A wise friend just said to me when I was explaining what i'd been doing this afternoon, "I don't know what the laws are around squatting". Neither do I, I suppose I should have at least given it some thought before I entered one, but you don't do you? I mean I've never read the Transport for London bye-laws but I get tubes and buses every day. And I've entered into god-knows-what EULAs without thinking or reading. So I might have been naughty this afternoon, but I'm not sure that I've done any harm to the owner of the property.
Anyhow, so I went along to the latest incarnation of the Really Free School aka "Guy Ritchie's £6m mansion in Fitzroy Square" I went to show one of the British Council films from the 1940s that have recently been digitised and made available online to run a discussion about it. I chose General Election (1945) which tells the story of the election as it happened in Kettering, Northants (including a tremendously over-confident Lt Col John Profumo as the Conservative candidate)
But when I arrived, there were a group of photographers waiting – I don't understand why it's still a story, I suppose anything to do with anyone famous requires 24hr coverage. I was met by "Dan from ITV" (he's the one with the video camera) and 3 other photographers all of whom kept silent. Dan asked me whether I knew who owned the building. I said I did, that I'd read the newspapers. I asked them what their names were and where they were from. I also said something like "and you can have your release forms ready in a minute" to which Dan said "it's a public place" and I replied, noting that we were actually on the doorstep and probably within the curtilage of the property "well either i'm on someone else's property or I'm in a public place, you can't have it both ways" oh dear, too clever by half sometimes…
Luckily at that point our friends indoors let me in and we got on with what I'd come for. People enjoyed the film and we had a discussion about how politics has changed in the last 70 years (not much in terms of mechanics – quite a bit in how we talk about it)
On the way out, my self-righteousness rose up again and I shot a little video of them. I love the way one photographer just stood stock still completely ignoring me while the other one just used his camera to cover his face and keep taking close-ups of me. Some cringeworthy banter followed…
It left me with a very playground feeling, the need to be right and be seen to be right, the need to come out on top and have the last word. I don't come across much confrontation with strangers like this (I know, this isn't serious confrontation – it's a measure of how little I do see that I describe it that way) so it felt unusual and then I just thought, "Poor sods, they must be freezing, what a way to earn a living". If I go there tomorrow I might take them a cup of tea.