How to be tough, how to be resilient.
How to be strong and kind and good.
How not to be prey, or to prey upon others: to overcome the vested interests around gender, age, race and class. We need representational democracy not a Brexit company simulacrum, pounding out cambridge analytican stereotyping while the history of parliamentary democracy is jettisoned as old hat. Not fit for purpose.
Yesterday I understood the smiling face in an individual of those big categories: how we create the big conditions of fascism, racism, ageism, sadism, classism in our interactions with other people.
Every large bad thing can be seen in the particular, the local: the way we relate to each other. How we see and negotiate the space we’re in. Who we see who we don’t understand, don’t care about.
I am here, in the space, now. I feel intimidated, questioning the right of the landlord to let his eyes and his camera, the measuring equipment he holds, to survey and consume the flat I live in with my partner: to take control of my right to quiet enjoyment of the space, the environment I live in so I can make a way of living, a way of life that contributes, is innovative and is mine. My right to that. Only I want to share what’s mine and distribute that understanding and knowledge. Like everyone I need stability to do that.
I follow him walking around it, telling me that it’s really lovely, Paula. He asks me if he can take photos, take photos of my paintings, my prints, my décor. I say yes, of course -and he’s in, like a steel trap.
I reflect, after he’s gone (it was really nice to meet you) on the way he was playing the encounter that he must have expected to determine and to win, to unsettle me, to make me obeisant, to know who really owned this space, place, time. There really was nothing to learn about me, nothing he didn’t already think he knew. How in determining the space, placing himself as the norm across its spaces, widths, depths, that I too had explored, he was also participating in a range of acts, behaviours that determine what time is: my time, my choices, my aspirations, how his movement into my space and time was also a kind of meta surveillance and curtailment of my agency: activities, economic, social, culturally valuable information.
Where would I go next? Was I, am I, as a tenant, always put on the back foot and told to run… Casual, privileged cruelty. Am I on the run? Am I a criminal? Am I being criminalised, slowly evicted from my own life? Is he playing god with my right to live, grow, expand, contribute?
I pick at this wound because there’s an older wound: what happens when I consider the history of my mum after crossing the Irish sea in 1953, the harm that came to her and to her family because they were seen as prey, how when she was five her mum died in childbirth and how her oldest sister took care of six children while her dad went out to work and how when she was ten she developed scarlet fever, was sent to uncles ‘in the country’ and was forgotten until she returned at sixteen, a ‘country bumpkin and all’, back to her very fashion conscious sisters and brothers who put her on a crash diet with all that entailed (anorexia, starving, emotional stress, who knows).
Working, always working, in an ice cream parlour, for Plessey, soldering radios, then redundancy and following her brothers and sisters to England to nanny for one of her brothers, who, Jesuit educated, blonde and blue eyed, seemed to be able to get on with everyone. He became a publican. Bought a house first thing, she met my dad, she was twenty four he was twenty nine, he’d been a merchant navy seaman and had travelled on ships that were probably collecting people from the colonies during the war. He went to Malta, to Palestine, Norway, to Algeria, Morocco, Egypt.
My problem is the ignorance of war, the casual pain and suffering that the privilege of war assumes. After the second world war people wanted and needed something different. The NHS and housing, schools, infrastructure but when she went to the dentist before her wedding the greedy man in the new NHS told her that she needed all her teeth out. I know that she suffered before she came to Britain and when she came here she must have been seen as prey when she went about her normal life, when she would access services. She told me how racist the factory was in Boots where she worked.
I know that as a seven year old that the wonder we felt in having our new council house, our home, was never valued in the environment we lived in which was mainly owner occupier.
We loved our home and felt we lived in a perfect place near to school, shops, friends but the way community reconstruction was delivered in a climate of austerity after the second world war by the military, how estates were created, planned, surveilled against diverse economic social, personal educational development: how the economy was understood by these military practitioners across America and Europe was naive: a massification that closed off access to jobs, training, skills and innovation to the people who needed them most. Penalised the innovators, labelled and excluded them even. Small was never as beautiful as it should have been in the UK.
