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.

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