Friday, 23 December 2011

Occupy St Paul's: from court to camp

Drawing inside a courtroom is illegal. As is writing about the proceedings without permission. Pity. 

Gore-Tex-clad limbs susurrate on slippery oak benches in the public gallery.

‘How do you spell Fawkes?’ asks the Occupy PR guy next to me. He wants to tweet that it is auspicious that a manuscript from Guy Fawkes’s trial is displayed outside the court where the St Paul's Occupy eviction trial is being held. I quibble over ‘auspicious’ as Fawkes lost catastrophically, but am overruled.

I arrive at the St Paul's camp after dark and end up back in the supply tent with its hellish soundtrack of fortissimo Radio 1.

Michael, from Toxteth, works in the kitchen team and the tranquillity team, the camp's peace-keeping force. They tend to be busiest between midnight and 4am, when the broken people of the camp walk abroad. 

Tranquillity have walkie-talkies; it was suggested that they should use whistles for emergency help but they rejected the idea. 'I said this isn't 1829 with the Metropolitan Police being issued with whistles,’ says Michael. ‘People will get hold of one and take the piss.'

Michael says he’ll get his picture framed. He's had tapestries framed after doing classes at the Royal School of Needlework - 'I've done landscapes, a Victorian basket of vegetables - very difficult. I'm really into cushion designs at the moment. My partner studied millinery.'

Lilias has laryngitis so can’t compete with Radio 1. As a young woman - I detect a flower child - she was once approached by the Polish artist Feliks Topolski on the Tube: he showed her round his studio under the arches at Waterloo and took her to eat in the National Film Theatre as was. They met several times, platonically, but he never drew her portrait. 'When I was going to the US he gave me the name of the Polish ambassador in Washington but that was all too posh for me.' 

Nafeesa is part of Occupy's criminal investigations unit looking for evidence of banking crimes, and films for the camp's livestream output. 'I'm trying to get my mother to come here. She stopped speaking to me the first week I was here. But there are Bangladeshi freedom fighters so she understands. She says, "I never thought my daughter would be like this. When are you going to get married and have children?" I say, please! I've got more important things to do.'

When I draw a girl whose face glows with beauty, and hand her the picture, she will freeze and her glow will fade for a few seconds. She is used to affirmation from the mirror, not a hesitant yet overworked sketch of something other than beauty. She becomes vulnerable, yet feels that she must wear a mask of politeness. And I don’t know why my heads are getting bigger – larger than life size is pointless. I must rein them in.

Erin, a softly-spoken South African, tall with good legs, clad in the skimpiest bare-torsoed drag in the coldest weather, reached England in 1972. ‘I come here every day to get away from zombies and clones. What are these, pastels?’

Erin picks out a purple chalk and waves it over the picture, wanting to draw in the missing eyeliner, then decides not to. I left out the eyeliner because I felt it would hurt Erin’s eyelids by some kind of sympathetic magic. And I wanted to see what Erin's eyes really looked like.

‘I’ve made so many friends here,’ says Erin. ‘But I go home at night and sleep in my warm bed – I don’t have the dedication and stamina which I’m greatly in awe of. The food here is wonderful. And the movement is fantastic – brilliantly organised. There are endless people full of love. I’m going to cry now.’

I go home on the bus, working out how I would cast the film of the trial. Jeanne Moreau in her prime as Tammy Samede, the named defendant.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Occupy London at St Paul's: in the kitchen tent

When Janick is working in the kitchen tent it runs on his energy. Someone asks him if he leaves his chilly tent at St Paul's to sleep inside the occupied UBS building. 'No, I'm not bourgeois. I'm a true Marxist.'

Among the true believers roughing it outside St Paul's, it's easy to feel that the grey-carpeted, 400-room office complex, emotionless in design, infects some of its inmates with a corporate rather than comradely attitude. Janick hands me an empty Fortnum & Mason tin which once held Ceylon flowery orange pekoe superb tea bags, to put drawing materials in. It's just right.

David is chef: he toils long hours and tries to keep the atmosphere calm.

On Saturdays a man does Irish jigs to over-amplified music on the steps of St Paul's for an hour. It has a peculiarly wheedling sound.

There is a sudden glut of bacon sandwiches. A kitchen hand cries: 'I've found some brown sauce! Yesss!!'

Someone strides out of the tent with purpose: 'That Irish guy. I'm gonna kill him.'

Rupert enters. 'I'm a stonemason.'
'Ah, you're in the right place,' I say. 'There's a sign saying STONE SOUP.'
'I don't read. I'm a traveller. Do you know how Chelsea did this afternoon?'
He tells me he is a foundling from Wisbech. 'I'm left-handed like you.'
'They hate us, don't they,' I say. 'The normals.'

