Musical Interlude #2: Let’s listen to “Guns of Brixton” in Greek!

As I was writing my next blog post I thought I needed some music so I started messing about on YouTube – as you do – and somehow ended up on that playlist that’s got 30-odd versions of “Guns of Brixton”.

So let’s listen to “Guns of Brixton” in Greek. There are many fine covers of this classic, but this version’s got me hooked at the moment. I love that soulful rebetika inflection. It proves you don’t need bouzoukis to do rebetika!

So enjoy! Meanwhile, I’ll be back very soon with news about a couple of stories. Tentacles might be involved, along with some more tunes…

History is not just about the past…

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Recently I marked the 30th anniversary of the eviction of the South London Women’s Hospital occupation with five or so friends.

From July 1984 to March 1985 hundreds of women occupied a hospital near Clapham Common to oppose the closure of the only hospital where women can be treated by women. This started with a staff ‘work-in’ that kept the hospital running. However, as doctors and staff accepted positions elsewhere the action turned into a community occupation. We kept up a 24-hour picket and turned the hospital into a campaign and community centre. We invited other groups to use the space, and held activities like jumble sales, tea dances, picnics and public meetings. A radical nurses’ group and an Asian women’s health group also met there. We linked up with other occupations and Women Against Pit Closures, hosting women from mining communities when they came to London to campaign or take part in demonstrations. Women from Greenham also joined us.

And then the date this occupation came to an end 30 years ago snuck up on me. Was it really that long ago? I still remember the intense weeks that preceded the eviction – the noise of hammers as barricades went up, sleepless nights and speeches from the balcony, the songs, the relationships that started and ended.

However, the eviction of the occupation also marked the beginning of other initiatives as women regrouped across South London and carried on other struggles. Our get-together has reminded me again why anniversaries like this are important, and why it is so pleasurable to reaffirm ties of common purpose and comradeship over the years. I previously wrote about the occupation of the South London Women’s Hospital in my 2013 post From Austerity to Fairyland, and this entry also stressed that history is not only about the past.

11080973_1026554550705237_2999057420019525871_nWe met on Sunday 29 March, though the actual eviction date was 27 March. The weather wasn’t up to much and storms were predicted. This might have put many people off, but we still had a good afternoon in each other’s company as we checked out the changes. The old hospital building is now the site of a Tesco and a block of flats – social or private, I’m not sure. The Tesco superstore now encompasses the former outpatients and what might have been Cowdray ward. Most sadly, the nurses’ home and the garden where we had picnics has been replaced by the Tesco’s carpark. The former Preston House –along with the 4th floor ward AKA ‘Cloud Nine’, it was associated with the more cosmic girls  – had been torn down and the main building extended in its place.

We took a walk to Cavendish Road cop shop, where we debated the chronology of eviction day. There was some confusion over the sequence of events but it went like this: first they got us down from the roof (I remember sitting on top of the cover of the hatch while the cops were pounding at it and pushing it up). They nabbed two women, shoved the rest of us about and eventually let us go. Then there was further pushing and shoving and the proverbial ‘scuffles’ when we tried to de-arrest our two friends.

EvictionAfter they were carted away we went to Kennington Police station where the two women were being held (In fact, I don’t remember going there, but I’d written an account that mentions that, so it must be true). Then we went to picket the police press conference at the Cavendish Road station. We intended to go to the ‘Burger Bar’ for a long-delayed breakfast, and as you can guess this Burger Bar no longer exists. But we first thought we’d have a look at the hospital… before we knew it, the cops were nicking one of us for allegedly spitting on the ground near them. We got into another extended ‘scuffle’, joined by a bunch of local schoolgirls, and six of us were arrested. Happy days!

We’ve all been affected by gentrification, yet I was still surprised at the state of the Windmill pub. At least half of it’s been 10708500_10153332996572228_7840531236355312206_oturned into a hotel so it was pretty crowded and choco-bloc with the plummy and yummy. It’s hard to believe I had a birthday drink here in 2001, when it was a sprawling place that sold decent real ale along with admittedly vile microwaved food. While I don’t miss the microwaved food, I do miss the space and relative friendliness of the old Windmill. Claiming a table for our crew was like mounting a new occupation in itself. Eventually, we more or less squatted a table in the grand tradition of the SLHW occupation.

