Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mud and beauty: the last of Occupy London at Finsbury Square

E and Lee
In the High Court on Tuesday, bad-glamour-boy E tried to clamber into the judge’s empty seat and was ejected from the court.

I make a final visit to the camp. E has only ever been in a haze in my company, so he says we’re getting married. He asks me for a double portrait of him and Lee.

Double portraits are hell. You have to get both faces right. E giggles at the result: ‘I look like my dad.’ We go through an entire relationship in the few seconds it takes to hug goodbye.

Harjeet has her bright proselytising eyes on local communities: ‘What a great discussion to have, about how we want the world to be in the future.’

Roaring-boy blond-bombshell Johnny Teatent, aka Tom, dropped out of a philosophy course and won’t be going back. ‘Teatent’ in this context isn't about cucumber sandwiches: it’s the Occupy hangout for the homeless, the disaffected or the alienated.

Tom is wearing jeans decorated with scarlet spray-paint. He glares at his phone: ‘More emails. I want more emails.’

He’s built a barricade out of inner-city detritus, aspiring to a glorious last stand against the bailiffs. I think of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys without a Wendy. Two Portaloos, a bonfire in a brazier, a mains water pipe, adrenaline and testosterone are inside the barricade.

Tom feels sidelined by the Occupy cadre; he's impatient with members whose souls yearn for flip-charts and meetings about the names of meetings [sic]: ‘Occupy’s press strategy is completely xxxxed,’ he says. ‘Look at this fortress. Look over there at London’s big iconic buildings. It’s like Asterix. It’s like a World War Two outpost. It’s got to be on the news. They’re directing me to stop people lobbing bricks when the police come. Why the xxxx should I bother. The camp’s been co-opted by people who want it to be a talking shop. I don’t do that.’

Ella, Johnny Teatent and fortress
He’s also frustrated by the lack of wi-fi. ‘I tried to go to the library but I had holes in my shoes.’

He flops on a muddy sofa, strums a guitar, dries a saturated pair of trousers over the bonfire.  He takes the drawing: ‘I’ll use it for my propaganda.’

A man says, ‘He looks like James Dean in that picture.’

Ella is 18. By the bonfire, at dusk, she and Lynda, aka Dylan (17), make a heartbreakingly lovely tableau as Ella picks nits out of Lynda’s hair. Head lice like clean hair. ‘I’m good at this. They’ve eaten a lot of your blood,’ she says, throwing them on to the fire one by one. 

‘Finsbury Square is beautiful, a gorgeous little catalyst of love,’ says Ella. ‘It’s beautiful in its own way although some people say it’s a pikey apocalypse training camp. I feel incredibly safe here. It’s beautiful. It’s misunderstood.

Ella and Lynda
‘I find education doesn’t teach you anything any more. I did quite well in school but learned more outside St Paul’s in one day than I did in school. They give you a sentence structure and you can’t have a mind of your own. Education is just another tool for training camps. It teaches you to take orders. There’s a beautiful little established community here. Occupy is beautiful. It has become legend. All these communities coming under one name.

‘It’s not going to be the revolution – too many people are half-hearted. We need to be more organised. Finsbury Square isn’t going to promote that. It’s another big spark towards what will become the revolution. It’s nearly happened. It has to come in the next few years. It’s not necessary for people to come out on the streets now but as more people have less of a choice they’ll care more.’

Jan Molenaer: 'Woman at her toilet', 1633
(that's a nit comb)
Meanwhile, a desiccated faction within Occupy tussles for the right to have elections and grab power. 

The campers have turned a public lawn on Finsbury Square into contaminated mud; the camp looks hostile and irrelevant to passers-by; the cooking area is mesmerisingly filthy. This evening, occupiers are saying:

‘This is bad.’
‘We should have made this a sustainable eco-village. But we didn’t.’
‘This is a shit-hole. We could have won awards for this.’
‘Too much talk and not enough action.’

French sixteenth century
(nit comb left foreground)
Charlie came to Finsbury Square after the St Paul’s camp was evicted. ‘I couldn’t handle it for the first couple of weeks. After that I quite liked it. But it was a smaller space with too many people.’

Charlie says he had an advertising business in South London: ‘I can start it again. But I like this life, the alternative way of living.’ He looks around. ‘This became a mess. Everything became too dirty. There was too much anti-social behaviour for our people. Mud is the problem. Cold is all right.’

It’s dark. Office buildings around the square are brightly lit. ‘People can play cards using the other people’s lights,’ says Charlie.

Washing my hands in The Master Gunner, the pub over the road, I turn to a young woman and ask: ‘What do you think about Occupy?’
‘What’s that?’
‘The camp in the square.’
‘I didn’t know that’s what it was called.’

Branding: fail.

‘They started to bring their signs in here,’ she says – I learn that she works behind the bar. ‘Then we heard about epidemics breaking out in the camp. We had to stop them coming in. We had to think about our customers. The campers were just coming in to use the facilities. They’re just people who trash things.’

Campaign to win hearts and minds: fail.

Occupy have been evicted from Finsbury Square. Now what?

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