Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The struggle that is without joy is the wrong struggle

Strange happenings are afoot at The Heights. I had a call from my landlady yesterday, asking me to go and see her urgently. Thinking I was about to be evicted from the Earth Mother House, I went straight there. Turns out, due to a series of unfortunate events out of her control, come July, my landlady will no longer be in charge of the Heights. Estate agents are taking control of our lovely old building and rent increases may inevitably follow.

In order to fully understand why this will have such an impact on the residents of the Heights, you would need to know a little something about our landlady. As I’m not sure how keen she is to be broadcast all over the Interpipe, I’ll call her Miss X. Miss X runs a few properties in and around Southsea, and she runs them all along a similar ethic. She explained it to me yesterday.

“The most important thing to me has always been that each building is filled with a community of people who all get along, a house of people who aren’t in each others’ pockets, but know enough about each other to be there when things go wrong. It's not about the money. That's why I try to make sure the rents are low.”

Her ethos works too. In the ten years I’ve lived at the Heights, I’ve grown to know all the residents. We exchange birthday cards, invites to each others’ flats, and when things go wrong – such as the two fires we’ve experienced there before, in which my next door neighbour risked his own life to save the life of the man who lived beneath him – everyone helps everyone else. It’s no seventies commune, but it is a community and it matters. Moreover, on a personal note, without the Heights, I could not have spent the last few years working for peanuts in my local authority, I could not have got a degree and a Masters and I would not be able to spend two days a week pursuing my freelance writing. The Heights has helped to shape my life.

The Heights houses some unusual people. We are a community of writers, painters, musicians, shopkeepers, sculptors. Some of us lived some pretty crazy lives before we got here, and we don’t always fit easily into the outside world, but we get along well with each other. There are 15 people living in maybe a dozen flats where I live. I’ve known almost of all them for the last ten years, and if the rents were to go up in line with the market value of the flats themselves, I think almost all of us would have to leave.

When I first heard the news, I started to panic. Fears about having to give up my newly launched creative work rained down on me. You’ll have to get a proper, grown-up, full-time job and stop mucking around with all this creative nonsense, I told myself. You’ll have to grow up. Of course it didn’t take long for me to dismiss that idea. I thought about all the amazing memories I have of the last ten years in the Heights: the laughter, love, tears and rivers of booze that have flowed around within its walls. I realised that I’m already one of the luckiest people I know to have enjoyed the last decade in a place like this. And I remembered that change is inevitable and as difficult as I choose to make it. Maybe it’s just time for something different, I thought.

This morning I shared my newly found zen with the Chief.

“No Smurf!” he commanded, as he strode purposely across the Common, ”This isn’t the time for acceptance! It’s the time to fight! You must defend your home and your community!”

He recommended I book an appointment with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau at once. This afternoon, two of my Heights mates called me, preparing a meeting of all the residents for this weekend, to see what we could do to stay in our homes. I nominated myself to go to the CAB on Friday for some advice, with the Chief’s words ringing in my ears. I’ll keep you posted.


Mark Wright said...

Hey - welcome back! I was starting to get a bit worried too. And, yes, the Chief is right - fight them on beaches, etc!

Mark Wright said...

Oh, and sonds to me like you should be writing a novel or film/TV script about life in The Heights.