I didn’t so much occupy St Paul’s Cathedral today, as sit upon its steps to have my lunch. It was quite the most London experience I’ve had in a long while: bizarre and entirely fascinating.
I crossed the River Thames on the London Millennium Footbridge on what was a sunny, crisp and quite beautiful London day. When I reached the City of London, I came upon a random opinion poll in the form of a Perspex box into which you could place a small, brightly-coloured ball into either of two segments: ‘Carry on protesting’ or ‘Time to go’. A camerawoman sat on the pavement next to the box recording the un-secret ballot, while a suited cohort encouraged passers-by to commit their opinions to Perspex.
I carried on walking towards the Cathedral. My goal was to see ‘Occupy London’ for myself on a significant day in its two week history. I chose not to take a camera with me, as I wanted to feel the experience; well, as much as I could in a lunch hour.
The grounds of the breathtakingly beautiful cathedral that is St Paul’s were teeming with people: tourists, protesters (although I did eyeball a poster on the outskirts of the property stating, ‘This is not a protest’), non-protesters, lunchtime joggers, office workers, policemen, reporters, students, church clerics and other random passers-by.
I wandered around the tented city for a while. I poked my nose into the information tent, which appeared to be the centre of all knowledge for the temporary home to the anti-corporate-greed activists. I was amused to see practical notices adorning the walls of the tent: ‘Free bio energy healing sessions. 10 minute taster’ and ‘Lost: brown suitcase’.
Helmeted bobbies stood by watching impassively, while television cameras on every corner recorded the events on a day such as this.
There is something of a carnival atmosphere – and, despite the Portaloos, a faint whiff of urine in the air – in the Cathedral grounds; a kind of Woodstock for this generation. Outside the ‘Tent University’ you can read of forthcoming lectures and discussion groups; you can buy books at a bookstall, you can add your written protests to the many stuck to surrounding pillars. You can also ‘Grow your own future’ – the psychedelic and 60s style flower power poster suggests that what you grow might make you not worry about globalisation one jot.
I picked my way through the tented community and went to sit on the steps of the Cathedral. I sat between some young tourists in ‘I love London’ hoodies and sushi-munching bankers. We all sat as spectators to the genuine, peaceful protest against economic inequality.
Baguette in hand, I listened to a group of singers presenting their shaky-voiced and anti-evil-banker version of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ (And did those feet in ancient time). It wasn’t pretty but it was sincere. They had in front of them a hand-painted poster proclaiming the perils of globalisation and the need ‘to keep our souls’ and ‘not be sucked in’.
In something of a sing-off, a black-robed man stood opposite them with arms outstretched and singing his truth as he walked towards the women. I couldn’t hear what he was singing, but his cloak bore the words, ‘Holy Book of Racial Government’. Big banners nearby called out to ‘Mourn the dead. Heal the wounded. End the wars!’
As I slowly wound my way out of the village of peaceful protest, I watched two bobbies chatting to a tourist and a busker. I overheard one of the bobbies explaining to the two exactly what training is involved in becoming a London policeman. As I stood and eavesdropped, I was urged out of the way by a guy pushing a trolley bearing camera equipment. “Hot cakes comin’ through,” he shouted. “Hot cakes comin’ through.”
I realised later that his ‘hot cakes’ must have been on their way to record today’s verdict: the eviction order to force the protesters to leave St Paul’s within 48 hours had been overturned.
It was time to head back to my office. The Perspex box, now much fuller, showed overwhelmingly in favour of ‘Carry on protesting’. It seems that London had voted with its balls.
Sunshine signing off for today!