Even though this was reunion, we talked a lot about what we are doing now. Current issues in the NHS and fighting cuts was a major concern, since a few of us still work in that area. I’ve concluded that holding events like this are much more than an exercise in nostalgia. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past…” as George Orwell put it. Documenting our history and keeping it alive has implications for the future, and how we try to live in the present.

And speaking of the past.. I was last in this area around 2005 and enjoyed a cheap and tasty South Indian meal on Balham Hill, where there were several places to choose from. But these eateries are no longer with us, replaced by Costa, M&S and other chains. So when we left the WIndmill we found a Turkish/Mediterranean place near Clapham Common tube, where we enjoyed a leisurely dinner and a good gossip.

When I got home I found that a few new members had joined our the South London Women’s Hospital occupation Facebook group, including a young woman who was born in the occupied hospital in 1984. It’s been great catching up with people, previously lost to the pre-internet past. People are welcome to join this group here. Maybe you’ve taken part in the occupation, visited once or twice – or maybe you weren’t even around at the time but would have liked to be. Perhaps you have a general interest in direct action, anti-austerity struggles, the state of the NHS and women’s health. This group is for you!

We’d particularly welcome more photos. There were loads of women were taking photos at the time. At one point when we started to barricade, we got stopped for a while by a videomaker and a photographer while they documented the hospital in its pre-barricaded state. But with this taking place in pre-internet and pre-Facebook days we’ve all lost touch, and perhaps this group can change that.

occupational-hazards-225x300For further reading on the SLHW occupation and hospital occupations in general, I’d recommend Occupational Hazards, a dossier compiled by those fine folks at Past Tense Publications. It includes a spiel by me, for starters!

You can also find some great photos online here by Sarah Booker, which include Greenham, Women Against Pit Closures, Clause 28 demos, various defence campaigns – and the South London Women’s Hospital occupation.

Aliens, Jews, reviews and song!

jva1I’m excited to announce that Jews vs Aliens – which includes my story ‘The matter of Meroz’ – is now out! Jews vs Aliens and its companion volume Jews vs Zombies are both edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene, and published as e-book originals by Jurassic London. A limited paperback edition will follow in the autumn.

Proceeds from these books will benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused. Based in Greenwich in south London, Mosaic offers a national helpline, as well as counselling, advocacy, support groups and therapy.

I’m proud to find myself in a stellar line-up that includes The Big Bang Theory’s writer/co-executive producer Eric Kaplan, BSFA Award winning science fiction writer Adam Roberts and Nebula Award winner author Rachel Swirsky. Another name that stands out for me is Orange Prize winner Naomi Alderman, since I’ve read and enjoyed all her books – Disobedience, The Lessons and The Liars Gospel. I’ve also been wanting to read Shimon Adaf’s novel with PS Publishing, Sunburnt Faces, so I look forward to his story in JvZ.

My tale ‘The Matter of Meroz’ takes place in Russia in 1905, in the wake of a partial revolution and the reaction that unleashed a new wave of pogroms against Jewish communities. Naturally, there were different views on how to deal with this threat. Raizl is an activist in the socialist General Jewish Labour Bund who takes part in militant self-defence groups and labour agitation. Meanwhile, her kid brother Samuel has taken to kabbalah in a big way, but regards golems as passé. Instead he gazes at the stars, pores over the Talmud and looks for solutions in the ‘leaping of the roads’ and the ‘crumpling of the sky’.

Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K. Mulman. (YIVO)

Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K Mulman (YIVO)

It’s worth mentioning that the Bund was resolutely anti-Zionist and also that women played a major role in the organisation. You can find out more about the Bund from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and this article at the Jewish Women’s Archive.

It’s still early for reviews for JvA. However, Horror Uncut has received a mention from James Everington. In fact, it’s an enthusiastic recommendation for Horror Uncut:

“Its theme of modern day austerity, its victims and its monsters, makes this a timely anthology, but the sheer quality of stories on display makes it one for the ages as well. Thoroughly recommended; buy it before your native currency collapses.”

