Good Times in Dystopia
How to party through the Apocalypse.
London drowns in sewage and Europe burns. In this creative nonfiction, George F. falls in with a band of chaos punks who drink, fight and struggle for shelter when the world ends. From mass demonstrations in Paris, the rotten squats of Shoreditch, and the lawless forests of the borderlands, to carnival riots in the autonomous zones of Berlin they battle fascists, dodge arrest and wrestle with the greatest struggle of all: sobriety.
'In documenting his desperate battles against State, capital and inner demons, George has gifted us a raging response to the bleakness of our times.'
Paul Case, Dead White Anarchists
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I’ve been intrigued by punk culture and the concept of anarchy since the age of 16. That was when I first started getting into music from the 70s and enrolled on a Government and Politics A-level course in college. I thought that, despite my timid nature, inherent respect for authority and deep-seeded fear of conflict, this was a scene I could really feel at home in. But, despite my tattoos and music taste, I’ve finally accepted at the age of 30 that I’m as far removed from that world as anyone possibly could be. Mostly because I’m as scared of it as I am allured by it. I may have watched Made in Britain countless times, love the Stooges and have a safety pin tattooed on my shin, but I’m nothing but a wannabe. A faker. A tourist. So, when George F invited me to review Good Times in Dystopia, an almost fictional depiction of his non-fictional journey through squats, riots and protests in London Berlin, and Paris, it was like embarking on the ultimate punk holiday. From the first page I was immediately thrown into a culture so disparate from the mainstream that most people don’t even know it exists. An invisible world right under our noses, so to speak. In his book, George describes a myriad of colourful characters in chapter-long anecdotes (and yes, ‘colourful character’ is definitely the kind of term a fearful mother would give them, further proving how much of a tourist I am). While many of the people these anecdotes centre on are broken, lost and saturated in alcohol and drugs, they are also talented artists, political activists, animal lovers and charismatic charmers who may only be considered ‘colourful’ due to the fact that they’re living on the very edge of society. As George describes his bizarre, perilous and often comical exploits around Europe, which include the COP21 climate protest, breaking into a theme park (twice) and a graphic (and practical) masturbation workshop, I was completely pulled into his world of tender debauchery. I often felt myself comparing his style and some of the content to Fear and Loathing and Trainspotting, yet George’s world has much more heart, gentleness and sincerity. It shares the rich imagery and shock factor of these aforementioned books, but there’s also an element of brutal realism and warmth that made Good Times in Dystopia much more captivating. It glamorised drugs as well, of course, but never in a fantastical way. While I enjoyed every page of this anarchical escapism, I also felt very conflicted. On the one hand I was immersed in a thriving squatting community of outcasts who seemed to live a purer, more meaningful life, somehow simultaneously primal and futuristic, yet on the other hand I worried over a group of lazy idealists as they chased a naïve, contradictory and unsustainable lifestyle. I felt a romantic pull with people who clumsily lived on top of one another, doing what they wanted, talking and singing and making and doing, marching the streets without fearing consequence or authority in order to fight for what they believed in, but at the same time their anarchic dream seemed futile. They thrived on conflict and stole the benefits of the consumerist lifestyle they were so adamantly against. They never appreciated differing lifestyles and how their actions may damage or hurt other people. But then again, does the average person care about the homeless? The disenfranchised? The atypical? Does the average Joe consider how their lifestyle could damage those who are unable to live similarly? Every negative point I come up with for living the nomadic lifestyle is always partnered with a positive point. It’s hard to be the kind of person who lives on the fringes of society, but it’s also hard to live within society. If I had to make a pro and con list, especially in today’s political climate, I’d say we’re all losers. It’s just some of us know it and have subsequently chosen to live differently. My favourite chapter heading… I think what hit the hardest with Good Times in Dystopia was the many examples it included of human shittiness, to want of a better phrase. I felt bombarded with the evidence of how foul society is, and it felt overwhelming at times, particularly when George recounted the Body Without Soul documentary about young teenage boy prostitutes living in Prague, the murder of Stephen Simpson and the vilified life of activist Barry Horne. Giving up on society seems almost inevitable after all that. So, if you want to be taken on a twisted, captivating tale into the underground, to a place where people do and say and think what they want, who suffer and enjoy themselves enormously, who fight back against the man while trying to steal his comforts, all in a story written so, so eloquently – check out Good Time in Dystopia. I definitely enjoyed my time as a tourist. ~ Emily Babbs, https://www.dystopic.co.uk/good-times-in-dystopia-by-george-f-book-review/
