Sunday, 4 March 2012

Occupy London at Finsbury Square - bones and mudslinging

Life class model
I came under attack for writing this particular post, which must now read as follows:

'You've got balls to [censored], ' she [censored] at me, yesterday's make-up scribbling dejection on her face.

It's raining. The Finsbury Square Occupy London camp is a mud bath with a track of slippery decking partly covered in chicken wire. Some of the puddles are filled with shredded Christmas trees.

(The Occupy censor commanded me to delete the previous paragraph, but the meteorological records for London are freely available and I don’t expect you to believe that Stalinist sunbeams dance perpetually on the blithe upturned faces of occupiers.)

She is certain [censored] Twin Towers [censored] myth [censored].

Look, I record. This blog is subtitled 'drawing from an uncomfortable position'.

Here's an example of what I mean. Last week the life-class model apologised before undressing: 'I've been ill and I'm very bony.' My callous eyes lit up. 'Don't diss yourself,' I said. I should have filled her with fish and chips and Guinness but I revelled in the skeletal sight. We purred at her frangible beauty as we drew.

And now I think I've achieved the unthinkable - being told to get the hell out of an all-inclusive Occupy site. Then the Scouser Jimmy, who has slept rough outside St Paul's for the last ten years, assures me that I have some way to go: 'You're always welcome here, Princess.'

There are rumours of imminent eviction even though no formal notice has been served. A black duffel coat lies in the mud. In the crowded kitchen tent, damp Occupiers steam gently, eat curry and watch West Ham in a football tournament sponsored by RBS.

The municipal flower beds commandeered to grow food make me think of anxious, undernourished evacuees. There is no root-room for fruit trees as a multi-storey car park lies under the six feet of soil.

The Occupy guide to management without managers is waiting to be written, starting with the need for nominated press spokesmen. Today's Sunday Times has effected a stitch-up by quoting Occupiers who are decidedly off-message: one says he raises funds and then spends the money on drink and drugs.

Rosa, recovering from viral pneumonia, has a damp tent. I fetch some old copies of the FT from the car to sop up water. I explain to her that I don't feel welcome on site. Oh, I hear someone clomping up the decking to seek me out. The look is minatory. 'I DIDN'T THROW YOU OFF THE SITE, I JUST SAID YOU'VE GOT SOME BALLS TO COME BACK HERE AFTER THE WAY YOU WROTE ABOUT ME.'

I go to St Paul's Cathedral. In the crypt cafe is Gbola, decorating his conversation with snatches of hymns. He needs shelter following last week's eviction of the St Paul's camp. Obi, a gentlemanly Occupier and Star Wars fan with a vast social conscience, is fighting fatigue: he spent last night making sure Gbola was safe, first in an all-night cafe then, from 4am, on the concourse of Liverpool Street Station, among homing clubbers.

Gbola can't sleep at Finsbury Square because his wheelchair will stick in the mud. Canon Mark Oakley and two vergers take up his case; a member of the cathedral staff takes Gbola in a cab to St Martin's in the Fields, by Trafalgar Square, in the hope of finding shelter for him there. I reflect that compassion needs to be dispassionate in order to work.

I go to Starbucks and draw three children. Their mother,Tammy Samede, found her voice as the named defendant in the High Court eviction trial.
Nathaniel gazes at me with the ancient wisdom of childhood. He understands that being a sitter is a job of work and has an unnerving grasp of the collusion between sitter and artist. Unlike many adults he does not look down at my paper: he knows that he, not the picture, is important, because I have to look at him more than I look at the drawing.

I drive home. On the car radio a choir sings: 'Keep calm and carry on' from Traditional Values, composed by Orlando Gough with words by Guyanese/British poet John Agard.

Gough tells an interviewer that the work reconsiders a 'warm beer, John Majorish' Britishness, focusing on tea, the weather and cricket. 

He's quoted on the internet: 'The tone is affectionate, ironic and celebratory, and the music is suffused with influences of pop, gospel, reggae, calypso, bhangra and qawwali. What is really being celebrated here, I think, is...stoicism, tolerance, adaptability, irony and...diversity.'

The choir sings:
Certainty can be a curse.
It can lead to bigotry or worse.

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