On my contribution, he writes: “‘Pieces Of Ourselves’ by Rosanne Rabinowitz contained a brilliantly evocative description of modern day protesting before becoming enjoyably surreal.”

The second review is not such a new one, but it is now making its first appearance online. Peter Tennant’s review of Helen’s Story originally appeared in Black Static 36, where he reviewed Helen along with a recent edition of Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan. All this is now online in Peter’s Trumpetville blog.

Of Helen’s Story, he concludes:

“Rabinowitz has created a work that remains true to but at the same time reinterprets its source material… Her Helen remains an outsider, the archetypal stranger in a strange land, but at the same time she is somebody more feared than she is fearsome, a victim of others’ terror of the unknown, often codified simply as the desire to avoid scandal. At the end her story marks the power of creativity, the fecundity of both nature and the human mind, while at the same embodying those things in the figure of the shape shifter Pan and the abilities with which his children are endowed.”

Peter’s perceptive observations on Machen and the qualities that continue to inspire contemporary writers also offer a good introduction to new readers. He writes that Machen “carefully constructs a schemata in which the ineffable seems just a heartbeat distant from the everyday, with the wonders of the natural world shining through the story, but all the same at the calm centre of the tale is the idea that the mysteries will forever be beyond our grasp…” This mingling of the mundane and the fantastical is what inspires me in the work of writers such as Elizabeth Hand, Caitlin Kiernan, M John Harrison (especially Course of the Heart and Signs of Life), the late Graham Joyce and Joel Lane, and many others.

Meanwhile, writing about Yiddish culture and Jewish radicalism gives me a fine excuse to play some music. So here’s Daniel Kahn singing a Bundist anthem “In Struggle”, a ditty that crops up in “Meroz”. (NOTE 25.03.15: Oops! What a shame. YouTube has taken the Daniel Kahn vid down. I’ll leave this empty space up for now until I find a replacement or someone posts it again. In the meantime listen to it on the Arty Semite blog.)

And since I’m the kind of geek who doesn’t just simply play songs, but plays versions of songs… Here’s a rendition of “In Struggle” by the Klezmatics, in a video dedicated to the Israeli direct action anti-occupation group Anarchists Against the Wall:

Another Yiddish song that appears in “Meroz” is “Daloy Polizei” also known as “Down with the police”. Here’s an early version:

And here’s a revised version by Geoff Berner:

And a Colombian folk-punk version: Finally, thrash metal!

And now I’ll end the post with a more recent song, though it’s based on a very old tune. I saw these guys live last January, and they were excellent. Highly recommended if they come to your town. Dumay dumay! Think!

Squat City Rocks

squat-city-rocksThis post is about music, squatting and reclaiming our city. It’s partly been inspired by Richard Dudanski’s book Squat City Rocks: Protopunk and Beyond, which I read just before Christmas. Dudanksi was drummer for the 101ers, an energetic rockabilly-flavoured band based in the squats of 1970s West London. They are most known as a precursor to the Clash, with Joe Strummer (aka Woody Mellor) at the helm.

I have a lot of rock n roll biographies on my list of want-to-reads: Richard Hell, Jah Wobble, a guy from the Pogues… So far I’ve read Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Viv Albertine’s Clothes Clothes Clothes. Music Music Music. Boys Boys Boys. I came across Dundanski’s book by accident, and it’s a happy one.

As expected, Squat City Rocks visits some of the places and people in Viv Albertine’s book. Drummer Dundanski could’ve been in the Clash, but he hated manager Bernie Rhodes so much he decided to carry on without Joe and work on his own musical projects. He went on to play with Public Image, Basement 5, the Raincoats and other bands. This book, however, focuses most on the 101ers, the West London squatting scene of the late 70s and his sometimes strained but enduring friendship with Joe Strummer.

This book is apparently self-published, based on Richard’s blog. I’m glad it’s seen the light of day. Dudanski does not write with the poetry of Patti Smith or the spikiness and bite of Viv Albertine, but he writes from the heart and evokes a time and place very well. Squat City Rocks was pleasure to read, further enhanced by Esperanza Romero’s illustrations.