I know that my dad was discriminated against in his short life in his final role and status as a car salesman in West Bridgford for Hooley’s garage. Previously, he’d put his savings into an electrical service and parts business with a posh man who conned him. Because he was working class, because he’d left school at thirteen because he was creative and wanted a working environment that was down to earth, straightforward and honest he was made to feel ashamed, a fool, a dupe. He was desperate too and made a foolish mistake that he paid for. West Bridgford was strictly conventional, socially hierarchical, yet porous: we could all see how overbearing and irrelevant the social hierarchies were yet they were powerful and poisonous.
He had a stroke and died, when, luckily, we were the first car at Colwick level crossing. He’d stopped the car and died. Presence of mind as he was dying then, his head on the horn signalling an emergency. Me and one of my sisters and my baby brother were in the car he’d borrowed from the showroom to give my mum a break from the children.
He’d been working long, hours, had been feeling ill but said he’d take us to see his mum and buy a birthday present for my other sister.
Now when I think about him, my mum, the constant pressure they seemed under I understand. I understand how my mum just had her life swept away and when she took her children out into the world because she was idealistic of her identity, intelligence, her difference and right to take over from my dad she was under served and denied access to work, services and only seen as a problem.
Women who were tea and coffee friends during the day would not speak to her when their husbands were around. She took over the family jobs dad would have done, taking me to the dentist but I know that the dentist, a Mr Whittle, played on her ignorance and previous traumatic experience of attending an NHS dentist as an irish immigrant. When I look at how beautiful she was, how perfect her skin and shape were in her wedding photos, she said she’d been so nervous that her eyes swelled up the night before, I also think about the shame she would have felt about having had to have all her teeth out. Did she really need those extractions or were dentists profiting in the new NHS from racial exclusion (that even though she thought she was british, she’d married a british man, the main actors and agents within the new bureaucracy could perform acts of denial of service).
She was brave, then, to take me to the dentist just after dad died but her experience just wouldn’t let those wounds heal. This dentist ‘swore black was blue’ and made her believe him (even though she and I had looked at my new teeth and they were perfect). He told her that I needed eight fillings under gas. It was really to make money. NHS payments for eight teeth and how dentists became the vanguard of privatisation and social exclusion.
Mr Whittle had a drink problem (I wonder what his story was) and lost his job as a dentist but he and people like him had a hand in the un writing and writing off of so many people’s histories, so many people who wanted a fair, square deal in the fifties, sixties, seventies, who wanted to participate, contribute, learn, grow and develop their creativities. Although the amazing stories of some jewish and colonial refugees have been remembered, what we don’t realise is just how arbitrary, contingent and personal the writing of the story of a potential underclass always is and was.
After this experience ( I’d recently just experienced my dad’s death), I used to dream that I was chewing barbed wire. It got so bad that I couldn’t concentrate at school. Our teacher was amazing, she used to teach Shakespeare and music and equalities and pottery as well as maths, english, science but although I knew this, I had stopped being connected to the routine and flow of the everyday, the normal. That had been taken from me when my dad died and after my car accident. On one particular day in February 1964, I was so distracted that I knew I had to do something different to assuage the pain I was feeling. I know I thought, comic, pocket money, lunchtime I’ll go and buy it, read it and I will feel wonderful. It was hard persuading mum as she stirred the parsley sauce to give me the money I wanted. I promised her I would be so quick ( I could run down to the shops and back in less than ten minutes, I was a tomboy, I was full of life and energy and beans, except that really, since dad died I really wasn’t as fast as I thought I was: at school, on the playground I could see that I was probably one of the slowest runners suddenly, why? What had happened to me? Was it just because I was held back as a girl? Or was I just deluded? Where was my place? I was stuck and it felt as if everyone else was flying past me. It was weird, I felt as if I was pushed out or aware that I was pushed out, the world at school seemed cruel and ugly too knowing and ignorant and I felt weak.
