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.

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