The 101ers were before my time, but when I first came to London I met friends who had gone to their gigs often. Some preferred them to the Clash. I wouldn’t agree with that myself, but no doubt we wouldn’t have the Clash without the 101ers.

My thougclashchelseaflierhts returned to this book several times over the holiday period, when a squat on Charing Cross Road was set up to feed the homeless – and it was promptly evicted. Much of the creative activity Dudanski describes had its basis in squatting – people could live cheaply and communally in big old houses, they were able to make space for studios and rehearsals and gigs. He doesn’t glamourise life in these communities; there’s no shying away from showing violence from police and unsympathetic neighbours, as well as tensions within households. He pulls no punches about the hard work it often takes to turn a derelict property into a home.

But squatting housed many homeless people, resulted in creative movements and projects, and changed lives and neighbourhoods for the better. The squats around Elgin Avenue have now become permanent social housing due to the campaigns of Walterton and Elgin Community Homes. Many more examples like this can be found in the exhibition Made Possible by Squatting.

coventgardenflyer

I lived next door at 15 James St

Squatting in residential properties has already been outlawed. Tory and Labour politicians such as Chuka Umunna and Lib Peck have urged the same for commercial properties. Let’s fight this tooth and nail!

Meanwhile, I watched the 75-minute documentary on the Clash’s New Year’s Day gig in 1977, which was shown on the BBC4. A rich portrayal of London in the 1970s, this programme was about much more than a gig and a band. It showed a London where large sections were semi-derelict and battles raged between communities and speculators over what would happen to them. I was particularly fascinated with its depiction of Covent Garden, the site of the Roxy club where the Clash and other early punk bands played.

When the Covent Garden fruit and veg market shut down 1973, the area became a wasteland full of empty buildings and gaping holes where buildings had been torn down. It was the first significant area faced with the kind of gentrification we know and fight today. After the departure of the market, the GLC adopted a masterplan that would have turned the whole area into a series of indoor malls and covered walkways and drive out the current residents, including people who had worked at the market and in the theatres. The website Covent Garden Memories tells more about this; you can also watch The Battle for Covent Garden.

I lived in this area myself when I first came to London, joining a large squat that took up the corner of James St and Long Acre, just across from the tube station. I remember the hoardings around empty lots, full of flyposting for punk gigs. Later some of these places were turned into community gardens. I attended a festival there one summer. A Woman’s Place, one of London’s first feminist bookshops and social centres, was also based in a squat in Earlham St.

Covent Garden Community Association photo

Other central London squats of the time included Trentishoe Mansions on Cambridge Circus and Huntley Street in Bloomsbury. There were also squats in Scala Street (home of the original Scala Cinema) and Burton Street (home of the Pogues).

This post was originally meant to end around 1977. However, delay plus recent events have caused it to grow ever longer. So let’s leap forward to 31 January 2015 when I took part in the March for Homes. Issues around the ownership of cities, social cleansing and the need to take over and transform space return with a vengeance.

It was a miserable mucky day and I was tempted to turn around and go home as the South London feeder march assembled. But I’m glad I stuck around – there was a good energetic turn-out despite the rain and cold and the occasional cutting piece of sleet. As we marched from the Elephant to the Greater London Authority headquarters at Tower Bridge, we passed through torn-up streets and dangling cranes and all the debris of a city ripped up and tranforming into an alien place meant only for the rich. We also passed through a diverse collection of council estates – red-brick, high-rises, maisonettes, you name it – where fellow tenants came out to cheer us on.

cropped-aylesbury2Once the South London and North London marches joined forces at Tower Bridge the crowed swelled to at least 5000. Not bad for a cold and rainy Saturday, for a march taking on the unglamorous but vital issue of affordable housing. My friend Andrea Gibbons has a great selection of photos here.

Once we reached City Hall me and my friend fled the rain by way of Borough Market where we enjoyed a few very tasty samples. Unknown to myself at the time, a bunch of squatters returned to the Elephant and took over flats at Aylesbury Estate. The occupiers write on their website, Fight for the Aylesbury:

“Since the “March for Homes” demo on 31st January, we have re-opened and occupied a part of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, South London. We are tenants, squatters, and other people who care about how our city is being grabbed by the rich, by developers and corrupt politicians, socially cleansed and sold off for profit… We are here to fight for our city. We are here to liberate this space and bring it back to life. Come and join us.”

