In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.
There were squatters living on board in November.
In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.
This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.
“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”
“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”
“No. Only mice.”
“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.
“We could, but we have standards.”
“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”
“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”
“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”
“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”
“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”
“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”
“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”
“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”
“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”
“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.
“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”
“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.
“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”
“What?” I asked.
“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”
“What does it mean?”
“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”
“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.
“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”
“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”
“What was in the fridge?” I asked.
“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.
“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.
“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.
“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”
“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”
“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”
“Did he ever find out?” I asked.
“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”
“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.
“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”
“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.
“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”
“From…?” I asked.
“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”
“She lived in a nearby flat?”
“And threw rocks?”
“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”
“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”
“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.
“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!”
“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”
“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.”
“Not in those exact words?”
“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”
“And the future…?” I asked.
“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”
“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”
“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”
“And the stunt is…?” I asked.
“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.
“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”
“Legal, I think.”
“How disappointing,” I said.
“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”
“Between time and space?” I asked.
“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.
“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”
“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”
“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”
“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”
“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”
“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”
“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”
“Absolutely,” said Darryl.