The north wind is behind me
And I’ve planted out my sweet peas
The money tree is thriving
But the best things here are free
When people ask, I tell them I am writing a book about housing called Why I Live in a Shed. What I am actually doing is running, singing, surfing, drinking, cursing, worrying and waking up in the dead of night to make marks in the dark with a pencil.
I have spent the winter housed. And now it is spring and the time has come to say goodbye to my latest insulated, centrally-heated, multi-roomed holiday (bathroom, washing machine, fridge, hot water) and wander back through time and space to the shed, via an off-grid wooden gazebo, some meditation (not medication) and a quick trip to Portugal.
But first I am going to offload some thoughts, facts and statistics that represent the thin end of a wedge the size of Wales. Think of it as backstory.
I thought I lived in a shed because there weren’t enough houses to go around. Politicians across the spectrum all seem to agree that what we need is housebuilding on a scale not seen since the second world war. Turns out this is propaganda (also known as Total Bollocks). The reality is that there are 65 million bedrooms in Britain for just 55 million people. And while it is true that 1.8 million households are waiting for social housing, it is also true that 737 000 residential properties that could house 2 million people are brick and mortar bank accounts, kept deliberately empty so they can be bought and sold to turn a profit.
The Prime Minister pleads with a journalist ‘Please don’t make me look like a prat for not knowing how many houses I’ve got’ and The Sultan of Brunei applies for a 10% discount on his council tax because his London house is not his first (or second, or third) home.
We do not need to build more houses, unless it is to create yet more inequality. ‘The purpose of much of the world’s construction is construction, its primary function is to provide contracts for the companies that build and perks for the officials who commission’ writes George Monbiot.
We do not need to build more houses, unless it is to speed up the elimination of the human race. ‘Concrete production is among the main sources of carbon pollution worldwide’ observes Danny Dorling.
I live in a shed because government policies designed to inflate house prices and make the economy look stronger than it actually is (in private life this is called cooking the books) mean it is effectively impossible for anyone under the age of 40 to buy a house.
I live in a shed because I would rather live in an uninsulated tin can on the side of the road several hundred miles from anywhere with no toilet or hot water than bite my nails for the privilege of renting a boxroom in a house full of semi-strangers, from which I am obliged to erase all evidence of my existence every time the letting agent lets himself in with his own key to perform one of his ‘regular and invasive’ inspections.
Call me old-fashioned but I’m a 36 year old introvert who craves order and stability and has already lived at 17 different addresses, not including 2 years in a van and 3 years at university.
Renting, in my experience, is miserable, unaffordable (in the year to 2013 median rents in London rose by 9% while wages rose by 2%), insecure and unregulated. In spite of the fact that private landlords are subsidized by taxpayers – that’s you and me – to the tune of £17 billion (housing benefit) 1 in 3 private rental accommodations don’t meet the government’s (pitifully low) standards.
I live in a shed because I am by nature a writer and musician and living in a shed is the only way I have a hope of realizing my dreams and projects. I have wasted more time and tears than I care to count trying to squeeze myself into a square hole. I do not think that only individuals with trust funds should have the chance to be artists. I do not think this would be good for people or for art.
Mainly I live in a shed because Thatcher sold us the narrative of consumerism to pit against the narratives of class and communism, which did not serve her. (Just like she sold the council houses, often in job lots to cronies who went on to become millionaire private landlords.)
It is true that our homes represent our selves in material form. But the important, creative link between home and selfhood has been hijacked and monetized by consumerist ideology. Our nests reduced to disposable nest-eggs. Instead of telling the world something about who we are, in myriad intriguing ways, our houses try to tell the world how much we are worth. The bigger the house, the more worthwhile the person. But this is a childish waste of life. Logically speaking, we can never be worth more or less than anybody else, no matter how big our houses are, no matter if we call ourselves the Sultan of Brunei or the prat from Chipping Norton.
I live in a shed because I hate consumerism with a visceral, seething, spitting hatred. It threatens the ground beneath my feet, the stars in my eyes, the salt on my tongue, the futures of my sisters’ children and everything else that I love with all my heart.
This housing crisis is a symbolic manifestation – a cancerous symptom – of consumerist ideology. Housing is not just an economic problem. It is an existential problem.
‘The effect of focusing on the house as consumer commodity has an effect on the social structure as a whole’ writes Jessie Hohmann. ‘Housing is important in the formation and protection of identity, community and place in the world.’
Housing is central to an ideological debate that needs to rage and rage, because when we lose our place in the world we lose everything. We forget that we belong here, to this green and gold and lovely planet, and behave like angry squatters, shitting on our own doorstep.
But we do belong, literally, with every cell in our bodies, as Leonardo Da Vinci neatly observed nearly 600 years ago – ‘Man is called by the ancients a world in miniature and certainly this name is well applied, for just as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, so is the body of the earth’.
Which is something I have experienced first-hand, through living in a shed. So listen up, because I’m going to sing you a whole new song.
For a more lyrical shedlife extract please visit Dark Mountain.net