Evoking the narrative style and furious pace of beat generation writers, Good Times in Dystopia is not a story in the traditional sense, nor is it a straight-forward memoir. If I had to compare it to an artistic form it would verge closer to a mural or a heavily graffitied underpass: you can see traces of what went before and layers of history, people, and creativity, but the overall effect is that of colourful chaos. Speaking to George, they explain how this stylistic approach is linked to their identity as a punk and an anarchist: To me, punk is anti-authoritarianism and DIY culture: the idea of being self-directed and self-reliant in the creation of an aesthetic, and a critique of dominant ideologies. I’d definitely be coming from the fine edge of where punk and anarchism cross over, so I’d be looking at the history around anarcho-punk and around the rejection of any authority but yourself. The idea that we become the best judges of where authority and power lie. In my terminology they are very, very close together, a lot of punk attitude or the punk way of being crosses over with anarchism in lots of ways. However, I do hang around with a lot of people who totally reject the idea of punk as being stupid, as being commercialised, as already being a dead form. It’s evolved and progressed way beyond punk, but we understand punk collectively as a touchstone of DIY culture, anti-authoritarianism and interesting haircuts. In this context I ask George how they see the individual and the collective working together in this ideology and way of life: Ideally as a constant dialogue and interchange that values the role of the individual and the collective equally and sees that one constantly interacts with the others. I think there’s a strong tendency to either be individualist or collectivist to a very strong degree within both anarchism and punk. For me there’s that value of the individual within the collective but without putting one above the other, trying to find where is the most interesting and liberating point of dialogue and exchange between those two forms of being. Conceptually one could argue Good Times fits into the emergent genre of what has come to be termed “auto-theory” – a form of queer-theory-cum-memoir that has grown in prominence since the 2015 publication of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which challenges the distinction between detached, “objective” academic analysis and personal experience. It would be difficult to finish Good Times in Dystopia without both a sense of intimacy with George F.’s experiences and an outrage towards governments, corporations, and tools of exploitation and gentrification which are rife throughout Western Europe. George explains how they see the relationship between the person, collectives, and what they call “creative nonfiction”: A lot of the dialogue, the story and the ideas come from other characters we meet. A lot of it is other people’s perspectives and points of view. I’m privileged enough to have the skills of English, writing and access to put together a book, but to include lots of other people’s voices and stories and experience. That also anonymises them. The idea is it becomes bigger than the individuals within it, becoming about collective stories and how they’ve become part of our collective narrative. This is why it’s put under “creative nonfiction”, the idea was not to be academic. The book has come out as “memoir”, but you know, I think it would be closer to “autofiction”. The idea was to create alternative narratives, stories that aren’t being told and aren’t being collected, but which are important for a culture of resistance. This is a continuation from my first book, Total Shambles, which creates a London identity of squatting that in this book expands to different points across Europe. A lot of people connected with it because those stories were their stories, even if it wasn’t their specific story. By Junk Comix – firstname.lastname@example.org Tonally, Good Times is very different from Total Shambles (Influx 2015). Where Total Shambles is a playful trip through the oddballs and accidents of living on the edge in London, Good Times strongly evokes the dystopia referenced in its title. From the very beginning it is visceral: references to sex, excrement, bodily fluids and drug use are littered throughout – at times people down on their luck quite literally shit into pizza boxes and deposit them on the street. These references, and others that I will leave the reader to explore, can make Good Times a challenging read. But they also contribute to what makes it worthwhile. You are drawn into a world of mental illness, hopelessness, and paranoia just as much as you are cheerfully roped into trips to clandestine French communes and exuberant street parties. I ask George about the tonal shift since Total Shambles: I wanted to be more honest. I became very aware of my own mortality and much more open to the idea of exposing what I was experiencing, also because it connects with what a lot of people are experiencing. The idea was to break taboos, to talk about things that aren’t really talked about. Within our circles of friends and culture in general, what’s been really great to see is more and more comfort with talking about very, very distressing things. That paralleled with how on an inner level there is this anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and on an outer level there is ecological collapse, domination, police brutality. The idea was to find that mirror because those became the conversations that we were having. You won’t walk away from Good Times with a shrug and a “what are they like, these scamps!” Instead you are forced to contemplate the realities of violence towards homeless people, squatters, protestors, and other defenders of autonomous ways of living. This violence is multi-form – bailiffs, police, passers-by: all are complicit in the hostility towards those attempting to scrape by on the margins and George F. weaves this critique into their narrative so seamlessly that outrage at the injustice feels natural rather than manufactured. Yet, you are also left with a sense of the power and potential in resistance. And this is why punk and creativity are so important to George: Punk is an outward projection of resistance, the idea of resisting with the body, with the aesthetic, with the music, a culture of resisting that has become commercialised and co-opted in a lot of ways, but is still linked to an ideology such as anarchism that carries with it a great deal of depth and resilience. Through our creative acts, through this tension of creation and destruction we can actually sustain and nourish ourselves, but it’s through accepting the dark side, the trash and the despair as well as the utopian ideal of what it can be. Good Times in Dystopia is a powerful and raw and necessary read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in first-hand accounts of squatting and autonomous living – so long as they have a strong stomach. ~ Rowan Tallis Milligan, Anarchist Studies, https://anarchiststudies.noblogs.org/article-punk-anarchism-and-creative-non-fiction/