'I draw too,' he says. 'Can I draw you with a cigarette in your mouth? It's sexy.'
'I don't smoke.'
'I could teach you.'

I pose with an unlit cigarette getting soggy. I concentrate on keeping it in place and not shaking. I was in the dentist's chair the other day having a crown prepared; it was less hassle than this. I could do with a saliva ejector.

Rupert surveys his drawing: 'This is shit,' he says. But I like his way with colour.

A man studies it: 'You've got the look of her. Bette Davis. Cruella de Vil.'

Rupert's brain spins a tale for him and for me about how he murdered his girlfriend's rapist with a crossbow. 'The police can't tell it's my arrow. Can I kiss you?'

In the evening, a man from Hare Krishna brings metal vats of aromatic rice and dhal, subtly flavoured and delicious. I feel I shouldn't deplete the kitchen's stocks but there is masses to spare.

On LBC Louis Armstrong is singing We've got all the time in the world.

The court case against the St Paul's camp starts on Monday.

At dusk a bride in a sleeveless, strapless gown shivers on the cathedral steps as the wedding photos are taken with masked occupiers.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Occupy London at St Paul's: in the supply tent

Saturday morning. A tall blond man emerges from his tent holding a large mirror and fools around preening himself in it.

Feathers are ruffled in the kitchen tent: the Calor gas supply has run out and no one can find the number for the man who delivers the canisters.

'What about Blacks?' I ask. The camping supply shop is a few yards away.
'The City of London Corporation says they're not allowed to talk to us.'

I find an assistant in Blacks. I am compelled to wonder under what circumstances he might be articulate. In a burning building, perhaps. But they don't have enough gas.

Back in the kitchen tent there's a big sign saying STONE SOUP, one of my favourite stories and recipes. Janick from Normandy, the mirror guy, yells, 'The Queen is coming in five minutes, guys. Don't be late.'

He puts a clean newspaper on the chair with a professional flourish before I sit down to draw. 'I get work in the hospitality industry,' he says. 'When I do that I have my hair in a nice bun.'

Men are peering at what's in a cooking pot.
'All I can see is ginger in there,' says one.
'He's got too many girlfriends,' says Janick. 'He needs a lot of ginger.'

Janick is one of those well-organised backpackers with a collapsible bucket, bicycle, trailer and stove, travelling the world fuelled by Kerouac, Borroughs and Jules Verne. 'I like photographing tribal people, minorities.' He's been on the road for 24 years but when his parents are more frail he will live close to them.

'At school I was called Janick le Planeur, the flier, not too much into reality. The newspapers say we are a magnet for vulnerable people but it's nice to be here, to give some help. We can't forbid alcoholics.'

'Get out of my xxxxing kitchen,' yells a man to an interloper.
How many times have I said that, or wanted to.

'The curry will come by courier,' sings Janick. It's better with his French accent. The gas arrives.

Then scar-cheeked E walks in, assesses the situation and takes charge. He marches me to his territory, the supply tent, where I become the cabaret and E becomes my manager. He arranges a queue of willing sitters. It  becomes a chaotic production line.

As a rule, my most enthusiastic, co-operative and intuitive sitters have been street-sleepers, addicts, the dispossessed. They are faceless and need to get in someone's face in order to survive. When the day-and-night job is about living, and sleep is not without threat, there isn't usually time or energy for altruism or a bigger cause, although some have enough spare capacity to help comrades.

I've also learned that ex-convicts reveal themselves by worrying if I've got enough drawing materials to last the session.

The supply tent contains clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, blankets, hot water bottles, toiletries, bin liners. They are short of alcohol wipes and lavatory paper for the Portaloos.

Things Can Only Get Better blares out from Radio 1.

A challenging big blonde woman, not from the camp and just the safe side of feral, rifles through the clothes and takes something.
'We ask for a donation if you're not from the camp,' says E.
She claims that she is.

Robbie, from Bristol, piles on extra garments from the supply tent. He is wearing three hats.
'You remind me of Dan Leno,' I say.

A young Iraqi with a degree in international relations appears at the tent flap to donate a large bag of Greggs doughnuts. 'I was in the Iraq war. I will voice you anywhere I go,' he says.

When the football comes on the radio I plead with E, but he says: 'You know boys and their football on Saturday afternoons.' I think of Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust, at the end of which the protagonist is trapped in the Amazon jungle reading Dickens aloud to Mr Todd, in perpetuity.

'You are not a name but a number,' I say to E. I need to work on that.

Anon has never been seen in camp without his mask.
'Why do you wear it?' I ask.
'To make myself attractive to women.'
'Are you Tony Blair?'
I'm not the first person to ask that.

Later, E shows Anon's picture to someone else: 'You know who that is. Well, no one knows who that is but you know who that is.'

