Oral History Interview - Donald Brown & Jane

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Oral History Interview - Donald Brown & Jane

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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Donald Brown (b.1967) & Jane (1967-2019), in which they discuss the sub-cultural behaviours and lifestyles in Stoke Newington and Hackney squatting communities in mid-late 1980s.


Donald Brown (DB). I was born in Hounslow, in West London, in 1967. I grew up in…. next to the airport, so quite a multicultural environment; I went to school with a lot of kids from a lot of different parts of the world, when I was in primary school growing up, before I got to my teens, when I got to about 10 or so my parents moved to the suburbs, a little bit further out of town, to Surrey and I ended up go to a Catholic school with a load of white kids basically and I couldn’t wait to leave so I left home when I was about 16. I just upped and left I wasn’t escaping any abuse or maltreatment, but I just couldn’t stand living in that environment, it just felt so stifling.

Q. Is that because you were used to living in a more multicultural upbringing?

Jane (J). He was young and angry

DB. I got more sense of the world and what was available, when I was a kid, I say “when I was a kid” when I started to hit my teens I started to really get into music and was always in town to see bands.

Q. What type of music?

DB. Anything loud! Basically, anything loud and raucous and discordant. [laughs] I was able to investigate, I was willing to investigate. And as a result I was able to see a lot or really, really good bands, bands that are very cultish now.

Q. Like?

DB. All kinds. I saw the Birthday Party, The Virgin Prunes. I used to go and see all the kind of Crass bands, Flux of Pink Indians and Dirt and Anti-sect. Used to go and see bands like King Kurt and the Meteors. Anything that was loud and had such an element of risk attached to it, where there was adults misbehaving, I didn’t feel much like an adult but I wanted to be like one.

Q. How old were you at that point?

DB. 14/15

Q. And so did you feel like you were relating to the anarcho punk philosophy?

DB. Yes there was a lot of anger about I guess and I relished that. I don’t know what I had to be particularly angry about….Maybe everyone just seemed…

J. Thatcher.

DB. I just felt like people were just selling themselves away, everyone my parents age, didn’t seem very happy but were condemned to this life they created. Particularly my mother, she worked 5 days a week and then worked in the evening’s she came home and carried on working.

Q. What did she do? What kind of work?

DB. My mum was an accountant. So she would spend all day at work and then she would come home. And the ledgers would be out on the kitchen table and the adding machine would be going and it was obvious she was continuing to work at home. [5.00]

She had this incredible ability with maths, and maths completely confused me and I associated hard work with maths I think and I worried how am I going to survive in this world, I haven’t got the aptitude for figures that my mother has.

Q. And what about your dad, what did he do?

DB. My dad was an engineer, so he was another kind of professional. It all seemed like hard work and no-one seemed particularly happy.

J. Joyless

DB. And you think what’s the point of that? I mean you know with hindsight I see more to it but as a child, because that’s what I was, you think surely there must be more to life than this. So the not washing…….[laughter] I was never a big one for washing. So this whole kind of punk, kind of DIY thing let’s find out what works for yourself and everyone hates us.

J. And we don’t care.

DB. Ha! We don’t care! It was made for me!

Q. So Jane, where were you born and what year? [06.40]

J. I was born in Redhill Hospital and I didn’t grow up there, I grew up in Suffolk. And I was slightly escaping a kind of a madhouse.

Q. What year were you born?

J. 1967.

Q. So when you say you were escaping a madhouse, do you mean when you were a teenager, when you were leaving home?

J. Yeah. Oh god, well, I’m not going to tell the story, but it didn’t go well, but I had to sort of run past my step dad out the door with nothing. That’s how I left home.

Q. Blimey, so what happened next?

J. Well, my mum was staying in Camden in somebody’s house at the time because she was escaping as well, so she was like “do you want me to take you to your friend’s house, or do you want to come to London with me?” and I was like “I’ll come with you.” And I just sort of didn’t really go back. Just squatted, just found the squatting scene a few months later.

Q. And how old were you at that point?

J. 17

Q. So you were squatting in Camden initially?

J. No, I wasn’t actually. My mum was staying there, and I went to stay near Redhill actually with my cousin, who was nearer to my mother’s age. But she was a bit schizophrenic and started saying some quite scary things, and then I escaped to my cousins squat in Brixton and it was all very grown up and fun.

And then I ended up in Hackney. I was looking for somewhere to stay, not necessarily thinking about squatting at the time, and then somebody got in touch with me. I can’t remember the details, but ended up going to a squatters meeting in Leswin Road in Stoke Newington and, yeah, took it from there really.

Q. So you met people at the squatters meeting? Who found a place for you?

J. Yeah, yeah……Well we all cracked a squat and that’s when I met the anarchists, well there were some in Brixton, but you know also round here.

Q. So did you become an anarchist yourself?

J. Yeah, I think I did. I think I became an anarchist. I didn’t really know exactly what it meant, but that it was against everything I was against. I wasn’t really looking into what it was for so much at the time you know. There were lots of studenty types that would read tomes about anarchy.

Q. But what were the things you agreed with about it?

J. Well at that time, I thought everyone running the country and everyone over the age of 25 was an idiot. And so I kind of agreed with that, the anti-establishment that there shouldn’t be leaders because nobody was really fit to be…Anti-authority you know that sort of thing. [09.50]

Q. So did you feel that you’d found a community? A home?

J. A home! I really did and it was thriving round here for a while, it was quite a thing. And then the police started persecuting everybody and it was a bit less so. There was a different, a flip side of it then.

