For some reason I was “against” squatting until I had to do it. It was something that middle-class people did, a somehow privileged way of living, but needs must, I guess.
It was not something I was unfamiliar with. After a party, I would often accompany guys with bolt cutters to break into places, and many people I knew lived in quite beautiful buildings. The anarchists of the 121 bookshop on Railton Road were often round at my flat in Brixton in the Eighties.
“Do you pay rent for this?”
“Yes,” I used to mumble, ashamed. They would lecture me about private property and then embark on their favourite pastime. Monopoly. They used to do mammoth, 36-hour sessions on sulphate but I don’t even like board games.
Anyway, when I had a six-month-old baby and I needed somewhere to live fast, friends offered to help me squat a place in Cleveland Street. Very central. It belonged to the homeless persons unit and was empty. Seriously.
The room was lovely and I did it up. It had a tiny kitchen and bathroom. Living in one room with a baby was not so much hard as embarrassing. I lived in fear of social services coming round and seeing that sometimes I put the cot in the kitchen. All day, I studied, and squatting, it turned out, was very civilised. Until the eviction notice came.
I was to be evicted for being illegally in accommodation for homeless people. They would be making me homeless. They, Camden Council, would then have to rehouse me, as I had a small child. Kafkaesque it may have been. Desperate it certainly was.
I knew what I had to do. Every day, I trundled down to the housing office with my baby in a buggy and lots to read. I would sit there all day. Every day. And sometimes my baby would cry and I would let her, because I knew we had to be seen and heard. I now knew the jittery addicts and the kids just out of care by name, and they knew me.
Every day I would see a different housing officer. Every day I filled in loads of forms while holding my child on my knee. “You are making us homeless,” I would say.
“You are an illegal squatter,” they would say.
“But where will we go?”
“Into a homeless unit.”
“But that’s where I already live.”
My mission was to drive them slowly mad.
They were going to have to rehouse me.
Eventually, I wore them down. They offered me a two-bed council flat in King’s Cross. It was a palace. My child had her own room. We were no longer in danger of being homeless.
The relief I felt when they gave me the keys has never left me. The keys to that flat were the keys to freedom. That’s what council housing did. In the olden days.
This article appears in the 16 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn's Civil War