Extinction Rebellion in London. Living in a Squat. Practicing Yoga.
This is the story of how I lived in a squat in London while being a journalist for Extinction Rebellion. What does Yoga have to with it you may ask? Yoga is a way of living, a way of thinking and a way being. The movement that we practice are a gentle reflection of our internal balance, flexibility and strength. In each Asana (Yoga pose) we can find metaphors of life.
Back in November 2018, while in London documenting Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) first takeover, I found myself taking a huge step out of my comfort zone. I was given a last-minute cheap lodging option in south London. I was strapped for cash, and that was no joke. I could not afford paying rent in Bristol for a week as well as paying for accommodation and food in London. This was a voluntary position.
Because of that, before leaving home I packed smart. Knowing that I was going to start my nomadic journey soon, I took this moment to test run my packing abilities. I tried fitting everything that I could need in my Tamrac Anvil 27 camera bag (check the video here). Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work. I didn’t feel conformable dumping my non-camera related items out of the bags for every shoot. Especially since I would not always know where I would be staying. Also, my sleeping bag didn’t fit. Begrudgingly I filled my Mardingtop 50L rucksack (check video here) with cloths and sleeping bag easily, leaving my camera gear in the Tamrac.
Feeling like a turtle, with the rucksack on my back and the camera bag on my front I set off from Bristol catching the 5:10am with Megabus (the cheapest bus one could possibly find). It was a long day, having spent the better part of the day shooting the peaceful but disruptive protest at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in Westminster. 12 November 2018. (continue reading my experience of the 7 takeover days here).
It was getting late at the office and secretly I was hoping to sleep here. I had arrange to stay at friends in a couple of days, and didn’t feel inclined to ask an extension on my visit. A few organizers asked me where I was staying for the week. Being honest and hoping to pull on some sympathetic string now being 9pm I unveiled my plan. That didn’t work. “Great”, I thought to myself, “I skipped dinner to be locked out of the office anyway”.
When one door closes two more open.
Walking towards Discomfort:
Practicing Yoga and fun in the squat.
Chatting on our way out of the office a few options for me came up. There was on offer the hostel where the majority of XR team was. A Quakers places where other XR members who had sleeping bags were staying at. Then, the squat. Their eyes darted at me with squinting inquisition, pausing the rolling of their cigarettes.
It was heading to 10pm. It was cold and the guy with the keys to the squat was not replying to his phone. The place was a 30 minute train journey in an area completely unfamiliar to me. In the opposite direction from were the other XR team was staying. I was tired, and although concerned about the safety of my photographic equipment and my belly clenched with apprehension I wanted to have a new experience. I saved the address and walked to Westminster Tube station.
The area looked really nice almost fairy like with the soft and warm glow from the street lamps. Lines of tall oak trees lived outside the hedgerows of the Victorian two to three story houses with attics. I was not expecting to be in this type of neighborhood.
When I got there, the house seemed empty. No lights, no sound. I knocked and I called without being answered to. It started to drizzle. Panic started to creep in. Noticing its neediness behavior I paused my actions, filled my lungs with life, and exhaled my agitation. I closed my eyes and listening to the trickle of rain I fell into a meditative state. When I came out, I felt grounded and at peace. I sat on the porch, looked at the time. Two minutes to midnight. I thought chuckling to myself “worst come to the worst I’ll sleep outside tonight, that would be a new experience!”.
Just before I was able to take out my sleeping bag, like magic, the guy walked into the courtyard. I couldn’t believe it. He was very apologetic about the whole situation and with a concerned tone said “I hope someone is in as I don’t have the key”. Like me he called out but nothing. Resigned, he jumped the tall wooden garden wall (no easy feat) and a few minutes later the front door was opened. Apparently the generator ran out of fuel. We warmed up by the fire in the living room and got to know each-other before going to bed.
I felt blessed, loved, and all the goodness in this world flowing throw me at that point in time. With my torch light I made my way to a room trying to avoiding walking over the occasional rat shit and rubbished on the floor. I woke in a huge room painted yellow by the early morning rays. The warm sunlight shined through the big Victorian windows. A pleasant wake up call for my cold face. I explored the huge house with it’s labyrinth of stairs and doors. Found an empty room (and also the cleanest), set up my tripod and camera, and started my practice before packing up and going to work.
To this day this experience has been a great lesson to live outside the realm of fear. The temporary moment of discomfort that I felt as I walked towards the squat, is a strong reminder of the jewels that lie just beyond it.
The very next evening, with some help I cooked a curry for 10 people in the fireplace as the gas for the hob ran out. It was magic.