Occupy London sleeps in peace

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!

Sights and Sports

I couldn’t have imagined it happening, but just over a week into my new job and I have another memory to throw into our red box. I’ve also seen a few sights I’ve not seen before, and overheard a conversation that enlightened me about the expressions of young love. As far as first weeks at work go, this one’s been pretty good, thank you.

A tiger in a tree in south east London

I can’t get enough of the fact that I work so close to the River Thames. Any opportunity I get, I take myself down to the water and walk and walk and watch and enthuse. Last Monday lunchtime we launched our walking club from the office: we walked down to the river, walked over the London Millennium Footbridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral, and then walked along the far side of the river as far as Blackfriars Bridge and back to our office.

Bright blue sky and weak sunshine provided a perfect backdrop for the walk. I couldn’t stop looking all around me, soaking in everything that makes London such an amazing place to be. City workers in dark suits sat dotted on benches all along the edge of the river; some eating sandwiches, some reading newspapers, some just sitting and thinking. Runners paced past us in both directions, and tourists were everywhere with cameras in hand capturing the London-ness of the day.

Seated on one of the benches was a musician playing a didgeridoo. I so wished I’d had my camera with me to document such a unique sight – I’ve seen a didgeridoo player in a tube station before, but never out in the waterside sunshine. I was riveted.

Another day I walked the other way along the river, and sat in front of The Globe (Shakespeare theatre) to eat my lunch. I was surrounded by tourists, office workers and schoolchildren all out to enjoy an outing in the chilly sunshine. I walked past a group of primary schoolchildren seated on the riverside wall, with pencils and sketch pads in hand, and they were all drawing pictures of the Globe Theatre. I then walked past a headless statue that was attracting much photographic attention, and many foreign students gathering together to visit the Tate Modern art gallery.

I wrote last week about the conversation I overheard on the bus, and I continue to hear funny things said on the buses almost every day. I enjoy the commute as I have not only a stunning walk to my bus stop, but the ride gives me an opportunity to read, although when I hear something that fascinates me I find it hard to concentrate on my literature. I have just finished Bridget Jones’ Diary, so my eavesdropping has occasionally taken a back seat!

On Thursday, I volunteered at a big fundraising event organised by the charity I work for. They run a calendar full of such fundraising events, and this was their inaugural Sports Quiz evening held at world-famous cricket ground, Lord’s. It was a black tie event, and the draw card for the evening was the presence of a number of British sports celebrities, including cricketers, rugby players, athletes, swimmers, a famous sports broadcaster and a certain Scottish manager of one of the most successful premier league football sides in Europe.

My colleagues were surprised that I had volunteered to help at an event in my first week! Perhaps they don’t know that I suffer from a hereditary condition known as FOMO (fear of missing out) and I am mad about sports. Put those two together, and you literally couldn’t keep me away from Thursday night’s event!

It was such fun and it so didn’t feel like work; the hardest part was running around in a little black dress and high heels. The former England rugby player who hosted the evening and ran the auction was brilliant – so funny and entertaining, it was like being at a comedy show; his banter with fellow sportsmen was fabulous and so well received.

I listened and laughed and watched and took in as much as I could as I ran in and out of the function room and did what I was told to do. I loved every minute of the evening, and was glad to share a cab ride home just after midnight. My aching feet were relieved of another walk to the tube station.

So, seeing a tiger in a tree on our walk to church this morning was nothing too out of the ordinary. We’ve come to expect the unexpected in London; it’s constantly filled with surprises and as for this week, it was good. Really good.

Sunshine signing off for today!

A New Viewpoint

So until I have the chance to write a decent post about this new chapter in my life, I’d like to show you the view I had as I feasted on my lunchtime sandwich next to the River Thames today. I do love London.

St Paul's Cathedral, with a glimpse of the London Millennium Footbridge in the foreground, a steel suspension bridge across the River Thames

Sunshine signing off for today!