Irene suffers from Peter Pan Syndrome, but she’s OK with that. An avid reader since early childhood, Irene daydreamed of travel to foreign lands while tending sheep under the expansive living skies of the Canadian prairie. Passionate about travel, she caught the travel bug in the mid-seventies when she backpacked solo throughout the UK and Ireland. She’s a firm believer that to truly understand the world’s peoples and their culture, one must live and work in that unfamiliar environment. Her travel experiences, as well as formal education and workplace training, provided and continues to provide the needed fodder for narrative non-fiction storytelling. Irene is a storyteller. She’s a self-published author, blogger, graphic designer/illustrator, ESL teacher, reader of books, former proof-reader and avid gardener. Oh…and she loves fine wine. And chocolate.
A quick and amusing, sometimes informative read, “A Squatter in London” tells of a Canadian prairie girl’s adventures in the UK in the 1970s. Irene Pylypec arrives with meagre savings, no preparatory research and a minimum plan to get to know Britain and the great metropolis of London that friends hav e raved about.
Seeking to reduce expenses upon arrival, she finds a group of odd souls who take her in to share their ‘squat’ – a residential building emptied of tenants by the municipal government and awaiting demolition.
She spends the first few months and her savings travelling throughout the best-known tourist parts of Scotland and England including the Findhorn Community, an experiment in transforming human consciousness but renowned, in her mind, for growing 45-pound cabbages!
Savings gone, she seeks work, first as a seamstress in a sweatshop and then as a jack-of-all trades in a trendy London vegetarian restaurant.
At the same time as visiting the spots she missed on her first tour, Irene Pylypec manages to find a new squat in conservative St John’s Wood, mix with some dubious characters who behave in the predictably dubious ways of those who have chosen the more unconventional route in life, even though it might be for only those few years before duty and responsibility become prerequisites to adulthood.
This book is for those who, like me, missed the carefree and careless craziness of London in the ‘70s
I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into squats in London's 1970s. I knew that this was a preferred method of finding accommodation with many young travellers and backpackers, but the logistics, friendships, discords and the simple rigours of daily living are brought into sharp focus in this memoir. Join the author for her rollercoaster year year in the UK; as she explores Brighton's Royal Pavilion, searches for a giant cabbage in Scotland and dines on potatoes cooked in cream stolen from Paul McCartney's front gate.
Having grown up in London, I was a student at the time of Irene Pylypec’s visit to the UK. This memoir is therefore a special reminder for me of the country and world of my youth. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this young Canadian’s first impressions of London, and of the UK. From squatter to traveller, Irene takes us around the country, hitching rides (as we did in those days) and journeying to the far reaches of the British Isles. She also reminds us that the seventies weren’t only about being an ‘anything goes’ society; it was also the time of the IRA and the book reflects that darker side of the decade. There is plenty of history for culture lovers and some great descriptions of the scenery. Altogether a great, well-written read and highly recommended!
What a wonderful insight into London and life in the 70s living in a squat. Irene, Canadian prairie girl, arrives in London with very little money but plenty of determination to enjoy life to the full, sights-seeing as many places as she can in her year in London.
As she watches her saving dwindle Irene seeks out gainful employment, she commences working a sweat shop as a seamstress in a sweat shop before leaving and working at Cranks a trendy London vegetarian restaurant. There is also the stark reminder of the troubled times of the 70s with the London bombings by the IRA and the fear that was instilled in every Londoner at the time.
What a fun roller coaster of a journey about people, places and life experience that also serves as a great advert for travelling and meeting people whilst intertwining history to real life experiences. This is delivered in an informal way and as a refreshing read.
‘A Squatter in London’ is the captivating story of a Canadian prairie girl who heads off to London for a three-week holiday of a lifetime and stays just a little longer than she planned. 1970s Britain is in a state of flux and turbulence but, brimming with the optimism and vitality of youth, Irene is ready for adventure and keen to seize whatever opportunities come her way. Through her eyes the reader gains an absorbing first-hand insight into the political, economic and social instability of the times. Her experiences, together with those of the interesting characters she meets, lead her to a deeper understanding of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, immigration, unemployment and, most significantly, the housing shortage and the resultant squatting culture which has emerged throughout England’s capital. As the author faces the ups and downs of life in a dog-eat-dog metropolis, it is more than a little ironic that she finds true camaraderie and sanctuary in a community borne out of crisis: the squat. Irene’s fluid, conversational style ensures that the reader feels part of her fascinating story. ‘A Squatter in London’ is an original and engaging read.
Memoirs appeal to me because they allow you to view the world and the situations another person experiences from a different point of view, helping you to understand what life is like for someone else in a better way. Travel memoirs allow you to vicariously experience someone else’s travels, getting an idea of what a place where you’ve never been is like or, if you’ve visited that place, comparing your experience to what the author of the travel memoir experienced and hopefully understand the place more thoroughly.
A Squatter in London goes the typical travel memoir one better. I’m tempted to call it a “Time Traveler Memoir” because it takes place in a distinct time (the 1970s) as well as a distinct place (London, England) and a specific subculture in that time and place. Something I wasn’t aware existed at the time or really until I read this book. I found it interesting, both understanding and following along as the author figured things out, but also contrasting her experiences to what I know (or think I know) of London and other comparable cities and subcultures. If this kind of thing appeals to you, I think you’ll find this an enjoyable and eye-opening read. I did.
**Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy. **
I’ve found out what it’s like to be a squatter in London. I’m from London. I knew there were houses there which were abandoned, and people had moved in, not paying rent, called squatting. I enjoyed the way Ms Polypyc wrote the book, clear, straight-forward, from the heart, with all her feelings as she went through looking for a squat, staying in one, then yet another. I felt I’d got to know her by the end, learning about her moods, her varied friends, and all her experiences. She took me back to so many of the places I knew so well in London when I was her age. I went to boarding school in Brighton so was fascinated to read about her trip down to Brighton, particularly her visit to the Pavilion. By the end, I was wanting to know if she stayed in touch with any of the people she knew in London, especially Kevan! I joined her mailing list and received a short story about her early life in Canada. I hope she extends that into a much longer book. Four stars for Irene Polypyc.
A Squatter in London by Irene Pylypec is a captivating account of a young woman’s experience as a traveller – not a tourist.
Shortly after college, Irene saves enough to fulfill a long time dream of vacationing in London. A planned three week trip becomes almost a year, after she falls in love with London and finds work. Finally, entangled in a squatter’s household, her boyfriend back in Ireland, she’s ready to go back to Canada.
Irene’s personable tone brings London to life. Not only are popular and little-known landmarks described, running commentary about the people she meets, how things make her feel (Oh, London, how I love you!) and her thought processes make the reader feel on the scene. For example, she compares the struggles of the Irish immigrants with whom she shares a squat to her Ukrainian immigrant dad. She discusses the political climate that leads to the necessity of squatting. The action isn’t in the past; the exclamations and visceral details, including reconstructed conversations, happen now, as if we’re right alongside her.
Irene’s resourcefulness as a single traveller comes through in her unflagging writing. She manages to find her way through a few dicey encounters as a hitchhiker, a few missed trains, and bouts of homesickness and the blues just as her writing keeps trucking ahead, too. She’s not interested in consuming the pleasantries the United Kingdom has to offer, but to take it all in, good and bad alike. There’s never a dull moment in the action; it’s always on to the next adventure! She’s as upbeat in her verbs as she is in her determination to cross off all the to-do items on her itinerary. Pictures and further reading supplement the text at the end.
A Squatter in London is more than a journal or a travelogue. It’s a personal, factual narrative of a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a new place that inspires readers to travel!
An enjoyable well written memoir about a young lady who embarks on a travelling adventure...
I found myself completely immersed in what is a diary style account of Irene Pylypec's travels from Canada to the U.K in the 70's. Although she spends some of her time travelling around the country her residence in London is the focus as she lives a free spirited life of squatting while experiencing everything there is to experience of the times.
In this account she befriends many colourful characters who are in the same situation; young and trying to figure out life in a multi cultural capital. The whole essence of her experiences, the sights, the sounds, the tastes and the people are captured perfectly in what is a fantastic story of highs and lows for a young person trying to survive and figure out life.
Having lived and worked in London during my youth I was reminded by this story of what it is like and the city even back then was a lively place full of people from near enough everywhere; this is also very well documented and includes Irene befriending the Irish contingent during a very testing time for their country. The story pretty much touches on everything that happened during the era such as politics, films, culture and especially the housing crisis which is why there were so many squatters.
What I enjoyed the most about this book was the intertwining of history to real life experiences all of which is delivered in a personal and thoroughly readable story. It's a fun roller coaster of a journey about people, places and life experience that also serves as a great advert for travelling and meeting people.
If, after 16 months of staying close to home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re itching for a travel adventure, I suggest that you read Irene Pylypec’s memoir, A Squatter in London. But first, a word of caution: this is not your classic guide book to a whirlwind luxury European holiday. Rather, it's real life, and that's what gives this intimate and honest story its charm. The author—an independent-minded farm girl from Saskatchewan—leads the reader not only through the weaving, looping streets of London but also takes you back in time to 1975 when political protest, chronic unemployment, labour strife, IRA bombings and a severe housing crisis characterized the turbulent Seventies. Falling instantly in love with London. Struggling to get by on a shoestring budget. Sharing meals, joints, rooms and heartbreak with memorable friends. Fighting bouts of homesickness and depression. Discovering great pubs, amazing restaurants and beautiful parks and buildings. These are the emotional highs and lows that treat the reader to what travelling used to be all about. Mixed in with the author's impressions and experiences while working in a trendy vegetarian restaurant and living in a rent-free squats from a tiny attic to a shared room in a spacious upscale house with a colourful collection of fellow squatters, are side trips to Brighton, Salisbury, Bath, and Scotland, complete with well-researched background information. And as in any good book, there's a bit of romance. So, with that, I shall say no more than to wish you Bon voyage!
Having played and worked in London in the 60’s, I found it interesting seeing through the eyes of a foreign backpacker, her perspective of life in the city and how she survived living there with very little money. I certainly found it an eye opener. Unfortunately, her portrayal of squatters has not changed my poor opinion of them. The pot smoking, colourful, free spirited, young multi-cultural people Irene describes so well, and who she lived with, actually contributed to the housing crises. Back then, due to the time consuming and costly legalities of regaining a property from squatters and the damage they caused, property investors and absent homeowners were not prepared to take the risk in renting out their properties. I was also disappointed to read of the author and her companion’s disrespect by posing on antique furniture when visiting a museum. I am however impressed that she managed to earn some money, albeit illegally, which enabled her to travel a little outside of London including journeying up to the highlands of Scotland. Adding a few historical facts along the way does help to keep the reader interested.
I enjoyed reading Pylypec's A Squatter in London, as this is the first time I've read this author's work. It more than just a memoir, it's an adventure. The perspective is from the self-proclaimed "former" squatter, who finds an interesting adventure traveling across London. It's a well-written, well-documented memoir showing the ups and downs and unpredictability of where the journey would take her. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Our book club members all liked Irene’s book and were delighted when she met us via Skype at our meeting. A great first book. We enjoyed her youthful escapades and it brought back memories of our own. We were reminded of the UK of the day (1970’s) and history of the places she visited. “Kids” in their 20’s today might be surprised by the stories of this adventurer.