I ask Max from Walthamstow why he sleeps in the cold camp at night.
'It makes more of a point.'

Jimmy, a Scouser, has been sleeping on the steps of St Paul's for ten years and embraces his new family of campers. 'I'm a street sleeper, not homeless.' He works in the kitchen tent and tries to calm troubled new arrivals. He is a traditional wayfarer. 'I walk to Oxford and back. It can take me six weeks. Can I kiss you?'

A man appears at the entrance to the supply tent. 'Do you have to listen to this commercial music at full volume?' he pleads. 'I've come here for the peace.'
E looks away. The man goes. 'He's got mental health issues,' says E.

'Ew,' I say to Ricky, 'Why have you got those plug things in your ear-lobes?' I quote the picture restorer's mantra, never do anything irreversible.
'Older people don't like them,' observes E.
'Well, you wear glasses,' Ricky says to me, unconvincingly.

I have done eight hours here, feeding my addiction. I feel like a clockwork toy running down. I wander through the darkened camp.

The cream felt yurt, which shelters women and children, blew down on Thursday night but was reassembled today. A man is lying with his head inside the yurt flap, his thinly-dressed body outside on a piece of cardboard, courting hypothermia. E and Lee deal with him, a young Spaniard. 'Women and children only.' Bewildered, he takes up his bag and his cardboard and wanders off, yelping and howling.

I hear from someone else that she was woken up in the yurt at 5am by a man sitting next to her saying, 'Is this all right?' No it isn't. There is another story of a woman's tent being slashed open with a knife.

A girl is making a beautiful miniature tree from masses of new shiny copper wire.
'It's going to be a children's wishing tree,' she says. 'I started it at the UBS building but things got a bit political there. It's better here.'
'Where did you get the wire?'
'From the building.'

Matthew in the tech tent
Fast forward to general assembly minutes, 3 January 2012:

Comment: What strategy has been devised to protect Occupy movement from alleged copper theft?

Bank of Ideas: We have been discussing this. I’m not an expert on legal issues. They are devising a strategy. Some copper has been apparently been taken. The people who did this have left and are no longer welcome. Somebody said the record will show that Occupy London acted to stop the copper being stolen.

Daniel from Australia

Thursday, 8 December 2011

St Paul's, Occupy and Messiah

A vicious wind. The cathedral closed early to prepare for Handel's Messiah. Disappointed tourists are turned away by the doorkeepers, who include Nathaniel from Alsace-Lorraine. The doorkeepers are on edge, not wanting an invasion of Occupiers at an event sponsored by a City institution.

'My father was an artist like you,' he says. Poor sod, I think, as I try to settle on the chilly steps, my hair and paper blowing everywhere.

'What did you think when the cathedral was shut for a week?' I ask.
'It was less work for us. We didn't know who was making the decisions.'
That makes two of us.

I head for the camp's library tent and comparative warmth. Nathan, from Pollok in Texas, hands me what I take to be a perfume spray. 'What do you think of this?'

I spray it on the inside of my wrist and sniff. Lily of the valley smothered by strident modern notes. A smell that makes you see zigzags in hostile colours. Bridget Riley on acid.

'Smell me,' I say, pointing under my left ear. 'This is what Proust smelt like.' I think of the late Henry Cooper saying, 'The great smell of Brut' as he slaps it on.

'It's an old perfume,' I say. 'Jicky by Guerlain. Can you tell the difference? That spray's got harsh chemical notes.'

Nathan nods diplomatically and says his bottle is a room spray. 'It's supposed to be hyacinth. I made a donation to Buckingham Palace for it,' he says. 'I bought it in the gift shop there.'

I show him my Facebook photo, me as the Queen circa 1963, and I do it without a qualm, because anarchists don't give a toss; it's only Labour anoraks and republicans who fret.
'Where are you?' he asks.
'At home, before going to Torture Garden.'
'Oh. What happens there'
'Not much, if you're me. I just waft.'

I ask him where he lived before he came to the camp.
'In an open space in West London. Near Osterley. Sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own.'
'What's your advice to freegans?'

He hands me three packs of joss sticks to sniff: 'What do you think of these?' He lights the one that I choose.

(I google him later. P2P Foundation. The foundation for peer to peer alternatives. He is described as a post-scarcity political economist, which sounds like my late mother's way of life. I find something about printing robots to help you grow food. I need to look into this more closely.)

A smartly dressed knock-out blonde breezes in with a suitcase on wheels. Blimey, I think, she can't be staying here.

'Can women still sleep in the yurt?' she asks me. 'Camp's looking all different. It changes every time you go away.' I shrug, someone answers and she leaves.

Cass comes up: 'Are you the lady who does the drawing?'

It's nice being the someone who does the something.

