Sunday, 29 January 2012

St Paul's - not the last Saturday of Occupy London

'I'd like the word "bonus" to be removed from the Oxford Dictionary,' declaims Father Joe Ryan, to cheers from the crowded steps of  St Paul's. Steady on, people, I think. It's not the word's fault.

Then a rock group makes distorted agitprop noise which cannot be escaped. A female cleric, iron with purpose, swoops down from the cathedral to say this is a public nuisance then floats back up the steps on a cloud of fury. She has long straight blonde hair. Her floor-length black clerical gown is close-fitting to the waist then billows like the most magnificent ball gown behind her as she ascends, unimaginable yards of cloth.

The next speaker is the Rev Paul Nicolson, chairman of Z2K, a charity which guides vulnerable people in debt. The last paragraph of his speech is: 'The poorest and the squeezed middle should unite in protest and justified moral outrage at the injustice of a deficit reduction policy which hits them hard and the richest not at all. In my view that is an outrageous injustice. It fully justifies non-violent civil disobedience. But I worry constantly about it turning violent, hoping and praying that it will not.'

He refused to pay the poll tax because he believed it was an injustice to the poorest people, but it was docked from his pay anyway. 'I told the Church Commissioners they should be involved in civil disobedience like I was. I got a very short answer.'

Before becoming a vicar Paul worked in the family Champagne business. He recalls a two-week trip to Paris learning how to sell Champagne to nightclubs: 'I went to one club where there was a bottle of Veuve Clicquot on each table before you sat down. Mistinguett, the Folies Bergere star, was sitting at a table. Her legs had been insured for £1,000,000 because they were so beautiful. By then she was 86. A female impersonator did his impression of her while she sat holding hands with a dwarf. Then Jacques Tati walked in and sat at the bar. It was pure Toulouse Lautrec.'

Juliane, from Essen in Germany, is a member of Occupy's economics working group. She did her doctorate at Cambridge on how initiatives such as the Fairtrade movement bring about social change, and is now assistant professor in organisational behaviour, teaching business ethics at Warwick Business School, Warwick University.

Joey was born in Lincolnshire. He had been travelling around last summer litter-picking at festivals, came to London to join Occupy, and is in charge of the recycling bins, the dustbins and cleaning the Portaloos. The camp has to have a Swiftian obsession with what it discharges.

The mood is nostalgic, subdued; the wind is cold. Each gust makes the small tents strain from their moorings.

I go to have tea with a friend whose parents had been imprisoned for anti-Apartheid activities.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Occupy London at St Paul's - another Sunday

We gather round creamy-skinned national treasure Dame Vivienne Westwood in the chilly university tent. 'Artists are freedom fighters,' she says. 'Go to the National Gallery and start with the seventeenth century Dutch paintings. I don't like installations. It takes no talent to make them.' Liz, the Greenham Common veteran, weighs in on behalf of installations. A man asks if Vivienne will take a group of people round the National Gallery because he doesn't know what to look at.

I tell her afterwards that I used to wear one of her bustles and people would forever whisper to me that I had my skirt caught up in my knickers.

I try to hand the picture to someone who I think is a member of her team.
I ask: 'Are you in her entourage?'
'Her WHAT?' she blazes at me, with a scowl.
She is.

George Barda is one of the litigants in person fighting eviction from St Paul's. He wept in the witness box, glimpsing the magnitude of his campaigns. The judge complimented the defendants' 'passion and sincerity'. In contempt of court, someone had posted an illicit courtroom photo of George's left ear on Facebook last time I looked.

I draw Peter Olive. No time to chat. He is a writer/producer/multi-instrumentalist/DJ.

Online I find a photo captioned: 'Peter Olive played keyboards in the debut performance of Adam Ant's Pirate Metal Extravaganza at The Scala.' 

Barry is playing a 1979 Fender. Knock knock knocking on heaven's door, Ziggy plays guitar.  I ask why he's playing music from before he was born. 'I like 70s music - glam rock, ska, new romantics. I come here a lot, not so much for the politics but for the jamming and the music. There's something every day. It's better in the warm though. I'm off to the Bank of Ideas.'

Erin is flopped on a sofa in the library tent. We are accompanied by a Diana superfan who spent each day of her six-month inquest in court, with DIANA and DODI written on his brow. He stands holding heavy orange carrier-bags which he doesn't put down. 'Were you at the royal wedding?' he asks me.

Erin puts on a pale lilac flower and a purple polka-dot ribbon for the picture.
'I've just been asked to model underwear.'
'What label?' I ask.
'Occupy. Underpants.'

Erin has recorded songs, playing the piano accompaniment as well. I listen to the cassette through earplugs: melancholy, sweet.

Erin hands me a booklet: 'Some Very Nice Songs' by Joe Nobody (i.e Erin):
Tear out the page from my daydreamer's book
Start out a new one, p'raps this time a true one.
On my first visit to the camp, someone told me to go down to the library. I looked beyond the tents for a public building. Mistake. You have to adjust your idea of scale. It's a bit like The Borrowers.

At that time the library was a couple of shelves of paperbacks in the open air. Now it's a tented retreat with squashy chairs, clapped-out sofas, an atmosphere and a mild-mannered librarian, Nathan from Pollok in Texas. Somewhere to get sentimental about as it recedes into history.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

To St Paul's Occupy London camp, via court

Wednesday, and a familiar face, or rather pillow-case. Anon is on duty in Occupy's information tent. Today his outfit is a combination of Mickey Mouse and Peanuts patterns. He rings the changes with five pillow-cases.

His beautiful soft young hands with oval manicured nails form graceful patterns and gestures.
'They weren't like this when I was a KP,' he says.
'Kitchen porter. I used to bite my nails. I'm only as happy as my nails are long. I invented fingernail weaving. I used to cut slits in my nails and put white cotton threads through them. It's poor man's dreadlocks.'

'You do no manual work now,' I say. 'You have long nails like a Chinese emperor.'

A young male Chinese fashion student walks in: 'I want to know what people here wear.' I point to Anon.

I ask how Anon's partner feels about the camp.
'What partner?'
'You're wearing a wedding ring.'
'I'm wearing it in case I meet a partner.'
I pry a bit more, uselessly.

He shows me miniature portraits of Occupiers that he has drawn on the screen of his mobile phone with his fingertips. I think of Jane Austen's 'two inches of ivory'.

A youthful reporter from The Sun asks about this afternoon's court judgment. The Occupiers have been instructed to leave St Paul's within seven working days unless they appeal successfully.

I was in the pressure-cooker courtroom but the law forbids anyone to describe what happened in the way I want to. A flame-haired male law student, pale and slender like a pre-Raphaelite lily, was in the public gallery throughout the trial, taking notes in a sloping hand.

I tell the Sun reporter that I was at primary school with Jilly Johnson.
'One of the first page three girls.'

He says something profoundly offensive about Jilly and me.

When the reporter leaves, Anon sagely describes the trial's outcome as a 'Pyrrhic defeat.' Sid Vicious's My Way is blaring out of the speakers outside.

One of the more fragile campers harangues Anon: 'In seven days' time I'll see yer face! Gerra job!' He gives me a yellow rose and calls me miss.

'What does shill mean?' I ask Anon. 'It's a word I've heard a lot in the camp.'

People wander in to offer help on the day of the camp's departure.
'I used to be a kitchen helper on the Aldermaston marches,' says one.
'You have to explain Aldermaston here,' I murmur.
Someone looks attentive.
'Every year,' he begins, 'we used to......'

This is like dropping into a club. There is nowhere like it.