin Hood, a hero of the lost generation of Thatcher’s Britain. Priceless.

It was Friday morning. The police had just left with Andy’s few belongings. They had searched the house from top to bottom but had found nothing except for a few roaches and a shopping-trolley full of larger, vodka and gin but since Keith had still got the receipt there was nothing they could do about it.
They had smashed down the front door at about six-thirty that morning, pulled Keith from his bed shouting about someone called Eric Hayes whom Keith had never heard of. Once the situation had calmed down, they herded everyone into Colin’s room (it being the only decent room in the house they said), and started asking questions. Eric, it turned out, was the guy who had escaped from prison with Andy a few weeks earlier but since they had gone their separate ways no one in the squat had ever met him or had any idea where he might be.

Eventually, the detective in charge began to mellow and finally told them what had prompted the raid. On the previous night, an elderly woman had phoned the police to say that a man was trying to break into her house via a downstairs window and that, in the process, he had made so much noise that she and her neighbours had been woken. A Mister Evans, who lived next door, had challenged the burglar who, on trying to escape over a back fence, had slipped and sprained his ankle. When the police arrived sometime later they found Andy sitting in the garden sipping a mug of cocoa, whilst the elderly woman wound a bandage around his rapidly swelling foot. Andy had been re-arrested and taken straight to prison.
It was obvious. He had gone out that evening to steal money, jewellery or whatever he could so that he could buy drugs for the party the following evening.
"Now the poor bastards back in prison doing five years." Said Keith after the police had finally left them alone. "And we’ve got no speed for tonight. Shit!" Colin sighed and looked up at the finished web on the ceiling.
"Yes, poor Andy. I suppose we’ll have to cancel the party now Keith… don’t you think?"
Keith spun round pointing at the shopping-trolley.
"No fucking way! Andy got nicked for this party and the least we can do is have a bloody good drink in his honour."
"Oh yes, yes of course, I didn’t mean… well yes, absolutely."

Keith was in that strange state of being asleep but being almost awake. He knew that he could not open his eyes because it would be too painful. His head hurt already and he knew that sunlight would be unbearable if he exposed himself to it too soon. He thought about the party, it had been a dull affair really. Due to the raid, hardly anyone had turned up, they all thought that everyone in the squat had been arrested and so saw no point in going. Hanna and Anna had come down from the attics and the punks who lived in the derelict rooms on the next floor had stayed for an hour or two, drank all the larger and then left for last orders. After they had gone, Hanna produced some good blow prompting Colin (tired of listening to The Ruts, the Slits and The Fall all evening), to regain control of his own record player and put Pink Floyd on.

It was all very nice and in his drunken state, Keith had begun to wonder about the possibility of the four of them becoming more intimate. He knew that Colin had a thing for Hanna and Keith had always fancied both of them even though he knew they were a couple. Still, you did read about these things.
He lay still, thinking and decided that the last thing he could remember was opening another bottle of vodka and singing Shine on you crazy diamond (very well as he recalled) and there was something else, yes, a memory of soft, warm skin, of hands caressing his body, his hands exploring in response, lips and tongues, kissing passionately. ‘Bloody hell’ he thought, ‘Anna must have been well pissed to sleep with me.’ But then his eyes flew open. Anna didn’t have a beard.

Despite the pain, his eyes began to focus and he saw above him a turquoise woollen spiders web. Slowly he turned his head to the left and saw Colin, naked beside him, a contented smile upon his sleeping face. As carefully as he could, Keith slipped out of the bed, gathered up his strewn clothes and crept towards the door. Just as he reached it he heard Colin stirring. He stopped and turned around. Their eyes met across the dishevelled duvet.
"Great party Col." He said. "Brilliant."

© Graham Attenborough Nov 2005

Graham lectures in history at the University of Portsmouth

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