There is a community assembly every day at 6.30pm, where “all neighbours and friendly visitors are warmly invited”. This takes place at 105 Chartridge, Westmoreland Road, SE17. You can find a map here.

So maybe I’ll see some of you over there!

That last weekend in October

As I  sent in a round of corrections on a piece recently, I realised that most of my work on a clutch of short stories has come to an end. Is it time now, I wondered, to face that novel I’d put aside (again) to finish those stories? I was gathering my wits as I prepared to enter the 15th-century setting of my novel-in-progress Heretics, then remembered that I haven’t posted in my blog for about six weeks. Ah well, tomorrow is another day…

Twisted reading

You see the panelists from a distance in this shot, but you get a good view of that bloke’s jumper – which I rather like

This unfinished blog business includes a follow-up to my previous post about Horror Uncut. A few other folk have already blogged about our Manchester launch. But with the passing of the date marking Joel Lane’s death (25 November), I’ve decided to do that now. As co-editor and friend and an inspiration to many of us, he was certainly present in our thoughts at the event.

The first question that organiser and contributor David McWilliam asked the panel –  myself, editor Tom Johnstone and fellow contributor Laura Mauro – was about how Joel influenced our work. This is something I’ve become even more aware of in the past year. As I wrote in last year’s blog post, discovering the work of Joel and others in TTA Press’ Last Rites and Resurrections was like hearing punk for the first time. That was when I began to find my own voice as a writer. It is truly a mark of an extraordinary writer if he or she can write words that are so powerful they inspire others to reach inside themselves and find their own.

Tom read Joel’s story, ‘A Cry For Help’. He later said: “It feels really strange that we should all be here reading from the book and discussing it without Joel being here.” Laura read from her story “Ptichka” and I read from “Pieces of Ourselves”. I was aware that I could only read an extract, while others read entire stories. Someday, I swear, I will write a story that is short enough to complete in one reading stint. I once wrote a story of 2000 words and felt very pleased with myself, until people in my writers’ group said it needed to be longer. Maybe someone even uttered those dreaded words: “This should really be the beginning of a novel.” Flash fiction is definitely not my forte.

Here are some accounts of the event – from Priya Sharma, David McWilliam, Laura Mauro and Neil Harrison. All suggest that Horror Uncut is a step towards creating speculative and dark fiction that can reflect on austerity and inspire readers to question and resist it. One of these blogs refers to a forthcoming anthology called Neoliberal Gothic, which sounds fascinating and timely. Let’s see if I can get my hands on it.

To my knowledge there have been two reviews of Horror Uncut. The first one is by Anthony Watson, who writes:

Horror Uncut may not change minds or influence policy but it’s an excellent collection of stories that do have important things to say. It has to be said it’s unlikely to appeal to Daily Mail readers – which is about as high a compliment as I can pay it.”

Of my own contribution, he says:

“A more subtle, tangential approach to the effects of the austerity measures on individuals is exhibited in Rosanne Rabinowitz’s Pieces of Ourselves and Stephen Bacon’s The Devil’s Only Friend, affecting ghost stories both.”

And then we have one of Des Lewis’ epic real-time reviews. He’s not one for sticking down a few stars and calling it a review, our Des!

“Rabinowitz’s work — of accretively obsessive, self-harming shavings and skeins of skin from the male protagonist’s body and the memento stone box where he collects them — becomes a highly sensitised vision of something beyond the cuts, a vision that rationalises the demos and fights against the cuts as part of a pattern of his past life, austerity further pared, his exes, his travels, his thwarted ambitions, the patchwork people, his “Feeling bolder”, a sometimes clear, sometimes confused vision that enticingly is the potential core of the horror uncut ‘book bloc’.

These are all thoughts that came up during the discussion of Horror Uncut. And at several points I was almost expecting that Joel would see fit to do some haunting and turn up to utter some ghastly and eldritch puns. That’s one ghost story we would have all enjoyed.

