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I don’t think I’m the only one that has preconceptions about what squatting is all about.

I mean, free-living?  Making a home in someone else’s property and barricading yourself in so the authorities can’t get you out?  Doesn’t seem right does it?!

So when a friend lent me this new book by Katharine Hibbert I did wonder what I was going to think of her and the other people she writes about.  Was she going to try to make me feel sorry for them?  Was I going to get annoyed with them for being freeloaders? 

Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society by Katharine Hibbert is all about free-living.  About spending no money at all.  About surviving on nothing.

For many the daily grind can feel like a trap – work, gym, drinks, shops, home, bed, work. But what would happen if one day you just jacked it all in, to survive on next to nothing? Katharine Hibbert decided to find out.

Within the first few pages, I really admired Katharine’s attitude.  Things weren’t going well for her and rather than wallowing in self pitty like many of us might, she took it on as a challenge and decided to do something radical.  I didn’t find myself getting annoyed at any sort of snobbery – she didn’t come across as the sort of person who was saying “look at me aren’t I wonderful I’m living for free”, but was just taking me on the journey that she was experiencing.  The writing was easy to read, and I found myself wanting to find out if she managed ok (she was taking some massive risks after all) and how.

I’m obviously not going to give away what happens in this book or how Katharine got on in the end, but by the end of it I had learnt several things about squatting I didn’t realise.  Mainly I am now sure that some squatters are genuinely nice people and not just gang members living like that so they didn’t get caught.  Secondly I now know that squats aren’t always rat infested crumbling damp places but are made comfortable and nice places to live in.  And thirdly I never knew that squats were so sought after places to live in.

But the main thing that stuck out to me was something I suppose I already knew – we throw away an awful lot of really good stuff that is worth more than just putting it in the bin.

The main culprits, it seems, are food shops – they appear to throw out tonnes of food every day that is perfectly good to eat – is this because of “health and safety”?!  Surely they should be giving this stuff away to charities who can distribute it to those who need it?  Homeless people and families who struggle to put food on the table would benefit so much from the sort of things that gets chucked into the bin at the end of the day.  I know that some places do give left overs like sandwiches away to charities/organisations, but I also know that this is generally decided on a local level and the charity normally has to go and collect the food at the end of each day or it still goes in the bin.  So if you are able to distribute food to those in need, why not contact your local M&S or Sainsbury’s (etc) and see if they already have something in place?

Moral messages aside, this is not the sort of book that tells you how to live on the cheap, but is a great story about how Katharine Hibbert took on a massive challenge.  Well worth a read if you get the chance.

Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society by Katharine Hibbert was published in paperback in January 2010 by Ebury Press.

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