Friday, 24 February 2012

Occupy London: the last Thursday at St Paul's

I'm dissed by a man in candy-striped hold-ups and a miniskirt with a fabric flower in his hair as he puts red and blue flashing lights on his head before cycling home: 'You're jealous of Princess Diana because she had something you don't have. Compassion. She cared about everyone. You're just here for your own interests. I showed you my book but you didn't like it.'

The camp has shrunk. A patient group of Occupiers cuddle together on the cathedral steps keeping vigil with tea-lights and flowers; someone is intoning into a microphone. They expect eviction any minute.

Debbie works in welfare benefits and is here because of the cuts: 'I've always been protesting - in the late 90s there was Reclaim the Streets, Stop the City. It got violent and that was horrible. My daughter came here first and told me that it was a completely different kind of protest, non-violent.'

Debbie is with the Anonymous group who wear the masks. She dispels my assumption that Anonymous is a blokish hackers' movement: 'I see myself as being a hippy. They're very peaceful, there's a nice vibe about it.

'I've never been drawn before. When we get raided by the bailiffs I'll grab my picture.'

I'm sketching in the cold, by the light of a lamp post, unable to discern colours clearly, at one point being filmed making duff decisions about how to draw by the guy from Channel 4 who's been haunting the camp. I am naked. Yes, her face is narrower, yes, I did eventually notice, come back and film the corrected drawing please.

Jimmy, the gallant Scouser who has slept rough outside the Cathedral for ten years, has filed a legal claim to ownership of St Paul's Cathedral on behalf of the Occupiers.
He's carrying his rolled-up portrait which I drew on 11 December.

E, Occupy's answer to Clint Eastwood, kisses my hand. 'You're a beautiful woman, Isobel.' We are both intoxicated in our different ways.

Tigger lay down under a police van during the recent eviction of Occupiers from the Bank of Ideas, the squatted UBS building in Hackney: 'It all kicked off when the bailiff punched two people. It was stressful and I smoked a cigarette under the van. A St John's Ambulance man warned me that I was near something extremely flammable [the petrol tank] but I didn't care. After the building was cleared I gave the bailiffs the run-around.' He managed to get back up onto the roof of the building from the outside: 'There's a little church next door.' He's a  free-runner, using walls and roofs as gym equipment.

'I'm from Hinckley in Leicestershire,' he says. 'I used to work in a hostel for young people with mental health problems but it got shut down by the government. That's why I'm here.'

Two men comment while I'm drawing him: 'Draw the big knob on his forehead. Get a permanent marker, quick. What kind of bell end does he look like?'

Chrissy, from Dusseldorf, was on holiday in New York with two friends when Occupy Wall Street started so they spent time in Zuccotti Park. 'There was a pizza restaurant close by and people from all over the world were contacting it to order pizzas for us. They made a special Occupy pizza - a big one, with meat. There were lots of pizza packets on the site, used to make signs.'

She's with Occupy in London for the duration: 'I'm a media analyst so I can work anywhere freelance. All I need is a laptop and a signal.'

I'm struggling to find enough dregs of observation to rescue my drawings, too tired to talk properly to my sitters. The Che-lookalike, Charlie, is a Sinhalese Sri Lankan. He works in the tranquillity (euphemism for security) team. There's a red cardboard heart pinned to the tree trunk behind him.

Ye Olde London on Ludgate Hill is shut so for the first time I'm going to have to use one of the camp's portaloos. Michelle mimes how to make a Z-shape so that no part of you ever touches any part of the interior of the portaloo. She kindly stands outside because I am claustrophobic and don't want to lock myself into this imagined hell. But it turns out to be a banal experience.

There is even a supply of loo-paper thanks to the vigilance of Obi, a purposeful and quietly motivated presence in the camp.

It's 1am. My observation is such that I have parked in a disabled parking space without noticing either the road marking or the yellow sign on a pole by the space. I await a letter from the City of London Police.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Not the last Sunday for Occupy London at St Paul's

'Jesus said before he went, "Have love among yourselves," ' says Tammy Samede. She is the named defendant, representing the Occupy camp at St Paul's in the eviction trial. 'I love Occupy. Here there is honest to God straightforward love for each other. I don't need anything while I'm here and there are hugs everywhere. I've got a few changes of clothes and a couple of books but I'm happier in 33 years than I ever was before.'

She feels that the cathedral has given Occupy a mixed response: 'Sing like an angel and act like a demon.'

'My benefits have been stopped because I'm not seeking work that the government thinks I should doing instead of  trying to change the world. My flat's being repossessed. It's too late to change that now.We're not going to stop when the tents have gone. It's just going to get more and more amazing. It's a scary moment, losing my flat and stuff. But I don't deal with sacrifices. It's the right thing to do. My belief is that the universe provides and it sure did.' 

Tammy was pragmatic about legal costs: 'I thought, I ain't got nothing. They can have a pound a week off me for the rest of my life and I'll have a long and meaningful relationship with the City of London.' In the event, the Corporation has waived costs against her.