I took the money from my mum and ran down to the shops, running was great, I ran and ran but then I had to arrive at the zebra crossing and then had to cross it. I saw the red mini coming towards me and I wondered, ‘what would happen if I stepped out now?’ I stepped out onto the zebra and the car which was driven by the daughter of the local chief superintendent (according to my mum who had been told by someone indirectly, she rarely believed things people told her and preferred to find things out for herself), the car hit me and I hit the windscreen and landed back on the zebra crossing. I got up and started to cross the road, when an irish workman told me he’d carry me. He took me into the newsagent and sat me on a stool, I suddenly felt very tired and lay down on the floor trying to go to sleep. After my accident I was given access to the very best dental surgeon in Nottingham who tried to persuade me to wear a fixed brace.
What he didn’t understand was how I’d nearly died because I wanted to get away because of the eight fillings: from the feeling that I was chewing barbed wire: I couldn’t wear a fixed brace and pulled it out, getting punished for doing it, treated as if I had been at fault, lazy and impatient: all the characteristics of the looming underclass were mine.
You couldn’t make it up
Now when I think about this landlord, and my relationship with life and the world, how when I went back to school after six weeks I was seen as different, as socially different, as confused, as chaotic, as immature when in many ways I’d developed communication skills and had experienced really severe trauma from the age of six onwards.
When we blame victims of trauma, when we create pathologies around trauma rather than insights and reciprocities, we also make an industry of exclusion and pain that are made worse by services that are morally biassed against distribution.
After my car accident when I found out I couldn’t see the blackboard at school I screwed my eyes up rather than admit I couldn’t see and would rather pretend that I was mad when our class teacher who used to make us stand up and read from the board couldn’t understand which numbers I was talking about as I tried to stand up and screw up my eyes to see.He thought he could bully poverty and difference out of children, like the jewish teacher who used to hit the poor children with a ruler because she was told she had to do it: can you imagine the conflict in her mind when she obeyed the rules, in the 1960’s? I wonder what conflict and complexities were going on in her heart and mind? Why didn’t we know her story?
When we see the smugness of turning the possibilities of post war democracy into a Brexit company business we can see the processes of exclusion, supply chains of war and slaveries that have a real root in the way we talk to/don’t talk to others. Access and exclusion are at the heart of a new micro economy that is needed: we need to move into a place where people can create new ways of working, earning, training and living that put a real end to the abuse of people because it’s a world view, because it’s of the world.
Greed as a remedy for need, inclusion, representation and deeper meaningful conversations across race, class, gender and age will never work. We’ve allowed some people to abuse knowledge, learning, experience to have authority and power over others. The structures of business, government and the welfare state need to be smaller, representative of everyone. I want to know about the history of rentier capitalism, how, perhaps, the grandfather and father of this current landlord came to own their first properties and grew their portfolio. Why they think they are entitled to my life now.
Where does that entitlement, that privilege to never explain, to never recognise the value of the other person really come from? Slavery?
This new kind of intergenerational feudal style control of properties are delivered from the framework managers of the Carillion and the Kensington Tenant Management Organisations to the Make Up stories about criminals kind of Serco gravy train: people who work for them being their ears and eyes on weaknesses, failures, tenant stupidities, passivities and problems. These organisations delivered the hostile environment really. No need for news then. It’s all inside the corporate family and everything else is doomed to fail and die. This feeds the hateful Express, Mail, Sun, Star, Jeremy Kyle punch up TV. You couldn’t make it up. But actually they’ve been making it up for years and years and years.
When the landlord came into my flat yesterday, when he took photos of the space and told me in his opinion what the large space was (a place for a young family, perhaps), he was abusing me and my partner because he was saying to us: ‘there’s no point in you trying to build anything here, what you have built here in the two years you’ve been here means nothing. We spoke of the older lady who’d lived in the flat downstairs for thirty or more years not wanting to share the garden which I felt was a shame. Something strange had happened to the way she felt she could relate to the tenants of this flat we rent, before we moved in and since and I think that this landlord and the service people he uses have a lot to do with that woman’s view of people, neighbours and the world. “She is elderly” he said, implying that anyone who lives in these flats is either old or mad even though, quite clearly, they are not. I thought, you are a shallow man using the tools of marketing segmentation as weapons in the space.
