Dan and I lived in a perpetually dusty warehouse studio, with nearly no light with shadows cast over most of the room. We lived in Limehouse in east London, it was one street away from the Thames and had an attitude and character that only someone who lived in Limehouse could feel; it was
one of those pockets where you could drive right through and comment on the shittiness. It had fried chicken shops, a CostCutter and a DLR station. But it also had a community center that sold books with a bartering system, free movies on Friday nights, and carefully selected cheap snacks. It had a community of youth and many squats scattered around the streets, it had a basin that was cut off from the Thames and drew all the young people out of their studios to swim topless and free in summer, it also had one of the last artist studio communities of its kind in London. And we lived at the very top of it.
Furniture was sparse and odd and collected from around other studios in the warehouse. We used pots and plates from the people who had moved out of the building and left the remnants of their stay downstairs for people to use. We had the top loft, with exposed metal beams and uncovered insulation, the only two working fireplaces left in the building and a mezzanine plank of wood to call our bed. We would climb up to the roof outside the windows and the sun was free and wide, not cut short in an afternoon by a taller building, never cast in shadow, the rain fell without obstruction, and the wind could sweep without barriers. It was flat and sun soaked in the summer; people’s legs perched outside their own windows and a couple of failed attempts at vegetable gardens. We would sit up there, quiet and reading in the sun, building a silent friendship with the contemporary penthouse inhabitants opposite, learning their bulldogs’ names and waving at their guests when they had a party; loving the aggressive contrast between the two pictures: the one they saw and the one we saw.
Cable Street was home to hundreds of people who you barely saw. Walking the hallways there would be muffled base leaking out of rooms or doors left open to invite a non existent breeze and each studio was different, dark and gothic, light and homely, some filled with a jungle of plants, others with a pro level of bohemian, over 200 makeshift studios, a fetish club, a live music bar and a mosque all in the one massive warehouse.
We spent the whole of winter on our couch, precariously close to the little coal fire. The studio was too big, and half of it lay empty, we moved the furniture around weekly enjoying the freshness it brought to the old room. We had no water and no bathroom, and we relied on the rain to wash away the piss from the guttering when we became too cold and too lazy to walk the two flights of stairs to the shared toilet. It was so cold inside during winter that our olive oil froze solid for 3 months. We came home from work wet and freezing, stripped off our layers of damp clothing quickly and put all the dry clothes we owned on and lay in bed giggling and kissing keeping each other warm till morning. We slept on a piece of carpet on our mezzanine piece of wood and it was comfortable. We slept in unwashed sheets and became the same level of filth as The warehouse itself and only when we ventured to a well-lit and cared for space would we be conscious of the dirt on our clothes and faces.
We ate with two forks from one big pot, put on a chair as we sat on the floor: pasta, couscous, pasta and couscous and sometimes pizza. We hardly washed, it was cold and we had no heating, every 4 days we would walk down to the man who sold the shower tokens, buy one or two with a found Pound and take the walk to the other side of hollow boxed shaped building tp the shower, keeping an eye on the hidden courtyard below as you walk around it, watching people in layers and layers of clothing talking to each other through scarfs and carrying CostCutter shopping bags with one or two items within.
We moved to a smaller studio on the other side of the building after winter, a quarter of the size and with just the one super sized window. We could no longer reach the rooftop and we no longer had the floor space for long range darts, but we had sunlight morning to night, and we had a spring’s freshness after the deep freeze of winter. We had brought down the piano from our top floor studio, it was a heavy industrious piano, we had rolled it on it’s side to get it into the (sometimes working) metal cage lift and you could hear the pain it was in and I could feel the sorrowful stare it was giving me as if to say ‘why are you doing this to me?’ It played an agonizing involuntary song as we scraped it across the rough concrete floors to rest and to never be played in our new studio.
I lived there for 2 years and I want to go back everyday, but I doubt I ever will. Even though it was a creative orgy it didn’t bring a creative movement for me, I wasn’t productive or hard working while living there. I was simply floating on the little island we had all created for ourselves, it was a false creative home. I felt unique and capable of some interesting things, but the contagious relaxing vibe made me sloth into my natural lazy state, so my happiness wouldn’t have lasted. We left prematurely and I believe it was because this feeling of no forward movement was starting to creep.
We sleep on two mattresses one on top of the other, simply to store the excess of mattress, an excess of comfort.