Q. So where was your first squat?

J. Brighton Road, just at the top of the high street.

Q. Can you tell me anymore about it?

J. I can’t say anymore, feel tongue tied….I’ve had enough.

Q. Okay right alright what about you Donald, how did you end up in Stoke Newington? [10.20]

DB. How I ended up in Stoke Newington is no short story I’m afraid, but there’s usually a woman at the bottom of it for me. I ended up spending more and more time away from the parental home, at 16 I’d go for weekends into town, or I might go to demos or meet….. squat gigs that just went on into the next day, end up staying there. All parts of town. And going to festivals in the summer for kind of the week, so I was spending less and less time at home.

I was studying at the time, I had been told I should study art, but studying art involved more hard work. I had this idea about the artist’s life, that you didn’t do anything, you just wait for the muse to grab you. I went to college, had to redo my O Levels to get some A Levels in order to be accepted onto a kind of diploma course. But these people wanted me to do work, wanted me to produce stuff and I wanted to sit around and wait for the muse. And all the other students on the course were very proactive and doing it various kinds of ways. And I was like this is so much like hard work I just wanted to sit around and wait for the muse.

Q. And which course and which university was this?

DB. It wasn’t a university, it like the local secondary education college.

J. Poly-technic.

DB. Poly – whatever – technical college, some kids were down the hall learning to be plumbers, the kids on the other end of the hall doing the art thing. Okay?

I spent a lot less and less time there I then ended up meeting what seemed to me a very exotic American girl who was a couple of years older than me. Who came from San Francisco and was spending like 2 months in London and she had all these tales about the American punk scene and we ended up moving to em, we started off in a squat in my local area and then we ended up moving to…”oh there’s supposed to be a load of squats and old Kent Road, and there’s a squatters union there or something, so let’s go there and find out where some empty flats are”. And that night we had a flat.

Q. In Stoke Newington?

DB. In the Old Kent road. And there was a big kind of community there. There was a place called the Ambulance Station. So there was like vegan….

J. I remember that!

DB. Hot and cold vegan rats...you know what I mean…there was a real lot of odd things going on in the Old Kent Road….there was a lot of drugs, and there was some kind of black magic stuff going on. The local authority was making a big thing about smashing places up rather than letting them be squatted. And my American friend ended up….the ambulance station was a real dump…I mean I say hot and cold running rats….but there was some nice characters there but it was very odd, there was some very odd things going on there as well…I kind of recognise what the scene was more now then I did at the time….but at the time I was quite naive…. [14.30]

Q. Yeah

DB. Ok. Back in those days I remember…you would go round someone’s flat there would be a line of 5 or 6 guys all sitting there use the same needle to shot speed…and like blood up the walls…You think this isn’t really for me…its all very odd kind of odd…

I couldn’t understand why these people were doing it. I’m 15, 16… I couldn’t understand why people were doing it. Because I wasn’t really, trying escaping any kind of trauma. So that kind of extreme drug use didn’t really hold much attraction for me. Thank God as well you know.

Q. Yeah. Did you think those people were doing it because they did have issues?

DB. I don’t know. I felt as though there was some people, certainly in that area, that took speed all day, every day. And you know they were definitely very kind of mixed, they seemed to be mixed up. So anyway, my American friend went back to the States and then I wondered around, kind of going from squat to squat.

And I met another woman who lived in North London - girl I should say - who said “Come live in Stoke Newington. We live in a rented place but you know the landlord isn’t accepting the rent, we could get evicted at some point, could be next week, could be next month. So we are getting housing benefit but we’re not giving it to the landlord so you can sign on its no problem, you’ll get your housing benefit, don’t give it to the landlord just stay there as long as you like.”

So I ended up living in quite a big house, where everyone was kind of running some housing benefit scam or another and it was very easy to do back in the day. It just meant no one had any particularly exotic expensive lifestyle, so we all managed to keep ourselves - mind, body and soul together - on a couple of benefit cheques a week.

Q. So you dropped out of college?

DB. Yeah…

Q. So you were signing on?

DB. I was signing on, yeah, I was signing on. And I guess once I ended up in Stoke Newington I was then exposed to the whole community that was going on here.

Q. And so what was that community?

DB. I don’t know…It seemed a little bit more together than the South London. In South London was very kind of….there seemed to be more drugs in the South, and a lot more speed. A lot of people in various state of psychosis and there was a squatters union thing going on but there was a lot more drugs. I’m not saying there wasn’t drugs in Hackney.

J. There was quite a lot of drugs Hackney.

DB. Well I didn’t seem ….well to me it was a lot more obvious in South London than it was when I got to Hackney. I felt that in Hackney there was a lot more together, seemingly together.

J. Yeah that was the word! Yeah.

DB. They were together, Okay. They weren’t necessarily kind of waking up to a tin of special brew in the morning. Okay.

Q. Do you agree with that?

J. 6 and half a dozen.

Q. So do you have a different perspective….?

J. Donald might have been waking up to a few tins of Special Brew!

DB. Yes I did, I got there, I did get there…eventually

J. Had to work on it, had to persevere with it.

DB. Yes, yes.

J. There were loads of households! Do you remember Narford Road everybody was always like…..?

DB. Yes, but that was a couple of years later for me, that was like two or three years later Jane. Give me my honeymoon period please.