I tell him I'll have to hurry because I'm waiting for Tina, an occupier from Blackpool. We haven't met but she contacted me on Facebook because she found this blog, which she says is like walking through camp. I've invited her to Messiah. I've been given two tickets by the sponsor.

Cass has been here from day one. He edits the live-streaming. He tells me that the first food tent blew away and they tweeted for another; that the Italian professional chef stormed out but there's a similar one now; that most of the techs, the elite boys with very special toys, have gone to the occupied UBS building in Hackney for the electricity. (I've noticed before that they are having the time of their lives - this is their Bletchley Park moment.)

My phone rings. It's Tina. She turns up. She's the knock-out blonde. I smarten up. And off we go, two Cinderellas without a prince, to be plied with mulled wine and morsels of Christmas cake with Stilton in the crypt, then to sit in all the glitter and architecture under the whispering gallery while choirboys sing with bloodless perfection. The cathedral is an echo chamber, the amateur choir so numerous that it can't avoid sounding like a herd of wildebeest when it sits down or stands up.

I sniff my wrist. The smell of the room spray has morphed into Palmolive milk and honey handwash which I associate with desolation. My wrist starts to itch.

After Messiah Tina shows me the empty yurt - it looks cosy and snuggly in there - then introduces me to the sacrificial lamb. The madonna. Tammy.

Tammy Samede is the named defendant, symbolising the whole camp in the court case against it. Tammy's friends are helping to make sure she won't feel as if she's been hit by a truck.

She's standing in the cold, waiting for someone, fretting about the statement she's writing with legal help. She swears, then says to me politely, 'Sorry, miss.' I am embarrassed, not by the word - how could I be - but by the 'miss'. She won't come to the pub with us - she has to wait in the cold.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Occupy London at St Paul's; the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

A study in layers of oblivion at dusk: the St Paul's camp is oblivious to the lovers, whose unfinished picture I posted here in November - they gave me permission to draw, then retreated to their island. And I didn't know I was being photographed drawing them by a student, Ling Zhou, who's just sent me her photos.

Serenity of a kind had returned to the steps, as the cathedral had re-opened after its forlorn, disastrous period of closure.

Yesterday I took a break from drawing the Balzac/Zola/Dickens/Trollope novel that is Occupy to draw the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment rehearse Messiah. I had thought the act of drawing would make me oblivious to the music, but my experience was intensified.

Hardly any chat, just Handel. The musicians' opinions on Occupy ranged from 'Unprintable, sorry' to 'My mother, who is very churchy, wrote to the Dean of St Paul's to say how terrible it was that the cathedral was not engaging with the protesters.'
Tim Mead - countertenor

Pavel - harpsichord, organ

Nicholas Mulroy - tenor

Lisandro Abadie - bass-baritone
That's a pencil Nicholas has in his mouth.

I'm returning to Occupy on Wednesday for a Cinderella day - first to draw, sitting on the cold stone, then to attend a different Messiah in the cathedral as the guest of a financial institution, with a reception beforehand.
Andrew - double bass

And I have a spare ticket...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Occupy London at the Bank of Ideas in Hackney

In the information room at the occupied UBS building in Sun Street, YouTube is playing Steeleye Span's All Around My Hat. Otherwise, the relaxed banter, grumbles about meetings and infrastructure hassles are typical of any corporate reception area in the City. But, as in prison, don't expect people to close the lavatory door. Is it aggressive for a man to pee in front of me, or are we all comrades now?

A sign says: 'We used to need St Paul's. Now St Paul's needs us.' I think it refers to the cathedral, but I'm told it refers to the camp.

A woman asks if she can help and is handed information. 'It's just a list of headings and phone numbers,' she complains, and leaves. But things aren't structured. Two trainee psychotherapists walk in off the street and offer a seminar on the idea of community. That's how it works.

David says: 'There's a global conspiracy and we're trying to put things right. I got on the bus and the driver said you're for the camp, aren't you.'

Lee was marching yesterday, when public sector workers were on strike: 'I was so disappointed that the tubes and buses were still running. Still, you can't change things by striking. The people who were penalised were the strikers themselves. The Government must be laughing their tits off. We need people jumping the gates at number ten. Let the people see what'll happen when the food shortages come. You get a bit militant when you haven't had food in your stomach for three days.' Lee warns me to stay away from the Olympics, predicting a terrorist coup.

The theory that Mossad instigated 9/11 is current here.

Someone brings Lee herbal tea in a jam jar. 'Ugh, still no milk,' he says.

Steve, who reminds me of Stalin, asks if I'm East European. 'Might be,' I say, 'I don't know who my grandfather was.' Steve's ancestors are Russian-Polish-German Jews.
'What brought you here?' I ask.
'My destiny and my two feet. A belief in a world that has to be changed for the better for everyone.'
I ask if he has any pets.
'All the animals in the world. I'm a vegetarian.'

