We spent the afternoon in Hyde Park today. We travelled there on the London Underground and were cautioned to ‘mind the gap between the train and the platform’ as we got off at our station. At Hyde Park we could have done with a similar caution: ‘Mind the gap between the speaker and the heckler’.
We went to the Park especially to hang out for a while at Speakers’ Corner. We’ve often walked past the speakers and wished we could have listened for a while. It’s quite an education, I tell you. Speakers’ Corner is said to date back to 1855 when the government banned any form of buying or selling on a Sunday, the only day working people had off. Public riots broke out and Hyde Park was used as a location for free speech. According to Wikipedia, “The riots and agitation for democratic reform encouraged some to force the issue of the “right to speak” in Hyde Park.”
At our first stop at Speakers’ Corner, the speaker was unable to present his case because hecklers were fighting among themselves. Heated exchanges – often reaching fever pitch – between a man from Pakistan and a man from Iraq drew a crowd of people around them. It got mean and it got angry. Somehow, although sounding personal, it seemed not to offend. “YOU’RE A TRAITOR!” followed by, “YOU’VE NEVER WORKED A DAY IN YOUR LIFE.” “ I DIDN’T HAVE TO. MY FATHER’S AN INDUSTRIALIST.” “AN INDUSTRIALIST? WELL, WHO’S HE BEEN STEALING FROM?”
At which point, someone in the crowd appealed for silence to allow ‘the Somalian pirate’ to have his say. And so began the case for Muslim/Israeli religion. Stood on a small soapbox, the gentleman from Somalia began to explain the origins of God and religion. Not long into his monologue, someone shouted to him, “ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN, JUST HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH?”
This was followed by an interjection by the man from Pakistan, to which the Speaker said,”Don’t listen to this man. He’s high. He smokes hashish.”
“I buy it from you, my friend,” was the Pakistani’s defence.
We moved along.
We stood and listened to a woman who was being heckled by someone who told her she knew nothing and that she never had anything to say. With spittle flying from her mouth, the speaker berated the heckler’s arrogance, told him that despite the fact that she had stood and spoken there for 20 years and he had stood there and listened, that he was fooling himself if he thought they knew each other or even had any kind of relationship. After five minutes of bickering, someone cried out: “What is your message?”
She told us that politics was finished, religion was finished and the world was finished. We could never know anything, except what we had been fed by the government and what they wanted us to know. And this wasn’t even the truth, but what the government wanted you to believe. She implored us to challenge facts and arrive at our conclusions of what we might discover to be our own truth.
“It’s like if you went to court, and the judge looked at the prosecuted and declared that he didn’t like the look of the guy, so ordered him to be hanged, without hearing the cases for and against him. So it is with the truth – you can’t just make a decision without hearing pros and cons.”
One short-sighted heckler then entered the fray: “What kind of judge is that who makes a decision because of the way the guy looks? That’s a dictatorship.”
We jogged along.
Mr Conservative stood and addressed a small crowd about the myth of the New Society. I wasn’t quite sure of the point he was making, but he talked about the Occupy London protest being meaningless, because the protesters were doing nothing and offering nothing.
“It’s like the media. They go there and they interview the first person they see and they learn nothing. It’s like they get to Westminster, and they think, ‘What shall we do now? I know, let’s go to St Paul’s and do a story about Occupy London’. So they go there, interview the first person they see, post their story and go home to sleep. Job done. Why? Because they’re LAZY!”
After hearing some gratuitous pot shots at political parties, we moved on.
After a short stay listening to a quietly-spoken gentleman promoting the value of the Catholic Church, we stood in the midst of the Sunday afternoon joggers, cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers, buggy-pushers, speakers, hecklers, tourists, photographers, onlookers and students in the beautiful, chilly blue, thin sunshine of a Sunday afternoon in central London.
Two young men approached my son and asked if he’d like to share a few thoughts for a radio programme they were recording. He said to them, “Are you asking me because I’m the first person you saw? Were you in Hyde Park, knowing that you needed to do a programme and not sure what to talk about? So you came to ask me what I thought, so you could go home and go to sleep. Why? Because you’re LAZY!”
Actually, my son just politely declined. Mind the gap between the truth and my imagination.
Sunshine signing off for today!