It felt wrong: a wrong, an allowed wrong in the normal, the everyday. A kind of ‘Your life only has a predetermined range, flow and value to me and to the employers who collude with people like me to close off the range of your possibilities….
You are boxed in Paula, kettled, Paula”.
‘Your life has no value’ his control of the space tell me. ‘I determine what value is here and I can walk in to the lovely home you’ve built over the last two years after you had to move (I know the landlord who replaced the flat you had with a professional HMO arrangement) and I am full of decisions about you and your type. I decide whether you’re a contributor or not I approve or disapprove of you in what you think is your space but, actually, foolish woman, this is my space. If you defer to me in that space I will give you the illusion that you have boundaries that I respect”.
“I have the right to choose who should really have the right to this space and I will have the moral high ground because we, we, the landlords, the decision makers, the investors, can play our sadistic game as if it was purely about austerity and rationing of resources. The general public have no democracy any longer so we bring them together in petitions, social media and referenda. They want to come together over a project to imagine what a community (always at arm’s length), might actually be. Questions might be: Who is worthy of a roof over their head, an ‘elderly couple’ like you two or a young couple, just starting out their lives, a couple with a child? Let the people decide”.
“I want to plant a seed in your mind Paula, too, about your disposability, your lack of worth”.
“I can play you off against another interest group that we, as a group of intergenerationally privileged landlords want to continue. We know that we can muster support to write off, rub out, erase the space you keep on attempting to create for yourself because the general public has been so indoctrinated to think that democracy is something that happens through referenda, through clicking yes/no/like: choosing your favourite while writing off your own right to exist. The Brexit party is a company, remember”.
The idea of developing rights, learning and growing all the diverse ideas of economies against a mob choice of which piece of pick and mix equalities will the public vote ‘choose’.
“I can write you off, write you out because I think the people of West Bridgford want to give hard working young people, young couples, young married couples, a chance, perhaps (and, he asks me ‘Paula, are you married’?)”.
It made me think about the kind of lascivious space created by people like Donald Trump and the christian Families For Freedom where the surface of conformity conceals sexual misogyny, racism, agesim, abuse. All is a fixed, botoxed surface,a surface that facilitates the blurring of the boundaries between the legal and the illegal.
I thought about the hows, whys and wherefores of how rented accommodation, how gig economy jobs entitle rentier abuse, erosion and rubbing out of other people. Where do they end up? In detention, on the streets, inside a market of their exclusion: homes where the class war of privilege and underprivilege are manipulated by the owner managers and their manipulation of accountability and the inspection process. Moving people on, keeping them migrant, fugitive in their own lives inside the NHS and in the market place of services and care provision. the landlord and the people who work for him discuss where the tenants can go next. The tenants are never part of this conversation.
They’re proper disenfranchised.
I live a congruent life and make a good place to live that I share. I share with my friends, family, what I feel is my space but which is contested by his smiling cruelty, ‘this is a big space, Paula, how many bedrooms?’, I say ‘two and there’s a walk in wardrobe type of room’.
The landlord/managing agent says ‘this could be a room for a child -it could be a family home’.
It feels like sadistic glee to me: sounds like the bully on the beach who makes and remakes ever more elaborate sandcastles with moats, sandcastles and moats that never change, never become something more creative, more inclusive, because the idea, the fundamental idea of everything is to take ownership, take control and administer the materials of life, deliver them the way they’ve always been delivered, through the same apparatus of inheritance, privilege and exclusion. On the beach, as much as in a tenancy, you’re at war if you see and feel differently: you are made to feel your very life, identity and aspirations are contested.
There is no in between between what is valuable sand play and what is idle sand play. I am you yet you think I’m other and when I am when I am female, agely, irishly, when I am written into a rentier network of landlords writing my life off in the same way that networks of victorian spiritualists wrote names, addresses, stories of people who came to them in notebooks and shared them to encourage and develop the hold of spiritualism over people who really needed decent jobs, education and inclusion but were excluded, targetted, preyed on, prey.
