Self-Storage in Popular Culture – From Ballet to Hannibal Lecter and beyond

Ballerina Pop Culture 2017-09-13

*This blog is based on an article in The Guardian newspaper, UK*

At Unit 3602 deep inside Access Self-Storage in north London, Aideen splays herself on a portable ballet barre, or handrail, in a shape that should not be possible. The professional dancer from Northern Ireland, has acute spinal curvature and has to do a lot of stretching.

When she first moved to London, the problem was finding a place where she could carry out her daily stretching routines. She found the answer in a small, quiet storage unit opposite King’s Cross station in the heart of London. She also comes here to work out steps for dance classes she teaches, and to practise routines for occasional roles in musicals.

A Storage King unit in Reading, near London, accommodates rehearsals of a noisier sort. Desperate for a rehearsal space, the idea came to David Viner, guitarist with heavy metal group Seven, on their return journey from an Iron Maiden concert in London. They passed a lot of storage units on motorways.

Through all the band’s many ups and downs, the storage unit has been a steady home for rehearsals. They travel here several times a week from different parts of Kent, driving past similar warehouses on the way. This one is accessible 24 hours a day, which was the deciding factor. They often practise late, and once even kept going all night long.

The band cram themselves in at awkward angles to make room for various bits of electronica and musical kit. Strategically placed electric fans run at full strength.

They find the acoustics entirely suitable for their needs – a happy accident, but something other musicians have noticed in other storage units. A heavy rock band called Mohair recorded a single in a south London Safestore in 2006. The song didn’t succeed, and neither did the band, but critics talked about a pleasantly “squally” tone which the unit lent to the recording.

At another facility in Reading, Philip Else runs his martial arts gym – 800 square feet, windowless, in the middle of a storage facility where people come every day, between seven in the morning and the same time in the evening, to learn from Else how to knock the proverbial stuffing out of each other.

Alongside specialist weights and a row of lockers, twelve padded people work out in pairs, kicking and punching each other to Else’s instructional commands.

Else represents a growing trend among people who saw a golden opportunity in the common-sense, ordinary appearance of a storage unit. The rent was less expensive than regular business premises; overheads such as lighting, security and insurance were part of the deal and the terms and conditions were flexible.

Storage units have popped up in other areas of popular culture, inspiring novelists as contrasting as Alan Bennett and Thomas Harris, author of the famous Hannibal Lecter. The main character, Lecter, uses self-storage for a severed head in the novel. The Clothes They Stood Up in, Bennett’s 1998 novella, revolved around a storage switch and the resulting confusion.

Hopkins Lecter Pop Culture 2017-09-13

A 2004 episode of popular US TV show CSI focused on gender-reassignment surgery which took place in, you guessed it, a storage unit. Popular culture has come to storage units in other ways – 32 previously unknown paintings by American artist Jackson Pollock, for example, were discovered in a Long Island unit in 2005, as were a set of previously unseen Stanley Kubrick photos in Ohio in 2006.

In Southampton, UK, a wheelchair restoration group called Re-Quip set itself up to operate from a storage unit in 2009. Mostly run by disabled volunteers, it was cheaper than any concession the local council could offer, with the site manager also ‘donating’ a month’s rent for the equivalent of around RM5 (One storage provider we know in KL charges only 20% of that for the first month, but we couldn’t possibly say which one, as it would be way too popular!).

A report issued by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (UK) as far back as August 2009, stressed that many new UK houses do not have enough space for their occupants’ storage needs, nor for entertaining friends or for children to play. Almost half of the people surveyed complained that their homes couldn’t house all their furniture. Over a third said their kitchens didn’t even have room for a toaster.

While UK homes are clearly no longer castles, storage units at least allow some room for recreation outside their ramparts. These tenants transform their everyday lives through storage – whether as ballerina, musicians, martial artists, novelists or film crews – and so the monthly rental seems entirely worth it.