J. When you first got here. [Laughter]

Q. When he was more innocent

DB. A couple of years after I got there, there was of a more convoy scene, wasn’t there? There was more of a kind of “let’s live in a van that’s parked outside of a squat”.

J. There was always a bit of that as well, because that stemmed back to Graham road, not Graham Road what’s that road down Mare Street, Grotham Road maybe…But that lot. There was always a bit of that.

DB. They were older people

J. Often a bit old, older and older

DB. There were older people in Hackney

J. They were grownups. [20:00]

DB. Older people scared me.

Q. And were they more into the heavy drug use?

DB. No, no, they were more into… making sure their squats had running water!
J. Heavy veganism.

Q. Oh I see sorry, the opposite, so more organised basically.

DB. More organised yes.

J. And there were splinter groups everywhere, there was a wholesome bunches of anarchists and then there was like little kind of different druggy worlds. A mixture of everything really

Q. And where did you belong?

J. I was a bit of a drifter, I would quite happily kind of go from one world to the next to be honest, I quite liked that. I did get a bit fed up with the radical anarchists after a year, doing all the demos.

Q. So that’s where you started off with the radical faction?

J. Yeah…But then I found there was lots more fun to be had if you just went out and got pissed all the time and went out and went to all the gigs and went to all the festy’s.

Q. Did you go out locally in Stoke Newington?

J. Oh right, yeah, there was lots of trips to places like the George Robey and there lots of kind of…there were a few pubs where the bands would sort of circulate quite a lot round here…the Three Crowns and then there was sorted of squatted venues like the Blue House, which I just got here on the cusp of and there was the City Limits building in Islington where I think that’s where I met you?

DB. Yeah

J. He was going out with Tracy who had squatted that, so loads of shit used to go on in the basement there. Can’t remember much of that…forgetting again!

Q. Tell me more about how you met.

J. No….!

DB. I ended up squatting, once the landlord had said “enough already” in this kind of shared house we were in. I ended up in a squatted, what to me was a very old building, in my memory it was an ex old peoples home, because there seemed to be a lot of rooms with commodes in, ok and a lot of old furniture and commodes in, you know those things they have in hospitals when you can’t get to the toilet and that kind of old peoples furniture. Lots of rooms with arm chairs in. Okay. Now, now I’ve been past that house, it is a very old house. There was a lot of living in very old houses.

And then I had a friend suddenly appear called Dave who was a little bit further down the road in regards to drinking and drug use. And he kind of introduced me to Tennents Super which is really where things went downhill for me [laughter] Yeah, I think Tennants Super had only just been brought out in large cans so before it was only in very small cans and suddenly it became available in large cans and there was a chain of off licences round here called Venus or something like that it was Venus 12 or Venus 17 and basically they would let you have a crate of Tennents on tick. Okay…

J. Bloody Hell.

DB. And like Jane I was very open to what was going on. If someone else I thought was the real deal, whatever, was doing something…it was like I hadn’t developed a personality of my own, so I kind of latched on to what other people were doing and I had no sense of the consequences that might come from that. I remember I always associated the Blue House with the Tennents Super. That’s why I ended up talking about it. There was a band that used to play at the Blue House like every weekend called God Told Me to Do It.

J. I remember them!

DB. And none of them could play their instruments and they made a god awful racket! And I just always remember like stumbling around the Blue House.

And the Blue House, I think its burnt down now, but it was like the oldest building in Hackney or something like that because there were actually bits of it were Tudor or something like that, 16th century.

Q. It’s still there. It’s Sutton House now, it’s a National Trust property.

DB. Okay, I just remember kind of stumbling around the blues house in this haze of alcohol and this horrible raucous kind of racket which was churned out by the bands which were all kind of local personalities, I think who all had various psychiatric disorders as well. [laughs]

Q. Where did the bands play at the Blues House, was it in the basement?

DB. I think it was a front room, I think it was a big front room. What I remember, I mean this was quite a while ago there was quite a large courtyard, I seem to remember flagstones, the kind of flagstone’s the kind of courtyard that you would find in a building that contained 16th century elements and you could hear the music from the courtyard.

J. I don’t think I met you at the Blue House, I think I met you at the City Limits

DB. No. So yeah, so the City Limits was in Islington we’re not specifically talking about Hackney now, but Islington wasn’t that far away

J. But a lot of people used to go there from Hackney

DB. Another place where they had like a caff open during the day and they had music at the weekends and I think that was the old offices for the City Limits magazine.

J. Certainly was

DB. Some people living upstairs, some music in the basement and various kind of characters hanging around

J. And the upstairs front floor was music and dancing and hanging out, just having a good old time really. It was pretty good there.

DB. Even if you went and there wasn’t necessarily anything going on you would end up sitting and chatting to someone.

J. There was often a food co-op, the cafe was open whether or not there was something going on like most days of the week at the City Limits.

DB. There was a wholefood shop just down the road, and there weren’t many whole food shops around back then, wasn’t there just one called Bread and Roses or something.

Q. Wasn’t there one on Church Street?

DB. Possibly there was enough call for it.

J. That was in the 1990s we’re going back!

Q. It’s good. So moving away from Islington, coming back towards Stoke Newington, what was it like then Shops and cafes?

J. A bit more down at heel, the shops, been there since the 1970s with cracked paint. Potholes.

DB. Whenever I go to these parts of town, north London, south London and I wonder round I just think when I was younger and I wondered these streets I get the feeling that no-one had any money there was no kind of diversity that you get in town now, you went to these areas and nobody really had anything, there wasn’t such a mixture of people from different kind of classes or whatever you wanna call it. Social grouping. [29.00]

Q. So who was living in Stoke Newington at that point? Was it a mainly a working class area?

DB. Yeah I think so…

J. Well it has historically been a Labour borough so that should tell you something really you know, when the Labour party was one. There was a lot of old cockneys and obviously cultural diversity but a lot of downtroddeness across the spectrum.

