Thursday 30 August 2007

Housing Co-Operatives

I haven’t talked about my housing co-op here yet, and I’d meant to. Partly it’s complicated to explain to outsiders and partly I’m too busy doing it to talk about it, but it deserves a mention because living here shapes so much of the rest of my life.

The idea is something like this. The co-operative is a bit like a housing association, a company which owns houses and flats and rents them out to people who need them. Everyone who lives in a co-op property buys a share for £1 when they move in, which gives them an equal share of the business that owns the properties. We all help to do the work involved in owning and managing the properties, and we make decisions democratically between all the tenant-shareholders.

There are much better and more detailed explanations of this structure elsewhere, so if this doesn’t make sense then try the Confederation of Co-operative Housing info. The most important aspects of living in one, for me, are that my rent is cheap enough to allow me to only work part-time, and that because my neighbours all regularly meet up to do the work and socialise I’m part of this amazing little community – how many people in cheap urban housing can still say they know almost everyone on their street? Not to mention actually liking most of them.

Real communities are complicated though, and so is running a business. My contribution to the workload for the last few weeks has been re-writing our primary rules, which lay out the basic structure of our co-op and explain procedure for things like conducting meetings, getting ourselves audited and getting the work done.

Because we all contribute to decision-making here, we all need to understand the rules so we’re clear about what we can and can’t do. They also need to be legally watertight, and the version we’ve been working with up to now is virtually unreadable and unfit for either purpose:

“Rule 29

The instrument appointing a proxy shall be in writing under the hand of the appointer or of his/her attourney duly authorised in writing and shall be deposited at the registered office of the Association not less than two clear days before the day fixed for holding the meeting at which the person named in such instrument is authorised to vote, and in default the instrument of proxy shall not be treated as valid.”

It goes on. There are EIGHTY separate rules, some with not only a)s and b)s but also i)s and ii)s. I keep having to turn the Grammar-checker off because whole pages are underlined in green and marked “Long sentence”, and over the years we’ve spent a considerable amount of money asking solicitors to tell us what some of the longest sentences actually refer to. So, it’s going in the bin.

This weekend we all meet up to discuss the new rules and see if anyone can spot any problems with what I’ve come up with so far. Next week we’ll send it all off to the Housing Corporation for approval, and the weekend after that we’re having a big party to celebrate thirty years since this place first began.

It’s been a slog going through pages of legal-speak, trying to think of every possible future scenario that we need to cover and explaining it in English so everyone can decide what they think of it. The regulators have been breathing down our necks for a long time and can’t work out how we’ve kept things going for thirty years without everyone losing interest altogether. But a day catching up with everyone around a big bonfire, sharing the history of the place and the people and having a good old gossip is motivation enough. The only instruments around next weekend will be musical ones, and that’s the bit the regulators don’t understand.

Friday 24 August 2007

What I Did On My Holidays

Thought I'd share my fondest memories of the fantastic Climate Camp at Heathrow last weekend, partly as an excuse to throw in loads of links which also help explain why I went. In no particular order...

Two kids amusing themselves on the
Rinky-Dink one afternoon at the camp by singing "Jingle Fucking Bells". With gusto.

People in the Yorkshire barrio* playing with a chess set they'd carved out of carrots.

Running from the campsite towards
BAA offices through a huge field of shoulder-high dead broad bean plants, being chased by screaming riot and mounted police and wearing a summary of the Tyndall Report strapped to my hand.

Blockading BAA with a big fluffy white rabbit called Eliot, who was very happy to be there and got fed carrots by the people in "Grow Your Own" vegetable costumes. Watching people spotting him for the first time who naturally assumed they were hallucinating due to lack of sleep.

A very straight-faced policeman attending the open meeting at the blockade, and answering his mobile phone by saying in a Very Important voice "I'LL HAVE TO CALL YOU BACK, I'M IN A MEETING!"

