Where were you born and when?
"There was a scaffolding yard that had been here for years and years and years, in fact the owner also owned the house next door. Over the summer he moved out and it was the first time for example that when I looked out of my window that I could see the whole of one tree because the scaffolding sheds had been removed and gradually over a period of the summer a garden was growing there. A pond arrived and people with caravans, so it became residential but as a transient and fleeting thing because by a certain date it would all be gone again."
Why did you stay in the East end?
"I stayed partly I think because I had a daughter and because she was growing up here and she was going to school here and also partly because I was able to have a house, this one.I didn't expect to get it and then it was supposed to last only for a year or two and actually it has lasted for fourteen.It has been this curious experience of every six months not being sure if I am going to be here."
Was the local Council helpful?
"No, I mean absolutely not. They have no idea, have no understanding of the nature of the community that they are supposed to be the Council for.I dont just mean the artists and squatters I mean local people generally. They tend to have these plans which they tend to force through without any real community consultation, or with any knowledge or regard for peoples skills, orwhat people do or need in terms of housing etc. It is always a grand plan.
It was vociferously pointed out to them particularly when they came to dealing with the Ellingfort Road area that they didnt know what they were doing and did they realise that they had so many artists in the area who could contribute something else to Hackney than that contributed by the Fast Food Factories that were supposed to bring in work.They didnt consider that perhaps local people didn't want part time jobs in Fast Food Factories."
What do you think happened during these years in the East End?
"I think a phenomena happened initially with the second world war and the bomb gaps and I think because of that there were these pockets of land which were able to be built on in a temporary sort of way.What happened with this street was that there was no money available to develop housing but there was monety available to set up small businesses. There was no consideration of what the long term effect of this policy might be, for example the aim to put industrial units next to London Fields park when businesses were already leaving because they could not afford rents.
I walk along Mentmore Terrace now and remember that there were once streets with houses there but they are all gone.
The worst thing was that houses were just left empty to rot. There have been a lot of compulsory purchases causing a great deal of resentment."
What do you think is different about the East End now?
"I think if you were a young artist hoping to move here now the main difference would be financial. It woould be difficult to afford to live here now that it has been recognised that there is a community of artists it attracts people from outside who have the money to move in. There is less turnopver of property and it is a lot less easy to have any alternative form of lifestyle now, to live outside of the main status quo if you like: squatting, short life properties etc.I can remember St.Katharines Dock when artists were putting windows into the buildings, go and look at it now.It seems to be something that just happens, same thing in New York.
Everything is institutionalised with people falling between categories, if the work element of their life fails then they will lose their home.No fallback."
Do you have a particular story or anecdote?
"It was an overcast summer day with the promise of torrential rain. The pile driver on the Gransden Avenue site has ceased its high pitched whine, so i opened the window and looked down, clouds of butterflies played around the buddleia bush, red admirals, cabbage whites and blues, the scent from the bush like honey. all of a sudden there was a massive explosion, I looked up and saw flames the height of the houses on London lane, sirens, and as I watched the flames turned to a massive cloud of black smoke.. I closed the window, the whole house stank of oily smoke, then the rain came. When I ventured into the garden later all the plants were covered in black oil spots. Out on the street a neighbour said that no-one had been killed. later that evening I opened the window in spite of the high pitched hum of the generator, Karen was in her garden she had put candles in bottles around all the garden walls, she lit them one by one, a piece of magic in the night, full moon over the railway bridge."