Someone comes in to ask if he's changed his mind about some unrelated topic.
'I changed my mind into a pair of baby bushbabies,' he says.

I ask Natalia what nationality she is. 'I am a citizen of the world and I don't believe in nationality.' Lee says she is Colombian and calls her Lolita. 

Acacia says, 'My mother was going to call me Sky but decided it was a bit cliched. Then she saw a documentary about giraffes eating acacia trees.'

She is from Devon and has been in London for two weeks. She's here to learn - 'everything from Spanish to law to juggling. Personal growth.' She picks up a guitar and plays an old Spanish song called Romance. She'd like to have a lurcher and intends to be a tree surgeon.

James walks in and asks if there's an extension cable for the study room and library upstairs, or cash for one.
'Good luck,' says Acacia. 'If you find one I'm stealing it off you. Buy one or put it on a wish list.'

Lee nicks her roll-up and takes it outside to smoke it. He returns and says to her, 'Violence is not the answer.'
'I don't do violence yet but I'm mentally punching you right now,' she says.

An affable man looking like a cross between Clark Kent and Buddy Holly, in tweed jacket and tie, asks to look round the building. 'Just sign the book to say which bit of MI6 you're from,' says Lee. The man takes a long time studying notices and leaflets.

James picks up the guitar and strums quietly. He plays Lay Lady Lay. I say, 'I started an ill-advised affair because of that song.' He is summoned to a meeting before I can talk to him so I quote from his blog: 'Scepticism is an invaluable tool in politics but we must bear in mind the sceptic is very different to the cynic and I fear it will be cynicism often in the guise of humour that could present the biggest threat to this burgeoning movement. Forget the cops, kill the cynic in your head.'

I'm wondering where the laughs are to be found here. It's a bit edgy and there's a suggestion that one of my sitters today is an agent provocateur. It turns out to be false.

Some people are absorbing patterns of rigid corporate behaviour.The building is sick.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Another Saturday with Occupy London at St Paul's

Liz Beech is a writer and artist working in Starbooks, the St Paul's camp library. 'I lived at Greenham Common for five years and came out profoundly changed. I was committed to non-violence as a really strong way of resistance and demanding to be heard. In the immediate aftermath of later protests that descended into violence I went to encampments offering non-violent direct action workshops, to be met with derision and an ageist agenda.   

'But here for the first time I feel there's a real opportunity to revive non-violent protest - no one is going to pick up a breeze block and throw it. There are some people here with mental health problems but there's no strategy to commit violent acts. At Greenham, some women couldn't manage non-violence if they were being taunted by police or soldiers, but we'd help them, encourage them to move away.'

I coo over the portable manual typewriter Liz has brought to the library: people are invited to type their thoughts about the protest. It's an Erika, a robust German Democratic Republic model which is surviving the violent protests of a first-time user who can't work out how to return the carriage. Liz won a national short story competition when she was 17; her prize was an Olivetti Valentine but we agree that it's too glamorous to bring to the camp.

She wants to put four typewriters on the South Bank next year to gather people's recollections of The Queen's 60-year reign. Last year she had five typewriters at Glastonbury for people to write collective novels, contributing up to ten lines each and seeing only the previous ten lines: 'People were queuing up 24/7, we had to give them Scrabble and crosswords while they were waiting.' The camp library is saturated with novels and her wishlist is more poetry, non-fiction, art, politics.

Liz ( goes back to Shepherds Bush at night, 'But I'm here for as long as it takes. There's a collection of us making something happen in all the diversity of it. Including people I might find very difficult.'

Saskia was the first person I drew at St Paul's. We talk about the changes since the start, notably the influx of fragile, defenceless people: 'If you're being inclusive, you have to include them,' she says.

The camp also attracts EDL members: 'They can come here,' says Saskia, 'but they don't scare us and they can eff off. We don't feel the fear.'

I talk to an anarchist: 'I don't believe in changing the system but creating an alternative in which everything is free for everybody. I read social anthropology at UEA and I left at the time the Twin Towers came down. I believe it was an inside job to create the myth of terrorism. All institutions are corrupt, it's unchangeable.'

In the tea tent, someone bashes out The Red Flag and a selection from Queen on the twangy pub piano.

It's Jo-Jo's second day here. 'Draw her like a princess,' says a man sitting next to me. Jo-Jo makes sure that Angel, a scary-looking dog, is warm under a blanket. 'It's a good laugh here,' says Jo-Jo. She is young and I don't want to pry.

During the afternoon ambulances visit twice to deal with people in the first aid tent.

