Photo by alisder
This week, Samara and I visited the Free Hetherington – Britain’s longest-running student occupation – ostensibly to hear an address by comedian Josie Long. Josie was great, but the main impression I was left with was one of respect for the merry band of passionate students responsible for the Free Hetherington.
You may have seen the initiative in the news. Basically, the Hetherington used to be a university-run watering hole and social space for postgraduate students and staff. University bean counters closed it down last year with the intention of turning it into offices. There was a collective sigh of frustration and some brilliant young students decided to do something about it. The club was actually a bequest for the students of Glasgow University; and so the students rightfully and skilfully took occupation of it. I think the official occupation has come to an end but the students are still there, running the day-to-day business of the club, and generally running a nice space for socialising and study. They also support industrial action on behalf of university staff and are, needless to say, highly vocal about the evil of the public sector cuts.
I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the Free Hetherington. It’s bloody brilliant. The people there are warm and friendly, the club seems to run purely on the power of donations of time, money and supplies (which appear to have been abundant). There’s a free lending library and some rousing, witty and sincere Anarchist slogans about the walls. It’s an especially amazing victory to those of us who remember the club when it was a university-run membership-only affair.
I used to frequent the original Hetherington Research Club back when I was an employee of the university library. I enjoyed a few nights of upstairs party decadence and even more nights of cozy downstairs chat with academics and PhD candidates. Some great memories. But I also remember the unnecessary stuffiness of the place and the rather harsh rules about membership (you had to pay for an annual subscription and you’d be given your key to the door, the lock of which was changed annually).
On one occasion at the former Hetherington, I was asked rather pressingly to produce my membership card at the bar. I had it with me, but couldn’t retrieve it quickly enough to satisfy the irritable person at the bar. I fumbled around in my wallet in a kind of panic and even after producing it, she seemed barely satisfied. I decided not to order a drink after all and left the premises in protest, taking my party of friends with me. An unpleasant atmosphere had been created unnecessarily and I didn’t want it to be the backdrop for our leisurely pint. This week’s experience at the Free Hetherington couldn’t have been more different: I was actually encouraged to go behind the bar and help myself freely to the freshly brewed coffee. It felt quite naughty (and perfectly liberating) to walk on such previously-hallowed ground, akin to shouting ‘God is dead’ in a desanctified church.
The club seems better run under the current student regime and it’s great to see messages of support coming in from people like Ms Long and even such luminaries as Liz Lochhead. Just wonderful. And a real case of people standing up for what’s right.
In other news, I am writing a micro-history book about a weird cabaret act developed between 1993 and 1997. Since there is very little written about it in other books or online, I’m meeting up with the various comedians involved and interviewing them. This week I met Simon Munnery who is my comedy hero. I’ve seen his live act many times but this was my first time meeting him in person. He’s an extremely affable fellow and we talked for a long time about wrestling women and giant mechanical mouths and inflatable hats and other strange comedic things of fringe past.
I think I was most surprised and delighted by Simon’s account of how he (and his co-performers) would sometimes incinerate the proceeds of a gig as part of the performance: the people who’d earned the money destroying it before the astonished faces of the people who’d paid it. Amazing.
The weekend was spent stuffing envelopes with Issue 5 of New Escapologist. We sold an amazing 70 copies in advance of release. I’m confident that we’ll sell more but no previous issue has done so well prior to actually having some stock in hand. A massive thank you to everyone who bought a copy. And equal thanks to those who buy a copy from the shop today.
The act of envelope stuffing was oddly ‘zen’, the repetitive process of addressing, stuffing, sealing and stamping the square little packages was liable to bring about a euphoric state of giddiness. Or perhaps that was the effect of all the glue I licked from the backs of the stamps. I’ve never felt so close to her majesty.
The part of the distribution process I never enjoy is waiting in line at the Post Office to ship the international orders. Why do Post Offices have to be so aesthetically depressing? Not only do you have to wait an uncomfortable amount of time in the queue system, but you’re forced to look either at the peeling paint of the grey walls or carousels of dreadful greetings cards topped with the most pathetic unwiticisms. The otherwise lovely and old-fashioned Post Office at Glasgow’s Charing Cross even has a promotional video on a very tight loop, so that the queuer must hear the blasted thing fifteen times before she’s able to ship her parcel and escape. It doesn’t matter which time of day or the week you go either: there is always a massive queue through the tired, clapped out and poorly planned surroundings. Another thing: many people in the queue are there to collect pensions or unemployment cheques or to buy insurance. I know these are old practices now, but why can’t the Post Office simply be allowed to focus upon a single service (the postal service) properly? Royal Mail is a private company isn’t it? So why is it run like a poorly-funded government department? It would be great if we Anarchists could find a way to reclaim the postal service. Imagine that. The Free Post Office. Off with her head.
Anyway, I don’t mean to gripe. I’m still very happy to ship international magazine orders, even if doing so makes me miserable for twenty minutes. If this is the worst thing in my life, I’m doing rather well. Remember when I used to work in an office? Bloody hell, I do. I’m far happier spending a little time in the Post Office. Post Office: after office. Geddit? Anyway, add to my Post Office misery by ordering your copy of Issue 5 here. 70 New Escapologist fans can’t be wrong.