And I think when we all came along and squatted and we appeared to be getting something for nothing there was a bit of resentment as well. Definitely, I had some quite resentful neighbours, they smashed all our windows, and they went berserkers on us. Yeah

Q. Where was that?

J. That was in Clapton, just off, it was Alcester Crescent. Crazy East End family, you know like this guy saying to my flatmate Des that if we were still there later, they would burn the house down with us still inside in it. We had to move pretty quick.

Q. Its quite interesting because a lot of the people I’ve been intervening have been saying the opposite, that the local community were very tolerant and quite liked having the squatters. So there was a marked difference between Clapton and Stoke Newington even do you think?

J. Yeah It was practically in the sticks in the way, it was the back of nowhere. I wasn’t very impressed with Clapton, that bit of it anyway, it’s only just changing now really, it’s always been a bit like that.

DB. There was a bigger West Indian community on the High Street heading down towards Dalston Junction and Amhurst Road kind of way, your heading in the way, back of Islington. What I always associated with people from other diverse backgrounds, ethnic minorities, the West Indian community to me, what I would have called the West Indian community back then, they were being persecuted, they were being victimised, so therefore there is a point of identification there, that these people have got things to complain about, so therefore I identify with them.

Q. So you did identify with them?

DB. Yes

J. Good point. Because there was a lot of persecution from the police and the authorities towards both that community and the squatting community.

Q. Did you experience it personally?

J. We both experienced it personally, I know lots of people that experienced it differently. Well, I don’t still know them…..

DB. I didn’t expect the police to behave any differently than did. They were just behaving to type, as far as I was concerned, because I was biased because these are the people who are trying to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. If they just kept on stopping you and asking you the same questions over and over again then that was basically what did they were supposed to be preventing you from getting from A to B if they turned up with the bailiffs and demanded that you leave a property at kind of eight in the morning then that’s what they did.

J. And then the council would stick concrete in the sinks and there you go

Q. To stop you..? [35.00]

J. To stop you re-squatting. Yeah, would proper smash places up we would sort them out and they would come along and smash them up and they had a go at us for being destructive…

DB. There was a lot of moving into places that had been recently evicted and having to, you would have to make them habitable again. Sometimes because some of the people who had been evicted had taken some of the stuff with them, some of the copper piping in order to make somewhere else habitable, but you would have to then kind of reclaim something from somewhere else, in order to get some running water on the go or get the gas going up or get some electricity into the place.

Q. So is that something you learnt to do as a squatter?

DB. Well again if any hard work was going on I tried to make myself as absent as possible but occasionally I even failed to do that. But luckily I ended up living with people who knew a lot about that.

J. There was like an organised squatting community when I first got here there was the electrician, there was like Luke the plumber you know Scoob the electrician, you just knew who to call when you moved in somewhere if you didn’t know how to do this stuff

DB. I just remember going round people’s houses, the “together” peoples house/flats and they would have boards on the walls with like nails, and lots and lots of tools hanging of the nails and outlines of tools painted so they knew when something went missing, someone’s borrowed a wrench and there’s evidence that it’s missing. Someone’s taking note of who’s borrowed what. You would go round and borrow tools off people and you would have to remember whose tools you borrowed and when they expected them back. There were some really together people, living like that was completely beyond me at 17/18 but there were some together people who really were quite expertise in keeping this kind of thing up and going.

J. Then there were squats like we had with washing up mountains and you know, rats.

DB. I’ve always liked a sense of history so the fact that we were living in some really old places, I really relished and there were places that you felt had been squatting in for a while probably and we are getting into the mid 1980s we are talking maybe someone has been squatting in this place for the past 5/6 years, various you know and there were some real characters about, real characters about who were not…. I don’t know, there’s a real sense… I guess people now people feel if they look a certain way then people will just assume that they are, you can’t judge someone from the way they look, but people feel if they dress a certain way then they’ve adopted a certain persona but back then people looked strange, they were strange, back then they were really unpredictable in the way they behaved.

J. Who are you thinking of?

DB. All kinds of people!

J. Did you know John Isaiah?

DB. No doesn’t ring any bells. No

J. Just who popped into my head, there was this guy called ….He was this old character who had squatted here in the 1970s and he was just like an old soak really. But he was just kind of nuts and he had another name, John Car because he fixed peoples cars, but he was called John Isaiah because he had one eye higher than the other.

And when he died all the local little bands got together and had a benefit gig and made him a squatted gravestone they made him a gravestone and they stuck it in Stokey graveyard and it lasted there for a decade almost until it got uprooted and was finally put onto a skip, but they used to find it and put it back and hide it in another spot in the graveyard and it was a thing finding John Isaiah’s grave for ages

Q. Brilliant, that’s a great story so was that Abney Park Cemetery? [40.00]

J. Yes, rat bags there you are you’re on record.

DB. Yeah Abney Park was a scene of much debauchery in the summertime there was much drinking starting off in the early morning in the summer months and going through into the afternoon when people starting taking their clothes off…..