In this European tour of grass roots anarchism and radical activism George F navigates the peripheries of mainstream society from decaying squats in east London to pastoral protest treehouses in Germany’s ancient Hambach Forest. Ricocheting between nihilistic partying and anti-capitalist campaigning the author documents their surroundings in the tradition of George Orwell, Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S Thompson. George F is both observer and organiser: breaking into a theme park, running workshops on the frontlines of climate protests, and documenting amphetamine-fuelled fast living in the underbelly of London’s squat scene. As the book twists its way through peaceful protests in Paris, pitched battles with the police in Berlin, and violent conflict with security guards in Germany’s largest open pit coal mine – it explores the nature of rebellion, the role of violence in grass roots politics and the contemporary dynamics of modern capitalism. With artful prose and an eye for detail George F finds both beauty and tragedy in underworld communities forged by hippies, artists, gutter punks and drug-fuelled squatters that have rejected mainstream ideas about politics, economics, and sexuality. As they hitchhike and shoplift between occupied spaces, illegal raves and protest sites George F builds on their first work of literary nonfiction, Total Shambles, digging deeper into the darker side of European squat culture. The reader is introduced to ideologues, like Berlin-based El Culo who sells beers to tourists when he isn’t taking part in anarchist projects, radical artists like George’s lover Mierda, and social dropouts, like the hapless Barnabas – who rarely drinks and dutifully drives other squatters to parties. Good Times in Dystopia documents their communal and often dysfunctional lifestyles on the fringes of society – and the support networks they create in order to sustain their unorthodox existence. Amid the pizza boxes filled with human shit, rainy days spent angle grinding locks, infected tattoos, LSD, bad sex, and stolen whisky – the book sketches lives lived at highspeed that sometimes end tragically. Good Times in Dystopia functions as a chaotic handbook on protest tactics and anarchistic organisation – as well as a visceral love song to those living on the anarchic borderlands of society. Describing the art of resistance and occupation in detail, the book shows how veteran protesters take on the police, landlords and large corporations in different countries – and legal jurisdictions. It details the “perfect” way to be arrested at a climate protest in Paris, as well as describing various techniques to deal with bailiffs and the police in the UK. George F’s journey takes him to martial arts classes for the homeless in Hackney, an anarchist masturbation workshop in Berlin’s Rigaer Strasse, and The Mother Black Cunt, a queer club in Camden that has been squatted and reopened for a final night of debauchery and celebration. Good Times in Dystopia is dotted with photos of twisted paintings that have been daubed inside occupied buildings, extracts from anarchist pamphlets, and quotes from political theorists – creating a DIY montage of the various influences that have shaped the communities George F is documenting. At times horrifying and unrelenting, the book provides a unique window into romances forged amid decaying buildings and drug abuse – and the elation that can come with winning small victories over bailiffs and corporations. As well as documenting the highs – it also offers insight into the isolation that can come with rejecting, or being rejected by, wider society. The depression, breakdowns and bewilderment that can come with facing up to climate crisis and turning your back on functioning plumbing, sobriety, monogamy, and money. ~ Wil Crisp, Freedom News, https://freedomnews.org.uk/book-review-good-times-in-dystopia/
Apocalyptic visions, battles & conditions. But for George F. and compadres this is the everyday, the normal, the daily grind, the struggle, written about with insight, humour and a passionate urgency. A savage resilience propels this blow-by-blow account of the life anarchic. Memorise this book then repeat it to friends, lovers, enemies and strangers. George’s stories of the precarious, collective struggle for survival and change are essential ingredients of a deadly serious battle. Don’t fuck about. Read it and fight. ~ Paul Hawkins, author of Place, Waste, Dissent
With ‘Good Times In Dystopia’, George F. once more proves a perfect guide into the gorgeous, grimy underground of the UK and beyond - at once a wry, detached observer and intoxicated agitator. This is writing at its most restless and urgent, a frenzied war cry guttural with booze, speed, nihilism and hope. In documenting his desperate battles against State, capital and inner demons, George has gifted us a raging response to the bleakness of our times. ~ Paul Case, Dead White Anarchists
George F is a poet of the true underground, writing from a world many wish didn’t exist. He’s that rarest thing: a writer who lives the reality they capture on the page. ~ Gary Budden
After the excellent 'Total Shambles', George F comes back with this beautifully written book. 'Good Times In Dystopia' reads like a dystopian novel, yet it is a contemporary London story: it depicts the lives of a gang of London squatters with all the messiness, joy and despair one may wish from a good novel included in the package. A must read for everyone interested in London's hidden history of squatting. If you liked Charles Bukowski, you will love George F. ~ Zofia Brom, Freedom News