Debra has been here for three weeks. She says she contracted pneumonia on the site; is on the waiting list for three operations; is anaemic; a loner. She parts her clothing to show me the foil blanket around her torso.

She met a man at the camp; took him home but didn't trust his friend; needs to see him; he has no fixed abode; he appeared in court but she doesn't know what happened as he has no contact number; he makes up as The Joker. If she finds out about him she can leave.

The light is sinking and a cold blustery wind is lifting tents from the ground.

A first-aider puts his arms round a tense young man locked in an obsessively repetitive stand-up routine. A shaven-headed man with a copy of What Freud Really Said is haranguing protesters.

Two men walk up to the camp: 'Where can we donate?'

Monday, 21 November 2011

Quick return to St Paul's

I get an email from the camp: 'One of the occupants at St Paul's has asked if you would like to re-do her portrait. She was very taken by it and was devastated that it was destroyed... I do not know her name but she has orange hair.'

The picture had suffered a mishap during ablutions - it's hard to manage a rolled-up cylinder of cartridge paper in camp conditions.

The girl is Jess. I find her eating noodles in the busy welfare tent which welcomes homeless people drawn to the camaraderie, free food and non-judgemental atmosphere. 'I'm going to get the picture scanned and send it to my future husband to show him what I look like,' she says. I think of portraits sent to Henry VIII on behalf of prospective wives. Someone gives her a box of fat pavement chalks. 'I'll do hopscotch,' she says.

I go to a lunch reception nearby and three of us carry the leftover food back to the camp. The professional chef running the kitchen tent makes a huge fuss of us, embracing us and lifting us off the ground. 'LOVE' is spelt out in tea lights on the food counter. A drunk rushes into the tent and pretends to vomit over the counter. He is tolerated.

Two volunteers unpack the food that we brought:
'Oh dear, pork pies.'

Outside, Dame Vivienne Westwood looks cold but is cheered when she warns the crowd not to reject the artists of the past.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The St Paul's Cathedral protest camp on Armistice Day

A homeless man shouts 'SEX!' from the top of the cathedral steps.

People are massing on the wide concourse. Just before the clock strikes eleven, the crowd forms a huge irregular circle holding hands, leaving the centre bare. At the last second new people slot into the circle on either side of me. The person holding my right hand is behind me. I can't turn round to look as I might make a noise dropping the sketchpad clamped under my arm, so I am holding hands firmly with a stranger I can't see, in perfect trust.

Clerics from the cathedral stand at the top of the steps. The Last Post is played. Then the silence is intense; passing traffic is irrelevant. Prayers are said after the two minutes. The circle is slow to let go hands. (And this evening, a woman tells me that one of the canons on the steps said that he'd never seen anything like it and thinks they should repeat it.)

People sit down in the circle, meditating and humming while in the centre a man blows giant bubbles.

I go to the Tent City University, a marquee where the Rev Paul Nicolson, chairman of charity Z2K, is giving a lecture on poverty and debt: 'Parliament is reducing welfare by £18 billion, hitting the poorest citizens very hard at a time of rising prices.'

Paul reflects on the two-minute silence: 'My favourite uncle, Major Oswald Segar-Owen, who'd taken me for a ride in a Bren-gun carrier at Aldershot, was shot by a sniper in Calais which was being defended to enable the escape from Dunkirk in 1940. I was eight. I also remember a very wounded German pilot who landed by parachute in our garden after his plane was shot down.

'And I remember John Lloyd, a private soldier who was a prisoner of war in Nagasaki unloading a boat when the atomic bomb was dropped. He was in the hold and the blast went over the top. He never recovered from what he saw when he got out of the boat. He used to join me for prayers for peace at Turville, my former parish. He suffered from radiation poisoning. Having had one leg amputated he refused to allow them to cut off the other one. He died long after the end of the war but suffered dreadfully for the rest of his life.'

The person who was holding my right hand turns out to be Venetia. This is her first day visiting the camp. Next Monday she starts work as a fundraiser at Unicef and in May she will have a baby.

Any hobbies? 'Upholstery - so far I've done one armchair and dining chairs. It's an old craft, tinkering away, and restoring old things is really green. I learned how to do it at the School of Stuff in Dalston.'

Jess comes up.
'Can I draw you?' I ask.
'Can't afford it,' she says.
'That's OK, I give them away.'

She usually sleeps on the streets in Stratford, East London.
'A mate told me about this place.'
'Have you made friends here?'
'Yeah.' She smiles. 'It's one big family.'

Her skin is pale and she has slept badly. 'It's cold, and there was someone playing the sax all night.'
'Didn't anyone try to stop him?'
'Yeah, but they couldn't.'

A smart woman comes up: I guess that she could be holding down a job in Paternoster Square but she turns out to be a social worker helping Jess.