J. Orgies!

DB. And had group sex

J. That’s such a dirty laugh!

DB. Lots of unwashed bodies and I grew up on stories of Charles Manson and stuff, and the family and it really resonated with me. This is an alternative way of living.

Q. And were you participating in this?

DB. Oh, yes. I’ve never had so much sex!

J. I wasn’t.

DB. For me the basic idea for me was there was no attachment you were not attached to anyone, we don’t do family and we don’t do exclusivity

Q. Is this anarchist philosophy or Donald’s philosophy? A mish mash? [Laughter]

DB. So there was no girlfriends, no boyfriends, none of that. So yeah I really put myself about.

J. But that was also part of the punk thing.

DB. Yeah it was. Like sex it meaningless, it was just something you do to pass the time. But if I found myself attracted to someone and they did that to me I would get really angry.

Q. Double standards?

DB. Yeah definitely, definitely, I didn’t see that at the time, because I was sensitive and fragile and I didn’t have a sense of self, I didn’t really know who I was so I didn’t recognise the things like jealousy and envy for what they were, so I am allowed to behave how I like but don’t you try it.

Q. Is that one of the reasons you were drinking Tennents Super?

DB. [Laughs]

Q. That was a serious question - to deal with the fragility and the sensitivity?

DB. Yeah definitely.

J. Definitely kills the shyness, doesn’t it?

DB. Yeah it does you’re a lot more confident, that’s what I learnt to my cost, which is all my…your getting now… your heading towards your 20s and all my confidence, all my front, all the friendliness comes out of a bottle or a tin and I don’t know how to do it without that.



Q. So what else were you doing did you get into any kind of activist groups?

DB. That kind of stuff became less and less important

J. I think the sort of ideal, I was always an idealist you know, I think that stayed with me. Always an idealist I think that stage was me but I think the impulse to do much about it was kind of lost

Q. So you started off doing all the demos and things?

J. Yeah it was quite nice you know for a while happens doing that, but it kinda….. but I suppose it happens in any type of structure when there’s an ideal and then there’s a drive behind and then it starts turning into a prison, it doesn’t really matter what the you know….”oh you can’t do that it’s too arty farty” or “you can’t do that” , and in the end I was like “oh fuck that” you know kind of had enough of it and also I was, had kind of got a bit lazy. I preferred being drunk.

Q. So were you signing on at the time?

J. Yeah.

Q. Did you have any jobs? Or other interests?

J. Not at that time. Well, we sort of had little groups. Like there was a sort of art group that my friend Tracy, which is how I met Donald. But I used to be involved with that squat, the City Limits there, where she was living. I don’t think you can just sort of make it just locally to Stoke Newington because everyone had their little places where they went and you know and even it was kind known as Hackney squatters it wasn’t really Stoke Newington squatters….and I got tongue tied again ‘cos your recorder…

Q. So you were interested in art, you were doing art classes?

J. We had an African drumming class in Dalston lane and we brought the guy home to City Limits. I kind of half lived there at the time, sort of half in Clapton and half there and he started trying to be improper with all the young feminist punky girls so he had to go, so we didn’t go back to that.

Q. Did you consider yourself a feminist?

J. I did yeah. I suppose I still do really but I don’t know, I don’t know if I actually took any radical action with it, I just thought a lot of it was being angry with men, my agenda was kind of a bit tainted by my experience of growing up with the sort of man you could be angry with.

Q. Did feminism feature in your life Donald?

DB. [Laughter] I’ve always loved a feminist, the angrier the better.

Q. Just from talking in other interviews people say it was a big issue at that point, feminism was part of the whole experience.

DB. Well growing up with my mum, I grew up in a very female dominated home with my mother so I naturally gravitate towards to these independent free thinking, kind of go for it types so I find all that really, really attractive. So when I was a kid I went to Greenham Common Camp, these other peace camps, where there was a mixed camp as well as female only camps. I went to miners stuff when the miner strike was going on, I went to demos, a couple of the big dos to do with the minor strike.

J. But did you go to Wapping?

DB. No…

J. It’s alright, for some reason we all went to Wapping to support the workers down there. I didn’t really quite understand what I was doing there but we did.

Q. So that was your activism? [Laughs] I would like to hear about the Stamford Hill Estate?

DB. I can’t remember, I can’t remember exactly when I became aware of the estate or what caused me to end up living there.

J. Loads of people ended up living there, half empty flats at the time it was just so down at heel loads of empty run down flats.

DB. I remember I was living in a semi-detached place by the MFI building in the winter time and the MFI building had a huge amount of palettes outside always in there car park and how really, really useful that was.

J. It was jolly decent of them.

DB. In the winter we just burnt there pallets all winter, in open fire places [7.55] and then kind of fell asleep in front of the fire and let the carpet smoulder, happily breathed in the toxic fumes of underlay sizzling.

And then after that winter I ended up on the estate. And the estate was a strange place, it was a lot more closely confined for me. It was a bit like going back to South London in the sense there was a lot of different people, with different kind of agendas and different reasons for being there, different reasons for squatting, different reasons for doing what they were doing. You could end up living in quite close proximity with people who had very different ideas on how to live than yourself.

Again I ended up living above a flat, we were above a flat where there was about 5 or 6 punks and punkettes all living in…They were on the ground floor, and we were on the first floor and you would go in there, sometimes you would just go and visit because they had a big pan or something like that, or had a kettle, something you needed to borrow, and there would be people sniffing glue and you would walk into a room and the fumes from the glue would hit you.

