Burnt Bookmobile

The eternal sunshine of London’s March 26th, 2011

From Occupied London:

Far from a report on the day’s demonstration – of which plenty circulate around the web – this is a semi-fictional account perhaps to be read as a piece building on Hackney Algeria, Occupied London #3. More to come, hopefully.

The eternal sunshine of London’s March 26th, 2011 (Or: places move – the people merely move along with them.)

Her aircraft slowly descending into London’s sea of cloudy mist, she was expecting to find everything else in its place too – the buzzing streets, the hushed dwellers… But no. From early on, it was clear that things were going to be very different this time round. Stepping into the tube train she was hit with the first revelation: gone were the silent tube carriages with mute book-readers, this was by now a time when passengers would actually look at one another and could even, in extremis, engage in casual conversation.

At the train platform she saw no designated busking spots and she ran into panhandlers jumping in and out of tube trains instead. Out on the streets, and she was sure it wasn’t just her, people were walking in some slower pace. She overtook one passer-by. Then another one, and another. What on earth was going on? It was as if Londoners weren’t Londoners anymore, as if the ground they inhabited had somewhat moved under their feet to a more slow-paced, relaxed location – and for the fear of losing that ground Londoners had moved along with it. Londoners were not in London any more, and neither was London itself.

(and then came Saturday.)

It had been dubbed the largest demonstration in years, a show not to be missed – and of course she could not resist the temptation. It is early morning. Outside Holborn station, the usual manic procession of commuters was nowhere to be seen. An eerie feeling in its place. The people were still there, even more so – they were there in the thousands. But they were in no rush to go anywhere; just happy, for once, to be there. For all the anger venting for the cuts the procession had this peculiarly joyful feeling, the feeling of discovering the city from scratch, of rereading previously familiar sites, buildings, crossings along with so many others doing exactly the same. And the police? She could see in their faces that they were too few, too lost. In this new place they were out-of-place.

For thousands and thousands of people around her it felt as if the official demonstration route never existed. She quickly found herself in Oxford Street. The usual crowd hurling shopping orders at the counters of a myriad stores was, still there but so was another crowd, mingling and co-existing with it. A crowd not often seen around here, now swirling from a storefront to another. Smashed shop fronts standing next to shops still welcoming bemused consumers – the peculiarities of crisis capitalism.

(Saturday evening.)

It is late evening at Piccadilly. She has been walking up and down central London all day. The short strip of land between Fortnum&Mason’s (the luxury department store occupied by UK Uncut) and Piccadilly square plays host to near-choreographic clashes between police and the bodies of protesters that resist being contained into any kettle. A few hours into the stand-off, some people a few meters from her pull a badly wrapped molotov cocktail out of a bag, light and throw it in the direction of the police, the gigantic Coca-Cola sign still flashing in the background. It strikes her, right then: these people do not carry the experience of London in taking this action. There hasn’t been a molotov cocktail thrown in London in years.

But is this London? As the light dims, the city starts moving. London is now in Turin, where the tourists enthusiastically signing Bella Ciao are from. London is in Athens, in an alleyway setting up barricades to stop the Delta motorcycle police from crossing through. London is in a city after another, it becomes a series of images flashing before her eyes, a cinematic reality where she expects someone to scream, “CUT”. But no. There are no cuts here. She looks around: the molotov incident has passed unnoticed in the sea of Piccadilly frenzy.

Welcome, she thinks to herself, to the London of the real.



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