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144 Piccadilly  -  Julia's Story

"Oddly I'd never have ended up at 144 Piccadilly if my parents had agreed to me going to The Hyde Park Festival September 69 in the first place. Fair enough, I was only 13. I had discovered Soft Machine through John Peel and really needed to be there. After they said no I waited for a bit so they'd forget the date and then said I'd been invited to stay with my school friend Linda in Epsom.

I set off from home in something vaguely sensible. This involved a green line bus journey to Dorking and train to London which I'd saved up for. I'd sewn triangle flares into my jeans and had a secret broderie anglaise shirt. I changed into them in a toilet near Marble Arch. Once I'd done that the whole world seemed to open up. Everyone said hello and I felt part of a massive, heart beat tribe.

I'm slightly embarrassed to say that the thing I most remember from the concert was 'Out Demons Out' by the Edgar Broughton Band. I guess it was an anthem that was necessary.

On the way to get the train back to Epsom with Linda we saw the squat. I think I did know about it from the news but I can't put my hand on my heart and say I'd planned to go and see what it was all about.

Anyway we did. There were loads of people talking to the squatters. I don't remember skinheads or Hells Angels that I gather were around. We stood on the pavement talking to our first 'proper hippies'.

144 was a huge occupation of a public building in a classy bit of London by a lot of people. It would have been very easy to hang a few banners from the balconies and hope that the public and politicians understood what it was all about. I was really struck by the fact that people inside 144 were actively wanting to engage with the public who crowded the pavements to look, heckle or find out more. When Linda and I pitched up there were at least 7 or 8 people sitting on first floor windowsills (if I remember correctly) to try and get the message across.

144 was set slightly back from the railings as it was encircled by courtyard access for the basement area. Some have described it as being like a dry moat. A plank walkway a bit like a drawbridge had been set up to access the massive front door. And like a drawbridge also to deter intruders.

That sense of the old world and a new world separated by just a few feet is one of the things I remember most clearly about 144. 'Mortals' were on the street and the 'Immortals' were in the palace of the future. Just a kiss away.

So of course when the 'head' I'd been talking to on the windowsill reached out his hand and said 'come and see what we're doing' I took it.

Not a thought about abandoning Linda to her long and solitary journey home, her change of clothes and state of mind before she had to lie to her very straight parents about where she'd been and why I wasn't with her. Not a thought about where I'd go if I didn't like it or got scared. I just had to go in.

David (I think that was his name) was an art student at The Royal College. He was very kind. To me he was unbelievably cool, gentle, asexual but totally sensual . I'd never met anyone like him.

Given how young I was and what a mind blowing experience it was I'm surprised how I little I remember. I know it felt like a palace, chandeliers, massive windows, sweeping staircases fit for a ball, a garden at the back and shutters. I do also remember David showing me the stacks and stacks of boules. The only function this heavenly building had had before the squatters breathed life into it was as a repository for plastic toys. Even at 13 I totally got how wrong that was.

I don't remember anything feeling weird or frightening. There were loads of people sitting about and I remember seeing a woman reading a copy of Oz. Not sure if that was the first time I'd come across it. Germaine Greer on the front? I felt very much at home.

I'd never had drugs or drink and nobody offered me any so my memory is a sober one. Did I eat? Can't remember. No idea about the loos. Dim memory of a bucket? I was probably too fizzy with excitement to care.

I probably didn't have any money to get back to Surrey; my 'sensible' clothes were now lost so when I finally got home I'd be almost unrecognisable to my parents. Neither of these things worried me. I was living at 144 Piccadilly.

David and I shared a blanket. We cuddled but he didn't try anything on.

Frustratingly I don't remember a lot about the bust. I probably was frightened partly because I could see my lovely new world shattering. I think it was Paddington Green Police Station. Definitely in a Black Maria. All the other squatters in the van were nice to me . I probably looked and acted older than I was though so I'm not sure anyone realised quite what a big thing it was for me. I was strip searched.

David and I kept in touch by letter and I did make another green line bus journey to London with a change of clothes to 'run away'.

We saw Deep Purple at The Lyceum with Jeff Dexter as DJ who was great!

My parents found one of his letters and somehow managed to find me. I guess it was in the days when people wrote their addresses and telephone numbers at the top of letters - in David's case I think it was his parents' address in Totteridge he was writing from so perhaps he wasn't such an Immortal after all!

I do need to acknowledge my parents as part of this story. I think my need to be out there, embracing the extraordinary world that was opening up must have scared them to death. But they always met me half way and they always listened.

Even though I was only part of 144 Piccadilly for about 24 hours it had a profound effect on me.

I had a letter printed in Acid OZ (27) which I've only recently tracked down. It's about being pissed off with the school system and my reputation at school as a '144 rebel'. I'd remembered it as being really good. Sadly it's not that (and it does sign off with 'Out Demons Out'!). Everyone knew I'd been at 144 Piccadilly and teachers really didn't know how to deal with me, or my potential influence on other kids etc. Most of the other kids didn't get it either and there were few fellow travellers.

However my Oz letter got over 50 replies (only two were dodgy) and the friendships I formed through that changed my life for ever."

more info on 144 in Chapter 3 of "Squatting, the real story"    |    Advisory Service For Squatters
London Street Commune    |   memories of 144 Piccadilly, Endell Street and the London Street Commune
Eel Pie Dharma - 144 Piccadilly Squat    |   squatting archive    |   weed's home page

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revised 20 February 2021
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