As 2014 draws to a close, many of us have been reflecting that it’s been a very bad year for losing beloved writers and friends; as well as Joel we have recently lost Graham Joyce and Eugie Foster. But I remember that last weekend in October was also a time for relishing the pleasures of life. The joys of friendship come high on the list. After the reading, we spent a long and lovely afternoon in the pub, which was an opportunity to spend time with some friends in the north I don’t get to see much. And then I returned to my temporary base near Huddersfield, where an old friend was celebrating her 50th birthday the next day. A time of food, drink, music and merriment ensued.

So here I am… doing a bit of ‘spoken word’ in my friend’s honour, a wee bit rosy-cheeked after a few bevvies.Me at Marion's birthday

Tales of social insecurity and economic unease

Horror UncutHorror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease is now out! This anthology from Gray Friar Press includes my story “Pieces of Ourselves”: a librarian goes on an anti-cuts demonstration, gets caught in a police cordon and starts to suffer from a strange skin ailment that links him with a significant past. The story actually started with a dream that lingered with a disturbing image – and I’ll leave you to guess which image it was that kicked the whole thing off.

This is one of two recent stories that take place around the anti-cuts clashes of 2010/11. The other is a ghost story that I’ve discussed in my post A Matter of Masks, which will appear in the Joel Lane tribute anthology The Dispossessed. I’ve come to regard these two stories as companion pieces.

As I was researching and writing these stories, trying to get my mind back to 2010, I had the strange feeling that I might as well be writing that thing called ‘historical fiction’. But it’s not so long ago, is it? How quickly ‘now’ becomes history. And I wonder what became of that wave of anti-austerity activism. For many of my younger friends, 2010 was it. One said something to the effect that 2010 was their ’68 (and perhaps 1981 was mine).

The memory gets hazy; I geek out at the computer as I search for the crucial details that will recapture the anger, the excitement and also the fucking bloody cold of the winter of 2010/11. However, in this case I had the help of YouTube videos, which were not available when I was writing about the regime in Millbank Prison, the Blackfriars Rotunda and the reform riots of 1831 and certainly not the Harelle revolt of 1382.

Launch events
There will be two events to launch Horror Uncut towards the end of this month. Twisted Tales of Austerity will take place on 24 October 12 noon to 2pm at Waterstones on Deansgate in central Manchester. I’ll be reading along with contributor Laura Mauro and co-editor Tom Johnstone, who will read a story by fellow editor and extraordinary writer Joel Lane. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A.

Tom Johnstone says this anthology ushers in a ‘new era of socially engaged but entertaining and darkly funny horror fiction, which may not change the world but will, I hope, change the way we look at it’. And here on contributor Priya Sharma’s blog is an excellent interview with Tom about the anthology. I particularly found the discussion on horror vs SF interesting: “Horror often thrives on hard or uncertain times, allowing people to see their real fears play out in the form of fantastic imagery.” And he suggests that a large body of science fiction accepts a colonial or neo-liberal narrative.

I tend to view all these genres as part of the rich stream of speculative and strange fiction. My story may start off hinting at the trope of ‘body horror’, but it ends on some science fictional notes too.

Holloween with Horror Uncut takes place in Brighton at the Cowley Club on 26 October. I won’t be there myself because I’ll still be travelling down from the north. But if you’re in the area, do go! The Cowley Club itself is a great community venue, and it promises to be a fun evening.

Meanwhile, you can read the first review of Horror Uncut here. My story – along with Andrew Hook’s “The Opaque District” – is described as an “affecting ghost story”.

And here’s a full table of contents…

A Cry for Help by Joel Lane
The Battering Stone by Simon Bestwick
The Ballad of Boomtown by Priya Sharma
The Lucky Ones by John Llewellyn Probert
The Sun Trap by Stephen Hampton
Only Bleeding by Gary McMahon
The Lemmy / Trump Test by Anna Taborska
Falling into Stone by John Howard
Ptichka by Laura Lauro
The Devil’s Only Friend by Stephen Bacon
The Procedure by David Williams
Pieces of Ourselves by Rosanne Rabinowitz
A Simple Matter of Space by John Forth
The Privilege Card by David Turnbell
The Ghost at the Feast by Alison Littlewood
The Opaque District by Andrew Hook
No History of Violence by Thana Niveau