Roach Road, Hackney Wick

The Jane party
29th September 2001
Panik! Stinky pink and many other rigs

Roach Road

The location of this one was no secret, during the day I heard news was of a large traveller site in Hackney wick.

One of the things I was told about the squat parties when I first started going to them is that bad things happen, but also the most wonderful things. You'd better believe it, this was the party where something utterly unbelievable happened.

So around 9.00pm I meet up with Spar and after a couple of beers we head off to Hackney.

This site is huge, an old factory covering acres of ground with several warehouse type buildings and in each one, several rigs, I lost count at 10 or so.

The whole place was like a small town - the new Riverside complex in Norwich looks very similar (only less derelict). Deep inside the complex up a flight of steps was a bar with an illuminated sign over the door: "The Aardvark", we started off in there. Well, I've never been in a squat like this place, its clean, there's video screens and a nice light rig and of course its own system, This lot are from South London and the music showed that, very funky, groovy, verging on Soul but with a healthy mix of House beats.

Elsewhere I recognised Stinky Pink and I bumped in to several members of HEADFUK and Nick (Ronin) played a live set and of course, Panik.

This was a huge party, I'm useless at guessing numbers (especially in the state of mind I was in at the time) but from the top of one set of stairs there was a view over huge bonfire where there must have been a hundred people just in that area alone so perhaps there were over a thousand people there all told at the peak?

Regarding the bonfire, when squatters build a bonfire in a derelict factory it's no small affair. Giant floor joists and big wooden beams made for a roaring blaze of immense proportions.

One strange thing though - no Italians. London parties were full of Italian squatters selling drugs a year or so ago, I had noticed less of them at the last North London squat party I went to in April, now there were almost none.

It was a well organised party and no dark side at all unless you count the crack smoking, especially in one unused room. There was free water, although I didn't manage to find the tap all night but it was easy enough to get a drink off people.

Then I met Jane.

20 years ago - 1981 actually, shortly after I started work there - a young girl called Jane went to Wymondham college, a boarding school outside of Norwich where I worked. This school was (is) a good but very strict place, a state boarding school run on the lines of a public school, it's a very strange place.

This young girl hit the system hard and after a mere seven weeks, was "asked to leave", she was very unimpressed with the place. After that, she left the education system altogether and "dropped out".

When she was at the school though, I think on the day she was to be expelled, she came into my office to use the photocopier. I was the library technician there and had my "resources centre". I only vaguely remember the conversation but I do remember she opened up to me. I always had a sympathetic ear to this sort of thing which happens from time to time if you work with young people, but this was the first time it had happened to me. It seems the subject of how to deal with the "system" came up and I gave her some kind of advice, which was probably along the lines of "don't let the bastards grind you down".

Apparently she drew some strength from our chat and left Norfolk and went to London, probably as a runaway kid and became a squatter. I suppose I should say something like "whoops", but it turned out OK for her.

We never saw each other again until that Saturday night, 120 miles away from the school and 20 years later. In the pitch dark by the flickering light of the bonfire, she recognised me and came over for a chat.

Yes, seriously.

Roach Road

Roach Road

The bonfire was just to the right of the traveller vans

Roach Road

Roach Road

Me with the Panik! crew

She asked me if I ever worked in Norwich and I explained I still do and was down for the party. Of course I didn't recognise her, after all I think we only met the once.

She told me how inspirational my advice was and that she'd never forgotten it. She must have been in her mid-30's or so and she looked OK, a bit thin maybe but in good health

It was a short encounter, we'll never meet again, and it was only after it happened I realised how utterly unlikely it was, I mean seriously you couldn't make this up. I know I made quite an impression on a few kids at that school in the four years I worked there but this took the biscuit.

To me this was when the squat party scene flowered, it was a truly humbling and wonderful experience.

I had to find someone to talk to and as luck would have it I came across a squat party regular I'd become quite friendly with and I told him the story. What I didn't know at the time and only found out years later was that he had been the person who brought the emergency services into the Brick Lane squatparty when the kid fell through the window. So things sort of came full circle.

I had met a lot of decent people through these parties and it was good to meet up with some of the them again, .

I met K Elly, the girl I first met in the original pub squat back in 1999. She's still OK, thin as a rake, but OK..

I left at around 11.00am, a bit early but I had to get home and feed the cat. Some party, one I hope I never forget.


Back to diary of a raver