I cross the road to the bus stop. Some well-fed Americans emerge from Gourmet Burger Kitchen. 'Let's go get a look at Swampy,' says one. They head for the camp, smirking.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Back outside St Paul's Cathedral

I ask Kai, a tourist from Singapore, what he thinks of the Occupy camp outside St Paul's. 'It's more moving than anything in Tate Modern. The most striking things I saw there were political comics made during Nazi Germany. Art with a message is better than art for art's sake.

'I come from a closed society built on fear. I hope something good will come out of the demonstration. I've always wanted something like that to happen in Singapore to shake people's minds a bit, to break them out of the crazy money-making cycle. But it's hard for anything to happen.'

'What would happen to demonstrators like this in Singapore?' I ask.
'Oh, they'd be put in jail. Problem solved. Let's find another victim.'

'What work do you do?'
'It's pretty evil but I'm an advertising copywriter - using words to move people.'

Kai is collecting impressions from people he meets. He hands me a tiny notebook and a pencil, and asks me to write on one page.

'I've got toothache and a cold bottom,' I write. 'I know a secret.'

I hover by a man with long ginger hair sitting by the library (open-air bookshelves), wanting to draw him, but the reek of urine from a nearby tree deters me and I withdraw.

Gillian is holding her son Atticus, named after the lawyer in To Kill a Mocking Bird. She and her husband are visiting the camp for the day, from Twickenham. 'I love it here,' says Gillian. 'The session in the university tent was all about forging a new education system. They used the example of a co-operative already set up in Lincoln. We were thrashing out what people want, and the idea is that people pay what they can afford. Teachers and students form a consensus about what should be taught. It's starting at university level but they're discussing how it can be done for tiny little ones.'

To draw them I am sitting on the chilly pavement, using a copy of The Occupied Times as insulation. A middle class man hurries by holding a child, possibly his son, by the hand. He looks down at my half-formed sketch. 'Is that good or not?' he asks rhetorically, and pulls the child along. He needs someone to give him a critical opinion. But would he seek a critical opinion of the first critical opinion? I don't mind if he thinks my picture is good or bad, or if he likes or dislikes it. But I want him to know what he thinks and likes.

I find Andi having a row with his partner about a pair of trousers during which his cigarette gets bent. He is wearing a Boris Johnson mask around his loins. 'I find Boris amusing. I think he's done a lot for the movement. It's beyond a joke. That's why I'm wearing him where I am.'

He slides the mask down from his groin and off over his jeans so that it can be nearer his face for the drawing.

'We are the highest form of consciousness. There is new evidence that we make a decision 30 seconds before we are aware of it.'

I ask how the cross came to be on his forehead.
'It was put there on Hallowe'en. I'd like to turn it into an ankh.'

A whipper-in for the next talk at the camp university approaches us: 'It's about legality and sex workers. Boris isn't invited.'

'He'd be ideal, man,' says Andi.

I say I know one of Boris's father's ex-mistresses.

Andi turns to his partner. 'Have you been to the loo for me yet?'
'No,' she says.
'I'd better do that now then.'

It's getting dark. I peer into the tech tent which is bright inside. Tangles of red electric leads are clipped on frames, like vein clusters around bones. Four young men are working intently while a generator roars.

A couple of minders are outside.
'Could I sit on the floor in the tent and draw for five minutes, please?'
'Sorry, no, there's a lot of stuff that needs to be protected in there.'

A madman has been strutting along the cathedral steps and haranguing the crowd monotonously all afternoon. At the top of the steps are two lovers disengaged from everything. I crash into their serenity to ask if I can draw them, but I can't get enough light on the paper and I lose the will to finish the sketch. The lovers are Andre, a Geordie, and Kartar, from Walthamstow.

Snug in the pub, Ye Olde London, clusters of protesters are making plans, using laptops.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Finsbury Square Occupy London protest

Finsbury Square is five star accommodation compared with St Paul's. There's plenty of space, and grass rather than cobblestones, so the campers here don't have to stick their tents down with gaffer tape.

Clem, 17, polite, cheerful, comes from Harrow. He's at college studying music in performance - guitar, keyboards, voice: 'It makes people happy.'

He gets the first, wheeziest drawing of the day.

'Do you know about Greenham Common?' I ask him.
'Yeah. The Suffragettes.'
'CND? The Aldermaston march?'
'Educate me.'
I need to leave my assumptions at the door. But there aren't any doors here.

The kitchen tent is bulging with food, much of it donated. Robert says he is 'pretty new to England': he grew up in Australia. He plays jazz guitar and is going to train to teach English as a foreign language. 'This is one of the biggest global protests ever - 980 cities worldwide are involved,' he says. 'I'm making a kind of dhal. It's got lentils, cardamom, clove, curry leaves, cumin, turmeric, no chilli as some people don't like it, ginger, garlic, onions, carrots and potatoes. And a little salt.' The camp isn't vegan though. The freegans go out to forage in the evening.