J. There loads of glue sniffing about, didn’t there? I forgot about that.

DB. I don’t, I would never…I would see that kind of thing going on at parties, but…

J. It didn’t grab you

DB. No. I had never really lived with anyone who sniffed glue and then I was like….and then I ended up living with another load of speed freaks, who were always kind of sitting around chewing speed and leaving needles all over the shop, this is not really for me….well not then anyway [Laughs] And you felt like, I’m the pet drunk here, no one else is kind of interested in consuming and sitting around drinking and telling tall tales. They wanna shoot speed and pick their toe nails.

J. Take old radios apart.

DB. Yeah! So yeah, I didn’t have very fond memories of the estate to be quite honest. I felt when I was on the estate I felt like the games up here as far as this is concerned. I felt like this is going nowhere, I didn’t really feel my part in it all. I felt like we were being left behind was up I felt personally I was getting backed into a corner.

J. Why didn’t you move?

DB. I was a bit in the wind? It was a bit…Who’s going to let me live there? Do I wanna live with those….a lot of my friends, a lot of the people I’d known for a while….they really were getting into this lets drive off in a van got into lets but buy a second hand van and lets leave town.

J. That did sort of happen there was a kind of exodus.

DB. All these people are gonna leave…they are all gonna leave and they are going to leave me behind. Which is basically what happened. I felt in the estate there was a lot of police activity, everyone was getting stopped.

J. I think what happened, there was a core of squatters that kind of kept changing through the generations and then suddenly was a massive influx in the late 1980s kind of like a tidal wave hit, around 1989, might have been a bit earlier.

And the police just didn’t like it, they just really, really they were planting things on people, arresting people, beating people up. It wasn’t as bad as the persecution you mentioned in the Jamaican community , there wasn’t deaths in custody as far as a I know, but you know it was quite a concerted effort, I think it was quite cynical I heard that at the end of month they need to make up their arrest quotes so they would go round and arrest a few squatters. It really was like that, it happened to me. [12:55]

I was at a party outside the Listeria lodge, outside Manor House, [the police] just swooped on me, this guy called Warner sat on the wall, didn’t even know him, my mate Fergus and I was just sat talking and they just kind of nicked us for nothing and they trumped up the most horrible charges against us as well.

Q. What did they accuse you of?

J. I didn’t even find out for a couple years what they accused us of. But they had accused us of throwing empty beer can cans at the Jewish Orthodox community; so just not love, peace and anarchy, just not. And I was supposed to of ran up this policeman that was arresting my mate and jumped on his back and put my arm around his neck and said “get off im’ you bastard.” That’s what was written up on the thing.

Q. So what happened then?

J. We were just sat there and I went “ahhhh police van!” and we ran into the house and because we ran we made ourselves a target, but we just knew what they were there for, if it hadn’t been us it would have been someone else you know.

Q. So did you get thrown in the cells?

J. Yeah, I can’t really remember much about it. I just remember the journey there, ‘cos I was freaking out if they can arrest us for nothing this is really scary they could do anything.I started sort of crying, I cried like a girl and this policeman slapped my face and said “if you don’t stop crying I’ll hit you again!” Pretty much. And he had a beard.

Q. And they took you to Stoke Newington?

J. I think it was, or it could have been Hackney, I actually can’t remember where they took me I think I was a bit adrenal I don’t really….

Q. And did they just release you the next day?

J. Three in the morning they released us. I think it was Hackney for some reason, but that was quite a mild story. They were planting knives on people, planting drugs on people, giving people a tanking, not so much women. But you know it was all kicking off I think they just did massively resent us being here really because we were different, had airs and graces about ourselves.

DB. We came from the suburbs. I’d been nicked even like 14/15 years old, I’d been nicked on Stop the City demo’s, where they’d been nicking people wholesale.

J. But you would expect it on a demo.

DB. And so I ended up standing in court, being told various things that I’d done that I hadn’t done, I know what I’ve done but they are not accusing me of what I’ve done, they are accusing me of something else, so it’s like run of the mill if they’ve got no hard evidence, they’ve got it in for you they’ll make something up, so I guess I just had a belief that...

J. But we all had that because of the demonstrations, and you know if you were tall or had red hair or stood out you’d get nicked, but it was a slight divergent. We weren’t actively protesting, we were just having a party.

DB. We were here

J. It was sort of a step, it crossed the line I don’t know it could be me drawing arbitrary lines.

DB. No I think your right, the guy that you mention Warner, the New Zealand guy he ended up doing about 6 months on remand for that

J. Your joking, what for…no he didn’t…seriously? For sitting on the wall!

DB. Yeah I think they accused him for Seig Heil-ing to the Jews and for throwing bricks

J. I didn’t know that happened, Jesus. Woah…

Q. What about the eviction of Stamford Estate?

DB. I don’t know how serious I took it, how many squatters are on this estate and how are they gonna evict them all in one go, I felt at the time I think It was just a show of strength, I didn’t know they’d seriously planned to start evicting places wholesale. [17.55]

That was the story that’s what that’s the story that did the rounds and there were a lot of police in the area at that time.

J. Everyone galvanised didn’t they? They put up barricades and they made it say ‘Save Stamford Hill’

Q. [To Donald] Do you not wanna talk about it?

DB. There isn’t much I don’t wanna talk about….

J. Did Warner ever get compensation for that? I didn’t know he got sent down though.

DB. I’ve no idea. He did sometime on remand.

