Sunday, 9 February 2014

A true fable on material possession...

This story is, like, totally true. Apart from all the bits where I've tried to squeeze real life experience from memory and then translate it into useful, but artificial, medium of written language. But anywho...

I used to spend loads of money. Throughout university, throughout most of twenties, I spent well beyond my means. Socialising (i.e.. drinking heavily) can be pretty expensive. Due to my cultural interests, I collated tons of awesome films to show off. I hoarded albums from all genres to fit my multitude moods. I coveted my books on all subjects, many I had owned since I was a teenager. Although never much of a collector, after a while I had what is known amongst sociologists as "a shitload of stuff".

In 2011, after many failed attempts at squatting, I finally bit the bullet moved into a squat in Dalston, East London. I didn't want to cart my cornucopia of possessions through the ever-changing landscape of squatworld, so I took advantage of my friend's massive basement and stored everything there, apart from a few essentials. All fine, all dandy. And off I trotted.

Six months later. Helping run a squatted social centre and working part-time in a youth club, I was hardly left wanting for things to do.  I was kept constantly occupied by the lovely and/or unhinged people I lived with. There was a constant flow of stuff that needed doing. The lifestyle, whilst rough around the edges, was plentiful in personal fulfilment. I didn't need the possessions in the basement, so I'd - a little selfishly - put off doing anything with them. Even more selfishly, I also didn't give a thought to share them. I guess unconsciously, I wanted the best of both worlds - to not utilise my possessions, but also still retain power of them. Not a great attitude when you're claiming an anti-private property position and squatting.

(Now, I'm not believer in God, destiny, signs, omens, portents or any of that cow-pat. But if was, I would probably introduce the next bit of the story with something like: "and then fate came around to teach me a lesson". However, since I have a belief system based on evidence, I'll say something like: "and then there was a random, chance occurrence that made me rethink my political position on such issues as property and possession" instead.)

I was working at the youth club one sunny afternoon. If memory serves, I was probably doing something really vital to the future of young Britain such as eat falafal/biscuits, drink tea or listen to punk rock. In the midst of this important work, I get a phone call from the friend in who's basement my possessions were festering.

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Alright mate?

Him: Alright.

Me: How's it going?

Him (slightly distractedly): Err.. yeah, alright.


Me: What's up?

Him: Well, there's been a flood.

Me: Okay...

Him: Outside the house. A waterpipe burst. The whole street's flooded.

Me: Shit!

Him: Yeah... er... the basement's flooded too.

Me: Oh right.

Him: Yeah, all your stuff... it's gone.

Me: There was no chance of getting it?

Him: Basement filled up in seconds.

Me: Fuck.

Him: Yeah. Sorry mate.

Me: Oh, er, no worries... there was nothing you could do.

Him: Yeah... anyway, pop over later.

Me: Yeah, alright.

I hung up. A weird feeling came over me. I went in and told my boss. He seemed to be as horrified as I should've been. My head felt like a massive piece of fluff. It was like I should be feeling something but just couldn't. He sent me a photo of a car outside his house, up to its windows in water.

I went round to my friend's house that day. I picked through the soggy, drowned mess. There were a few things I was upset at being destroyed - obscure punk records, little known/unread books... but for the most part I just didn't give a shit. Over the time I'd been away from my possession, it had become abundantly clear just how little a part they played in my actual life.

I still see the attraction of having a huge collection of stuff. Art, tools, whatever... these are very, very great things indeed. But it is clear that this can easily lead to an unhealthy attachment to material possessions. I was owning this stuff simply for the satisfaction of owning it. If we arranged our social dynamics more equally and openly, then maybe we could utilise our possessions to greater effect. Wouldn't this be more mutually beneficial? Wouldn't it be more fun? Fuck the material value - what about the social value of communal ownership? In our own little ways, we can practice these things in our day to day lives. Sounds way healthier to me than letting your stuff rot in a mate's basement. *

* unreserved apologies and thanks to my friends who helped support my ludicrous lifestyle choices.

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