'How long are you staying?'
'Until we're forcibly evicted or we change the world, whichever comes first.'

Someone walks in. 'What's for breakfast? Smells lovely.'
'It's lunch.'
'What time is it?'
'Twelve thirty.'

Marianna, who is also working in the kitchen tent, grew up in Italy and is half French, half American. She thinks the camp is important for 'people who are not likely to join. People who don't agree and can't envisage an alternative - it gives them an idea that an alternative is possible.'

Outside, protesters are using a megaphone to address passers-by. Rhodri, who is 'working within it all', says, 'I'm not sure it'll change anything but it's a fresh opinion.' He likes gardening, the theatre, being with his family. He says that's all rather ordinary. To me he sounds content and blessed.

'Will you draw me next?' says Adele, who works at Progress Software round the corner. 'They won't change anything. They're giving it a good go though.'

Adele's colleague agrees. 'Fair play to them. It'll make no difference whatsoever. It'd be nice to think so though. I'd say keep going. Not everything happens in a day. They'll make people more aware of injustice. I don't agree with what you're doing but good on you.'


B, another onlooker, says, 'I'm so glad I'm not 15. The new world is starting in 2012 and it's gonna be horrible. Nostradamus said that in 2011 the economic state of the world will be down and there'll be rioting in the street. Take me now Lord! Hold on to your soul, let love grow.'

On the edge of the group of onlookers are three of the pantomime villains. 'I'm being sketched,' David says to his companions. 'Not really,' I say. 'You moved.' He moves back to where he was to allow me to carry on, but after a few seconds he says, 'We have to go now.'
'Where do you work?'

Francesca has been megaphoning the pavement crowd. 'I was educated at the International School in Milan and then went to Japan with my family. I finished my masters in international development in September and now I want to learn more about the world.'

Her friend Simon is visiting the camp: 'If you're not careful your options narrow very quickly and you start to wonder how people can do anything other than academic or business jobs.' He is an American, working for the Nigerian government.

Francesca is living in a squat in Tufnell Park and works with Squash (Squatters' Action for Secure Homes). She plans a nomadic life.

'This camp started organically,' she says. 'There was a march then some people said, camp! Working groups started. Leadership doesn't necessarily mean being in charge. The kitchen and dealing with donations were the first things to be organised, it was really fluid.'

If there is a leader, I don't find anyone who claims to know, or who is bothered about not knowing.

Some snatches:

'There's no leader here but there is at St Paul's.
'Who's the leader there?'
'I don't know.'

'Will there be a third and fourth camp?'
'Someone said the South Bank and Canary Wharf but I don't know who's in that group.'

'Is anyone in charge?'
'I think it's the guy wearing the bunny ears.'

Angella-Dee says: 'I've lived on a peace camp in Cheshire. It's character building. You can live without money. I've been an anarchist all my life. They've only just caught on here.'

Greenham Common? 'I was there too. We started all these rumours that we'd dug tunnels into the RAF airbase.

'And I was at Beanfield. But you mention it now and you're talking at a blank audience. We got mashed up by the police. They smashed the shit out of us and put us all in prison. Here' - she glances at the police vans parked nearby - 'we just get looked at.'

A note for spotters: her bike is a copy of a Schwinn cruiser, given to her by a film editor who won it in a competition.

A little girl comes up to me and says: 'Do you know where my real mother is?'
But then a young woman strides over and says: 'I'm her legal guardian. Her real mother is over there.'

It spits with rain. A disembodied hand reaches out from the bottom of a tent flap and stubs out a cigarette.

Inside the first-aid tent is the quasi-religious hush of needlewomen. Three girls are stitching yellow and black letters to electric blue mesh. It's a banner which will say ALL POWER TO THE SPARKS. It's for tomorrow's demonstration of electricity workers. I crassly ask Alexa what she does 'in real life'. She says: 'This, in different contexts.'

I meet a man from Suffolk on his second visit to London: 'I looked round and thought, the buildings get that big? I don't like London. Everyone's hard apart from the people here. My wife says I go back Friday or not at all. Why don't you stay at the camp? We've just had 12 duvets donated.'

An electronic piano has appeared in the kitchen tent which is getting very jolly.

I wander along to the library, a few open-air shelves of paperbacks. Imperial Ambition by Noam Chomsky, One Day by David Nicholls, Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile by Geraint Anderson, Flying by Kate Millett (which would have been to hand at Greenham), Things Can Only Get Better by John O'Farrell.

An email of headlines comes in:
Buyout multiples rise on technology bet
Private equity takes steps towards transparency
Banks are back in takeovers