When my parents took possession of a vandalised house in the 1970’s, they took out a mortgage which immediately put them under enormous strain as interest rates soared in those early years of becoming homeowners. The promises of low interest rates soon had them under the spell of Margaret Thatcher. Of course, possession is only nine-tenths of the law, as is famously cited, and my parents still fail to realise they don’t actually own the building they call home. The £20,000 price tag attached to the house on the date of sale covered the land, the materials and the labour used to put the structure together and was all paid for before my parents even arrived on the scene, so why did my poor old Mum and Dad have to slave away for 25 years and pay over £500,000 to the bank before they were released from the burden of indebtedness? The fact they still don’t actually own the house they live in is an irony that still manages to escape them, the bank still holds the deeds, the Crown ultimately, still holds the title. The deeds were repackaged and resold numerous times meaning that literally tens of millions of pounds were made off the back of my parent’s signatures, their naivety, their willingness to work tirelessly, their failure to ask questions and their choice (though they may not have realised it) to support the usury system. If the government or the banks ever wished to repossess the house, there are methods they could employ to ensure they retained control of this tiny estate, as has been seen many thousands of times around the country over the last few hundred years. Look at the many eco-constructions here and around the world that have been demolished by departments who have managed to claim authority. Who can resist the determination of a criminal government backed up by a corrupt judiciary and an armed police force?
The word mortgage means “grip of death”. You wouldn’t give your worst enemy a mortgage if you really had a heart. The practice has been so prevalent and normalised by intensive marketing and educational indoctrination that we commonly don’t even see how wrong it is. The acceptability of ‘a passive income’ is so widespread that landlords rarely even suspect the role they play in the hierarchy of slavery on this planet.
My parents are not alone. All around this country, people slave from 9 – 5 and worse to pay off fictional loans on homes they don’t even own and most will never be able to pay-off the banks, many will be ruined in the process. Many families buckle under the strain of trying to maintain the facade of a cohesive nuclear family whilst cracking under the pressure of sustaining an economy that never has enough money in it to service all the debt, a game we can never win. The majority of family breakdowns can be traced back to the economic system we inhabit, rarely do parents have the skills or the time to invest in sustaining a healthy family life.
Since leaving the folds of my mother’s apron, I have lived in over thirty abodes I have mistakenly called home. The last house even had HOME written in large capital letters over the front door and in all the ground-floor windows. Now I look back I realise how deep this urge to declare the place HOME truly was.
When I first thought of using HOME as a name for a venue I was imagining a large marquee in a field. The idea was inspired as a result of uncomfortable periods at festivals when I realised I was searching for a home from home. I thought how welcoming it would be to walk into a crowded area and see a large illuminated sign saying ‘HOME’, somewhere cosy I could slowly gravitate towards, somewhere with friendly faces, warm drinks and even warmer smiles. There would be music, conversation, laughter and poetry; a sense of refuge, somewhere I’d be welcome to stay or even go and come back to.
Later, as I developed an educational establishment in Brighton I was inspired to use the name HOME in order to attract people to participate in pro-active learning, education in the context of a building where people lived and worked rather than some cold, neutral space that could only be used by students during working hours. I wanted to see a place where the learning would carry on until late, as late as the hosts were willing to stay up… and even after they’d gone to bed. And sure enough, hundreds of people were attracted to HOME and participated in workshops and courses, many asked to live there. We received a lot more requests to move in than we could have ever accommodated.
But then, inevitably enough, as had happened to me over thirty times before, the moment soon came when our HOME, the place we’d laboured to make as homely as possible, was to be taken from us, sold from under our feet, another chapter closed on my ongoing story of civilised destitution.
My parents lived in about 6 houses during the course of their whole lives. I am only 40 and have lived in well over thirty different rooms, flats, sheds and houses… I know many people of my age who have already passed sixty homes in their short lifetimes. In a culture where the rights of a tenant rarely even sustain the pretence of extending as far as the next six months, one can easily find oneself moving twice a year. The letting agencies go ‘ker-ching’ with every new signing of a contract and the owners are subsidised in their (relative) lives of leisure compared to their tenants who pay full-price to subsist in a building they try to call home, in vain.
The sixth month cycle of contemporary tenancies is a painful joke for those who have no other choice but to play the letting game:
Move in. Discover all the noises and neighbours one couldn’t detect in the five-minute daytime presentation by some arrogant twat in a suit. Buy curtains, blinds, bins and a whole set of household essentials from toilet brushes to light bulbs. Immediately start paying bills for non-existent services whilst waiting a few weeks for phone/internet/tv to be connected. Buy trinkets to render the naked spaces just a little more welcoming. Three months in and the bills begin to arrive, over-priced gas just stinks and electricity prices shock tenants when they realise how much it will cost to heat a home with an old boiler and insufficient insolation. The building works the agents knew about but failed to inform you of, then begin. Works continue over the road until five months have passed and the renewal contracts flop onto the doormat you recently purchased in IKEA as a whimsical attempt to render the experience of living there just a little more homely. Indeed, home sweet home, there’s really nothing like it.