J. That’s fucking outrageous.

Q. It is.

DB. Yeah this all ties in with me, I met this Canadian girl who asked me if I’d marry her for £1,000, okay to me back then a £1,000 pounds - what am I gonna do with a £1,000 pounds?

J. That’s a lot of alcohol!

DB. And said I need to think about this. I’m not sure how I feel about marriage, sounds very bourgeois and I’m gonna have to think about this [Laughs] Because I had no concept of what’s a £1,000 pounds, what is a £1,000 pounds gonna, what difference is that gonna make to my life? And while I thought about it this whole eviction thing started on the estate and because I lived there, even though there was a hell of a lot of police around, I don’t know how seriously I took it.

I remember we had one day; we had like a mass meeting in some kind of community hall on the estate, a lot of talk, and I thought this was really great; the first time I felt there was a real community here, this is how it must of felt in Paris May 1968! We are gonna start heaving…

J. Vive la Revolution!

DB. …heaving, breaking up the flagstones and heaving at the police, yeah, talk about barricades, and at that point I thought “mmmm chips in curry sauce” and there’s about 30 policemen between me and the takeaway!

J. That’s what you want when you’re having a revolution isn’t it?

DB. I left the estate in search of chips and curry sauce and I got nicked and I remember seeing this van heading towards me and I thought whether I needed to be off the estate eating chips and curry sauce and then this van pulled up and there was some shouting and there were some other squatters shouting like skedaddle, move, get back over the wall, back onto the estate and I didn’t move quick enough and I got heaved into the back of van and got a good kicking and they said things that didn’t surprise me like “ you are an insult to good white families that live on that estate and you shouldn’t be allowed to live there” and I got back to the cop shop, which was Dalston.

J. I think they were rebuilding Stoke Newington for ages so that’s why we kept having to be arrested in other places.

DB. And I got another kick in there and they charged me for heaving something at a police van. When they bailed me, they took me to court; a day, 48 hour’s later, whatever…

J. Was it a chip?

DB. No it wasn’t a chip! I can’t remember exactly what it was I was supposed to of thrown, a half brick. And part of my bail conditions were that you can’t live in N16, for or when we take you to trail so I just left the area.

Q. So where did you go?

DB. I went and stayed with some friends back in south London but I really did feel for me, so this was like 1988. Something like that, yeah ,maybe 1987, 1988 [23.00]

I really felt the bottoms falling out of this, the estate didn’t seem like, the estate wasn’t a nice place to live, not for me, there was too much, there was a lot of drug dealing going on, which at the time I just didn’t feel, a lot of speed, acid, hash, [inaudible].

J. I always used to score on Holmleigh Road Estate.

DB. Lived in a flat. And there were some guys that used to come up from Westbourne Park to deliver speed, and whenever these guys turned up to deliver speed, to the guys who were living upstairs from me, so we were in a maisonette so whenever these guys in the upstairs bedroom in this maisonette who were selling speed, and whenever the guys who would come to deliver speed they would just kick the door in and would just march in. This is not somewhere I wanna live. I felt fate had kind of led me to gravitate to the place - who am I gonna live with if I don’t live here?

Q. So is that the end of your Stoke Newington days?

DB. Yes. I used to come back and visit people and go to parties, but by 1989, 1990 most of the people who I knew who used to live here had brought second hand trucks and left the area.

J. but I don’t know that wasn’t really the end of it, that was just the dip. Because they turned into the warehouse thing in the beginning the merging of the, the ravey punky thing, there was a squat in Clapton, and a squat in Holloway Road and the Manor House big venue. Were you in any of those?

DB. I used to go to the Mutoid Waste shows, happenings whatever they were in Kings Cross, and I remember you used to go there used to be sculptures huge sculptures made of toilets, like a fountain made of toilets with the water coming down into a big pool, I used to think how the hell did someone…and trucks that had fronts like skulls and all kinds of things made out of scrap metal.

And I remember you used to go there and there would be a very diverse music policy. All kinds of bands. There would be like one kind of band playing one type of music, and another band would come on and play opposite kind of music, very diverse different music in different room, great kind of atmosphere and very friendly, and then all of a sudden the music policy just changed and all they played was acid house and that’s all you got, all night, acid house and they stopped selling beer as well.

J. Dragsville.

DB. So I thought why am I even here, gotta bring my own bag of beer, there’s this music I didn’t understand and that’s all they played all night, and everyone seemed to be on a complete different wavelength to me.

Q. So there was a definite shift then?

DB. Yeah

Q. That was kind 1992, 1991/1992?

J. I’d say 1989. Maybe not that shift though, more 1990.

Q. But did you go in that direction?

J. No…

DB. Can’t imagine Jane having glow sticks.

J. I did quite like the kinda thin edge of that wedge when it was more punky there’d be a bit of a room that was kind of a bit proto that but when it went the whole hog to be honest I was quite druggy by then I wasn’t really involved in much.

Q. So do you see a big change in Stoke Newington, then and now? [26.00]

J. Yeah, totally. Then it was a lot more down at heel, its seemed a bit like the air was a different colour, the shops look cleaner but the air doesn’t, I don’t know does that sound weird, yeah it’s much more crowded as well it just takes longer to get anywhere now even a simple small bus journey it’s just the populations much bigger I don’t know it’s hard to pinpoint you know it’s a weird thing to try and pinpoint, because things happen on a trajectory, it’s happened overtime.

Q. So the alternative community that were living there then in the period we are talking about, are they still here? Have they moved?

