They say travel broadens the mind. But what about having an open mind in the first place? What about seeking alternatives, right where you are now? You don’t need to travel far to do that.
At some point you realise the decisions you made brought you where you need to be. Moving on is easy if you have somewhere to go; staying in one place; that’s the challenge. The endless cycle of work-weeks and weekends, the brick wall you’re banging your head against and calling it life.
How did I end up here? How does anyone end up anywhere at all?
London with its bad weather and high costs is one of the world’s leading financial centres. Decisions made here, force many people globally into worsening poverty. Economic power keeps the developing world too poor to develop. An over-crowded city with housing in crisis. Market rents driven by the financial sector hold people in wage slavery and most, seem happy to think they made it just because they arrived.
You are grateful for running water, food to eat and security but that ‘security’ has an emotional, spiritual and far-reaching cost. I’m grateful for eyesight, an ability to think, the courage of my convictions, early starts, birds in trees, kindness, opportunities, friends, family. I’m grateful it was not raining when I cycled home with my shopping.
They say the intelligent adapt, but how intelligent is it to adapt to a system which controls and contorts you and makes you feel trapped and diminished? I’d outgrown the challenge, learnt all I needed to know. I was running to stand still. A prisoner of my own life. Native American Indians, when deprived of their freedom thought their hearts would break; they did not understand the condition would not last forever.
Eight million people live in this city side by side in isolation and with varying degrees of self-delusion. The vast majority must lie to themselves daily in order to live with their conscience. Either that, or they’re working so hard in response to circumstances; they don’t have time to think. Our comfort comes at a cost which requires the disadvantage of others; do we willfully choose to ignore this? The system is corrupt and we are complicit. Capitalism has a mean spirit. Enough is never enough. With shallow depth and lofty heights, the superficial façades of this city shield an establishment of elitism and hierarchy which hold people down. Beneficiaries of a corrupt system, our apathy is violent. Why do we celebrate achievements which alienate the many and exalt only the few?
If you have any wish to live with integrity and truth, you begin to realise you’re in the wrong place to meet the right people.
Travel allowed me to wander and explore, to test my limits. It sparked curiosity and made me humble. It gave me values and insight. Staying in one place reduced me to an existence of limited experience and narrow certainty, surviving not thriving, a monotony of routine in a state of isolation. Too long defeated, worn out. Life was impossible. You can’t learn by yourself. We know ourselves through other people. The Africans call it Ubuntu.
Were the bars on my windows to keep ‘them’ out or to keep me in? I was being controlled. Rent, housing, home ownership, the whole set-up is a form of political control and we buy into it because we have no choice. I had no choice. I opted out. I needed a window to a more sane way of living. I jumped and hoped a net would appear.
Life, because it’s both the journey and the destination always leads you somewhere. My sister threw me a rope. I went north to a stone cold house on the side of a remote hill with freezing frosts and wide-open skies. A room with a coal fire was calling my name. North, from Hackney one of the poorest boroughs in London, to Northumberland on the borders with Scotland, the least populated county. I was lucky I had somewhere to go. Then a friend told me of an unassuming path near a railway bridge in South East London. A strip of unwanted land, once abandoned and taken up by student activists in the 1970s to provide housing for people priced out of the market who did not want to live alone. Thanks to the legacy of this vision, hidden away on this no-through road I am once again a citizen of the world. No longer being robbed with my own consent, I’m living on honest terms yet still, within a corrupt system. In London but not a part of it. Out on a limb.
A small room in a large house with seven other people. In a street with 120 musicians, artists, gardeners, students and anarchists. A breathing space in the city. A pocket of sanity in a city of fools who seem to be going about anyone’s business except their own. Buying into illusion, spending ‘disposable income’ on diversions to maintain status, with little awareness of the real reasons why they’re doing anything, indoctrinated to a system which prevents them from seeing decisions being made not only harm them, but harm many others too. I could not accept life on those terms. The cost of following convention may be your freedom and in fact, often is.
I now share decision-making and responsibility with the 120 other people in my street, each equal shareholders and landlords, co-operating and contributing to upkeep and management in exchange for fair rent with no profit motive.
I used to sense possibilities yet feel trapped by demands to meet the ever-inflating ‘cost of living’. I used to be personally accountable for doing everything for myself. I am now able to divert time to carpentry, to digging, to development rather than being stripped of the hours of my life to feed a machine with an insatiable appetite for my efforts and no conscience or thanks in return. I used to think there were no options but now, I know other possibilities do exist.
New Cross once home to 16th century shipmen and opium dealers has been in economic decline since the dockyards closed. Inner city poverty and diverse multi-culturalism surround us in the local neighbourhood of council and industrial estates. On the vibrant high street, market holders sing in their different languages. I’m in a village in Africa, a busy street in Mumbai, free of the aspirational social climbing so prevalent in other parts of the city.
Everything in nature has a home so why have we created a system which insists on capitalizing on our basic needs? Free market capitalism works only for a small margin of society and yet still, we comply. As Arundhati Roy observed; “The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We are many and they are few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
It takes inner resolve and courage to look at the wider impact and consequence of our accepted daily lives. Perhaps we need to be prepared to be more uncomfortable, to reject what is wrong, to continue seeking alternatives. To pull together and find co-operative solutions. Perhaps we can change the world by changing ourselves. Surely that is where it all starts…
Home is a ship on a window. Different to each person. A place from which you can grow and develop, leave and return. Home is your heart. It’s the places you have been. The people you have loved. A starting point. A destination. It ‘s the point from which all journeys begin.
As Chomsky so artfully states: “all over the place, from popular culture to propaganda, there is constant pressure to make people feel they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and consume.” Despite the conditioning, many of us know we are not helpless.” – we do have the power to change our lives and perspectives and refuse to be dominated by others. It just takes determination and will.
The world has many truths and alternatives. If you have the heart to feel them and the hands to reach out and touch them, they’re yours. We may travel to escape for a while from the lives we choose to lead, in search of sun or rest. We may feel possibilities are restricted; we need a break or a change of routine and perspective. I hope to encourage people to think just a little more critically about the possibilities for where they are now. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind but I do hope to reach people who think like me so they know, they are not alone.
With thanks to Sanford Housing Co-operative for giving me somewhere to live and the freedom to write.
In reference to ideas from ‘Against Civilisation’ a book of readings and reflections edited by John Zerzan.