The landlord system tells me that I am other, always other. I have no rights, boundaries and the landlordly I, as the owner of this sandcastle and moat, have proved that it is mine and it is always mine. I have and will always prove ownership of this space you are foolish, stupid, dreamer, neurotic, demented/dementable/abusable material. You are my prey. I have the right of possession of this thing, this property.
(He’s come to inspect and, also, coincidentally view ‘damage’, rain ‘damage’. When it rained recently, either blocked gutter or a loose slate which had been reported but, like many of these property related issues it wasn’t acted on until it was strategic to do so. So the process of removing you from the things you want to care for, to repair, to understand and know isn’t your knowledge, you know nothing.
Over a period of time this breeds a toxic environment of carelessness which is then laid at the door of the tenant as one of a class of people who are so far out of the pale that ownership of anything, a task, an explanation, an understanding of everything is contested.
Any ownership I would take of a problem is an annoying interference becoming part of not only the harmless property management strategy but a way of controlling the tenancy, determining it in a kind of structured confusion.
Every event to the landlord, becomes loaded with the intent, performance, possibility of privilege and power: where the quality of our living space is determined by the work people his father knew who know how to manage tenants lives too, who are ignorant, wilfully ignorant of the rights of tenants, the right to privacy, a private life and secure boundaries. Work people relationships in rentier property has its roots in the lack of who are allowed to come into the property, with permission or without permission to comment and participate in an ongoing conversation about tenants, tenancies and the tenant situation. If there’s a leak here, it’s a great opportunity for the owner/landlord to review the whole position, speak it, practise it and in that ‘review’ question me, contest me, rub out my life, my memory, my sense of connection, rootedness, belonging.
I ask, (two years into this tenancy, when the last five year tenancy was interrupted by another rentier dementia capitalist, a speculator on the whole life cycle: nurseries, HMO type rented accommodation for students and professional people, care homes, an investment interest in secure accommodation and property let to asylum seekers and refugees through another company). This man and others in similar market spaces need the gig economy, need zero hours contracts, need to control expectations, aspirations and the local economy. They need the social problems that they contribute to creating.
They’ve lobbied for privatisation and bought council houses, taken ownership of other people’s identities, throughout their lives in rented accommodation and have a vested interest in the subsidy poor people make through the welfare state to their private possession of older people who are forced to sell their homes to pay for zero hours care either in the community or in residential environments.
How banal, as Hannah Arendt observed, is cruelty, the way the rights of privilege, unearned privilege, only exist through the taking away, the daily erosion, of the rights of others, of people who live in rented accommodation.
Shock and awe, like little boys being trained for war inside and outside. War, always war. When they make sandcastles and moats on the beach, to always protect themselves, their space, their identity: lock down everything against the other, the thief, the thief of difference: the person who might be a girl, a black child, someone from some other place that is not feudal, military England. It is the mantra learnt very early in life that leads to the pulling up of the ladder of social change, difference and mobility.
The space is mine and space, to the landlord feels, feels like space (but not mine, because my space is always prey for these people, my identity, is always questioned, my aspirations are contested,) underscore, underscore.
The hostile environment begins there in the micro in the way boys play war against everyone, fight, fight, fight: the way they take up space to fight and move in space, the way they are supported to expect and not be questioned, speed in the micro space, speed in the local, speed in the regional, national, international. Speed that never questions its purpose, speed and movement that questions and harms difference just because it can.
How privilege, the unearned privilege of the rentier landlord can walk into a home you’ve made and take possession of the space, measure it, size it up for the next tenants they want in the property.
A wrong that I and others will right. I will write it, speak it, play it, make it, dance it until it gets better for everyone. Until the ignorant and greedy realise they are on this planet with everyone else and we are not just military conquerors we are peace, we are creativities, we are makers, doers and part of a much bigger orchestra of being than we realise.
All the world’s our stage and every man, woman, child have a part to play that noone has the right to determine.