'Occupy is about hope, it's about change, it's about people getting together,' says Tammy. 'All different kinds of people. Like Giles Fraser. Where else in life would I become friends with a canon of St Paul's? And they say the homeless services aren't able to cope. We've fed 'em. We've managed. I get angry about it.'  

Formerly inhibited, Tammy has grown into a fierce public speaker and in court I saw her earn the judge's respect for her confidence under cross-examination.

Tammy recently embarked on treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by her troubled childhood. After seeing her poised performance on TV, one of her counsellors called her to say that further treatment wasn't necessary. (I am naturally wary of long-distance assessment.) 

'Our brothers and sisters in Syria - they walk into the bullets.' says Tammy.That's how strong their desire is to change things. Here we are squabbling about a few tents.' 

Tanya Paton, a catholic working on Occupy's 'multi-faith, believer and none' working group, charmed half a dozen free Portaloos out of suppliers and is arranging for them to be restored to their owners before the anticipated eviction. The cleaning is not free and has been a big part of the camp's budget. 

Tanya is working on plans which include an interfaith Occupy pilgrimage to Canterbury in June. Her daughter Skye is a serious, happy eight-year-old whose rabbit is called Pebbles. 

Back in the long-running sitcom which is the info tent, Lee studies his portrait: 'I look like a commissar.' He kindly gives me a SACK BORIS Oyster card holder produced by the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association. 

Lee is a legal observer at demonstrations and a children's entomological entertainer: 'I take giant spiders and cockroaches into schools - The Big Bugs Show. We have cockroach racing and sometimes the kids eat bugs from Fortnum & Mason. The spiders are called Barbie, Hayley and Cayley - nice girlie names. A giant spider's feet feels like a hamster on your hand, or the paws of a kitten. It helps kids to feel good about science.'

'Can I find you online?
'Someone's stolen my website,' he fumes.

Constable 673 has never been drawn on duty before: 'It's amazing!' I've done a too-hasty sketch: she was standing in front of a bare light bulb so I couldn't see her clearly but my street rule is to be a passive instrument and draw whatever's in front of me without manipulation.

She is not permitted to accept the picture, as my other street sitters do, or to be photographed with it while on duty. 

She turns politely to a woman with a dog off a lead. 'You know what I'm going to say,' she says, with quiet charm and instant effect.

I pop into the kitchen tent. Music blares from a laptop: You blocked me on Facebook. And now you are going to die. Lilias, a relative of H. Rider Haggard, who wrote King Solomon's Mines, is doing a limb-thrusting-out dance to keep warm. 'You should go up Ilford on a Friday night,' says Tigger, a female kitchen helper. A man carrying a red rose comes into the kitchen tent, smoking. 

'You always break the laws of the kitchen,' sighs Mohammed. 'Please smoke outside.'
'And shove that rose up your arse,' says Tigger.
A man looks dubiously into a mug of pale coffee he has just made: 'There's something missing. I don't know what.'
Reuben [left]

I sit in on a general assembly - one of the amorphous meetings, open to anyone, which aim to produce consensus for the leaderless patchwork movement.

I sketch in the icy tent, my clockwork running down, and the talk is like a baroque opera: exposition, development, a return to the beginning, polite groans at the repetition... But the facilitator, Tina, grabs the sense and propels the makeshift orchestra to a conclusion.

I'm giving a lift home to Liz Beech, a Greenham veteran. She's lugging her portable manual typewriter, the vessel for visitors' comments over the past four months. The Museum of London want it, but she's keeping it.

I've been coveting the badges and in return for a sketch Reuben, with white beard and black fur hat, gallantly procures one for me: I leave camp with a hug and a kiss.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The case of the high profile

Michael Paget is one of the barristers representing Tammy Samede, the named defendant who stands for the Occupy camp at St Paul's like a tiger mother.
He muses: 'I've got several artists in the family...'

My heart leaps: 'SIDNEY PAGET?!'


No shit! Sherlock! 

Kind of.

I say: 'Show me your profile.'

I get a bit gibbery. Any chance of my doing a half-decent sketch flies out of the window, along with my concentration.

Michael is the great-grandson of Sidney Paget who illustrated Conan Doyle's stories when they first appeared in the Strand Magazine (and added the deerstalker). We had bound copies at home and as a child I was transfixed by Paget's drawings. The model for Holmes was Sidney's younger brother Walter, who bequeathed his elongated, elegant profile to the iconography which led to Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.

Sidney Paget drawing of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Silver Blaze'I'm  more like my mother, who's also an artist,' says Michael, but the ghost of the profile is there.

Photograph of Sidney Paget, dressed in a suit and looking to his right
Sidney Paget
The observant ghost of Sidney is present too, so from under the rubble of my confidence I do two rubbish drawings. A sense of history is a burdensome thing.

Michael, who is at Garden Court Chambers and has the Victoria ClimbiĆ© inquiry and Dale Farm on his CV, is also representing the Sheffield Occupiers: ‘I hope the Master of the Rolls gives the appeals a fair hearing. It's been a privilege to work for Tammy and Occupy. And the full court room has been in complete contrast to my usual cases, where the audience is one opponent (very bored) and one judge (often asleep).'