There was a time in not such distant history that we all had a place to call home. And please don’t try to tell me that our body is our only true home or that “It’s a place inside” or that home is nothing more or less than this whole Spaceship Earth. These platitudes only serve to rile me further. The home I’m talking about was enjoyed by humans all over the world for many thousands of years, even for nomadic people who retained the right to travel and a choice of destinations. Home was a place we could return to where people knew our names. Home was a place where we had been loved and would likely be welcomed. Home was somewhere familiar. Even when separated from a nomadic tribe an individual would know that at certain times of the year, their people would be by the sea, or in a forest, or by a river, harvesting the fruits of a particular region at a time specified by the climate. We were never lost. We could always find our way home… but where is home now, to any of us? Maybe a few of the more privileged families have managed to retain a façade that resembles home but the deeper reality is that we’re all vagrants on this land. Since the global wave of Enclosures Acts we’ve all been wandering peasants paying tithes to feudal lords that now commonly masquerade as banks. Whether renting or playing the charade of ‘owning your own home’, the truth is that none of these buildings belong to us. We could all have them taken off us in a heartbeat. We don’t even have the right to defend our property from personal theft or attack.
Now I look back on HOME and the time when we were due to move to another location, I realise I was very lucky to have had that next building fall through. Whether it was because of divorce, interest rates, changes of mind, references, new legislation or any other reason, my sense of stability and home has always been victim to external circumstances and mostly, the private life of whoever I happened to call “landlord” at that time. I’m exhausted with the futility of trying to establish a sense of home. How many times am I to invest myself in polishing these four-cornered turds by painting, cleaning, maintaining and updating just so that I can have a sense of belonging that is snatched from my grasp as I begin to relax?
Why sustain this expensive pretence of being normal when really and truly, I want a home that can’t be taken from me. Since being without a home I have been living on an absolute pittance and yet I still feel more wealthy and certainly more free than I did when I was settled. Yes, sometimes I’d appreciate a room to call my own and a bed I could retire to at will but at what price? Am I really prepared to slave away to pay off someone else’s fictional mortgage to further enrich the profiteering bank system and endless corporate greed?
When I tell people I’m homeless I can feel how they flinch. It’s like they’re immediately on guard, waiting to be imposed upon, not that I ever ask, I only accept offers so far. I might be homeless but I have only slept outside one night and that was by choice. I’m fortunate enough to have earned enough social credit to have welcoming places where my immediate essentials are stashed away. Maintaining good personal hygiene and a charming disposition (for the most part), I avail myself of shared beds, sofas and the occasional house-sitting opportunity. A collection of belongings are residing in a lockup that I wonder if I shouldn’t just dispose of, who knows when I’ll next have a place to move them to? But despite the occasional awkwardness and inconvenience, so far, I still wouldn’t swap my situation for the relentless pressure that I now associate with paying the bills and exorbitant rents.
Looking back I realise that most of my adult life I have been gently buckling under the strain of responsibility for the buildings I have the slimmest of legal claim to. I’ve always been the sort of tenant a landlord would be happy to have, decorating, repairing, tidy and responsible. Did it ever earn me anything in return? After the contract was terminated, did any of those landlords I paid thousands of pounds to even return the slightest of favour? No, of course it was my fellow homeless citizens that offer shoulders to cry on and plates of food to share.
Often I hear people romanticising the idea of wanting to die peacefully at home but who in the Western world gets to do that these days? The majority of people who do actually get to die in their own homes predominantly suffer a lonely death in the confines of a room where people rarely visit. Even those people who manage to fight it out to the bitter end frequently surrender to the convenience of supported living and die in an alien bed that will be occupied by another ‘patient’ or ‘resident’ only a few days later.
If I earned enough money tomorrow would I rent the flat of my choice? Currently I’m asking myself this question a lot. Isn’t it time I applied my will and lived according to the principles I would really aspire to? Why on earth would I endorse this absolute insanity by acting in such a way as to reinforce the illusion that someone else has a greater right to property than I? This would be an act of cognitive dissonance in my life. I would like to say that I will never pay rent again, nor buy a house, but could I ever be sure to sustain that? Might I not break one day? Am I really willing to make myself a martyr for a cause?
All that I know is that the next time I choose to hang my hat and my HOME signs, I want to be able to take them down at a time of my choosing, driven by my own instinct to relocate, to follow a nomadic calling in my heart… not because I’m being compelled to vacate… not because, once again, I’m being moved on.