Meet the new landlords: yep, it's a free house ...
Yes: here we go again.
Back to the fabled fault line of North Finchley high road, the place that acts as a powerhouse of rebellion, here in Broken Barnet. And back to one particular form of rebellion that has worked so successfully here - the occupation and reclamation of a much loved community asset.
The Antic Bohemia is, or was, and hopefully will be again, an indy pub in the centre of North Finchley, a fabulous venue, dark and cavernous, furnished in idiosyncratic shabby chic style, with mismatched furniture, long wooden trestle tables, old school chairs, scruffy sofas with sagging upholstery, lit by vintage chandeliers and 1930s lampshades. It had a unique atmosphere, and had become established as not just another pub, more of a meeting place for friends and local groups, and a venue for the odd performance and musical events.
One day this summer, with no prior warning, the doors of the Bohemia were shut, and a notice informed customers that the business was closed. There was an immediate reaction of universal dismay, leading to a well supported campaign, supported by a petition of nearly a thousand signatures, easily collected in a short time. The landlords took no notice, however, and the premises remained firmly shut, a horrible reminder, in the middle of the high road, of the continuing threat to the survival of our local town centres. Rumours abounded that the site was to be sold to developers, or reopened as a Tesco Express, or Harvester. This infuriated local residents who simply wanted their local pub returned, a place for the community to meet.
This morning, to everyone's surprise news broke that the Bohemia had been occupied, by squatters/activists associated with the People's Library in Friern Barnet. Mrs Angry received an invitation from Phoenix, veteran occupier and community activist, to visit the new enterprise: so off she went. I suppose I have to do the dishwasher then, said Miss Angry, primly, by now used to her feckless mother rushing off, at the drop of a hat, to join dreadlocked activists in community squats. If it's not too much trouble, Miss A, agreed her embarrassing mum.
Mrs Angry was greeted by Phoenix, Mordechai, Daniel and Petra, ushered in through the back doors - and was very happy to sign the first name in their visitors' book.
Plans for the reborn pub include a wide range of activities, from live music, theatre, cabaret, open mike evenings, stand up - and karaoke. The accoustics of the place are perfect for live music and performance, in fact. Two of the occupiers, Mordechai and Daniel, have a background in performance and theatre: Mordechai (making a silly face, below) is the former director of the Budapest Jewish Theatre.
Local groups will be welcome to meet there, as they used to - and new ventures offered a new home. It might even be, Mrs Angry suggested, the perfect opportunity to provide a genuine home for community arts, in contrast to the introspective activities of the local Artsdepot, whose management seems to prefer to exist at one remove from the surrounding area.
On behalf of the occupiers Phoenix said that their intention was to help restore the Bohemia as a community centre, as well as mark their protest about the new proposals to criminalise squatting in commercial properties. The government will not risk consultation over the latest proposed legislation, of course, as the feedback from the earlier preparation for the recent criminalisation of squatting in residential properties represented a massive objection to the move, with representatives as wide ranging as the police and legal aid representatives expressing their concerns.
The scandalous truth is that while so many people face another winter of homelessness, countless vacant properties stand empty and unused, left to deriorate and provide speculative investment for developers, while our city centres, at night, are populated by desperate human beings sleeping in the street, or in shop doorways.
Only this summer, after late night shopping, waiting for a bus just around the corner from the luxury retail heaven of Selfridges, I watched an old man, dressed in the worn but clearly once elegant clothing he had brought with him from a better time in his life, slowly, with great dignity and precision, deconstruct a number of large cardboard boxes, and carefully realign them into a makeshift shelter in the dubious sanctuary of the marble pillared portico of a Victorian townhouse. The contrast between west end affluence and night time poverty was as extreme as you could imagine. It was a shameful, and deeply poignant sight, and I felt compelled to sneak a photograph, whilst trying to preserve his anonymity.
And this, Mr Freer, and Mr Weatherley and all your Tory chums who think squatting is so morally repugnant, is where the focus of your outrage should properly belong.
But it is not just for the purpose of housing that we need to reclaim the vast numbers of empty properties: when our communities are under threat from development, and the places where we meet to reinforce that sort of community, we need to take a stand against such exploitation, and fight back.
This is the new Bohemia, then: occupied, soon to re-open: a community fighting back.