J. I don’t know. Some of them are still here. I think quite a lot of some of them are still here but you know its quieter now. It’s the dominant culture of the area is definitely the hipsters, isn’t it in Dalston? It’s not really, I mean, I still see quite a lot of Brazilian people with anarchy leather jackets on and stuff so I guess that’s still happening. And then there’s the boat people isn’t there. It started underground and gone further underground maybe. What do you think Donald?

DB. What was the question again?

Q. The change in Stoke Newington.

DB. London in the 1980s will always hold a special place in my heart I think because it was different, very different. So it’s never gonna measure up to life in London then, life just seemed simpler, you know, in the sense that you got on a bus, I remember is it the 73 the 73 bus I remember used to go to Hammersmith.

J. And you can jump on and off it as it was moving.

DB. It went from Stoke Newington to Hammersmith, getting on that bus was like taking a magical trip somewhere.

J. Somebody used to call that the magic bus, didn’t they? Maybe I’m making that up actually, false memory syndrome. I know somebody said that was their favourite bus route.

DB. You went right through the west end and then into west London [29.00]

So the question being…it’s a lot more diverse. You’ve got a lot more diversity in this area, there’s a lot more people - the have and the have not’s living in very close proximity to each. Back then its seemed as though nobody really had anything. The Jewish community were a separate entity they had their own shops, their own banks, their own way of doing things.

J. They are still a bit like that.

DB. They were more obviously doing that back then it seemed, again this is with hindsight to me, their own part of town and it seemed like they maybe had something, maybe they were homeowners whatever, but you really felt everyone else really had very little.

J. There was the sort of easing into the Church Street contingent even back then it was getting a bit Islington-ified as someone once put it.

DB. Well yeah Islington in the time we lived here, Islington went very upmarket, it went from a down at heel, well nothing like it is now.

J. No it was still a bit fun, now it’s a bit stale, now it’s quite lifeless, it’s so clean.

Q. Do you think Stoke Newington’s heading that way?

J. God I hope not.

Q. Do you think it’s still got some vibrancy?

J. I think it’s still got a bit of something.

DB. What appeals to me…(the vibrancy) the area I live in now is very vanilla, it’s very white.

Q. Where’s that?

DB. I live in the London borough of Richmond, I live almost in Surrey, I’m not saying it doesn’t have a diverse population but this area is much more obviously diverse in the sense there is a lot of different nationalities living here in and not living amongst each other not living in kind of separate little areas.

J. But there’s always been that though, I don’t think that’s really changed, do you think that’s changed?

DB. No I’m just comparing to the area where I live now.

J. Oh right sorry.

DB. Yeah, so yeah, to me you know the area I live now is very samey, vanilla, that’s how I describe it, okay…..I do like that sense of belonging,, the reason I ended up here, the reason I ended up squatting is because there was a sense of belonging there was like a shared experience, a shared attitude that I naturally kind of gravitate towards, I want to be around people who possibly have a similar world view and I like that sense of community.

J. Quite a lot of idealism, even through the beer cans there was a lot of idealists you know.

DB. Oh I’m such an idealist. I’m a terrible one for utopian thinking, that this would be all okay if everyone just thought like me.

J. If everyone just thought like me, yeah. [laughs]

DB. I just wished as a younger man I’d learnt how to do that, in the same way that I attempt to do it today and just try and be part of something without all the drinking that went on.

Q. Do you think it’s important in how it’s shaped you as a human being your time spent here?

J. Yeah, I think so.

DB. I feel sorry for people who didn’t. I meet people at a similar age to me who don’t have that whole punk thing, they never found that attractive, and I feel like wow you really missed out on something, because to me it’s an…it’s not for me to say they missed out on something, but there’s still something so vibrant about it - and you’re the same age as me, you could have been part of that but why didn’t you find it attractive, why didn’t you gravitate towards that? “oh I was too busy at university and meeting my wife or whatever”, okay?

J. What!?

DB. I’m really glad, I’d quite happily be 50 and if I could have got more involved in the late 1970s or something like that then you know I’d quite happily be older now in order to have gotten involved earlier because I think in a sense, I get feeling now I’d missed, there was a heyday, that we just kinda missed.

J. Do you?

DB. I think there was a heyday we just kinda missed.

Q. You missed the heyday?

DB. I think there was something…

Q. When was the heyday?

DB. So I’d say very early 1980s.

J. It could depend on your tastes you know.

DB. It could do.

J. Because it was all very still…even after the music changed, there was still people organising things in a homespun way, co-operatives making their own records you know having, producing something without the big sort of names and authority and stuff, that was all still all those ingredients were still in place it was just, if you were into being into a bit angry and punk it’s a bit crap when acid music came along. Do you know what I mean though?

DB. Yeah I just….maybe I just get this idea there was less people doing it and it was more of a select few. So I think what I’m saying is, I came here looking for a scene, and there was a possibility that that scene had already come and gone, what I was looking for had already come and gone, there was something happening here because people has stayed in the area but that scene I was looking, was actually, that particular moment had passed so I took….

J. If only you’d learnt to drive you would of been fine, your little truck. You wouldn’t even of had to start washing.

DB. There would have been a lot of driving drunk Jane.

J. I don’t think they did a lot of driving, I think they were destination focused.

DB. Any driving I would have done would have been drunk driving. When I think about the amount of cars and vans I’ve travelled where people were two sheets, you know, really, really pissed, you know I think how did I get here? [Laughs]

Q. Great well I think that’s a good chunk of time.


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