Theo from
Seize the Day singing the policeman song on the Rinky-Dink. It's about a policeman who decides to join the 365 blockade of the nuclear submarine base there, and as far as I can find out it hasn't been recorded yet. I promise you it's worth going to Faslane on October 1st just to hear him sing it to the police there.

Someone I think was called Cosmo doing Paul Allen's "The Mosh Song" on Monday night in the main marquee - much better than Paul Allen himself did it. Also Duncan, who I can't find a link for, singing "James Bond is an Upper Class Copper" and "Drugs vs Sport". Brilliant.

Going to the toilet, drunk, at about 2am on the last night and finding... a clean toilet seat and plenty of clean dry toilet roll! The whole thing was so well organised that I'm going to have to give up making cynical remarks about organising piss-ups in breweries
by consensus. Eventually.

* A barrio is a "neighbourhood", usually involving a marquee with a kitchen and space to meet and sit around. Camps are organised into barrios so that people from similar parts of the country can meet, eat and work together.

Sunday 19 August 2007

Climate Camp

So here I am at the lovely Climate Camp!

I put my stuff down in a marquee and walked straight into a tactics workshop consisting of several hundred people practicing dealing with police lines as Jedi Warriors and Storm Troopers. Very amusing, especially watching the pretend police get carried away with giving each other orders and shouting "BACK!", and the (for the time being) pretend protesters reacting almost primally to a line of hi-vis jackets, cheering when they managed to elbow and shove the pretend police around and break through their lines.

How useful any of it will be tomorrow I have my doubts, but it did give me a chance to look for familiar faces, of which there are plenty. I seem to have missed the party night yesterday and tonight is supposed to be a quiet night so
we can all get some rest, and concentrate properly on training about how to make quick decisions by consensus in affinity groups on actions tomorrow. Apparently.

Someone is gently strumming a guitar outside my tent, I'm in thermals in my sleeping bag and have my ear plugs in. If we get evicted in the middle of the night then hopefully I'll just sleep through it.

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Saturday 18 August 2007

Going to Climate Camp

The cat's got her legs on the wrong way round this morning. She is actually fast asleep in this position!

I'm off to the climate camp today, and I might try posting a blog or two from there. See you there if you're going...

Thursday 16 August 2007

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

The story of Frankie McCourt's relentlessly awful childhood, told with both a lively, distinctively Irish sense of humour, and an authentic sounding child's voice and point of view. Both very dark and highly entertaining - read it in private so you can laugh out loud without caring about looking silly.

Cover photo etc

Don't go looking on Amazon - support independent booksellers!

Thursday 9 August 2007

Big Green Gathering

Just back from the Big Green which was actually sunny – hooray! Very hot, in fact. Much indulgence in such activities as sitting on the grass, wearing dresses, going barefoot all day and eating ice cream, and about time too. I’d almost forgotten how hard it is to sleep in a tent in the sun though - more tent adaptations on the way…

Tried to stay away from all the gadget shops in case I ended up buying a solar powered twirly thing, which is the non-green alternative to doing without a twirly thing altogether.

Topping all the gadgets by quite a long way though was the cycle-powered washing machine, which I can’t believe I’ve never seen before. Bike wheels go round, washing machine drums go round, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The water wasn’t heated, so if I made my own I’d probably put the water tank on one side with a mini-rocket stove under it made out of veg oil cans, but it did the trick with the small load I used it for.

I also got my very own gadget made in the crafts field. Loads of the food stalls give you wooden forks, but they’re pretty horrible to eat with so I got myself a small metal one for 40p at one of the tat shops. I kept finding myself trying to cut up potato skins etc with the edge of the fork, so I got someone with a cycle-powered grinding wheel to grind the edge down into a blade for me and I now have the ultimate bit of camping cutlery.

Also inspired by things I saw there, the next wacky structure to appear on my allotment will probably be a geodesic dome. I had a good look at one that had been put together with cable ties, and talked to the guy who made it about which were the long and the short pieces, which of course I can’t now remember. The trick is to have an 11% difference in length between them, apparently. I think I’ll make a model out of construction straws first.

So many projects, so little time…