“Audacious, bold, puissant and heroical”*

Land of Hope and Glory

Okay, I never made it to Hyde Park. I missed UKUncut’s spot of unrest at Fortnum & Masons, the mini-kettles after dark in the West End, and the bin fire in Jermyn St. I didn’t see the Trojan Horse that was taken to Downing Street, and I didn’t get to hear the brass band or see Billy Bragg. But I did get to stand in the panoramic window on Level 4 of the Royal Festival Hall, and watch the crowds move stately along the entire Embankment, as far as the eye could see from Blackfriars to Westminster, an enormous long snake of people and colours in front of me, and more crowds scurrying along Waterloo Bridge. I became one of those crowds on the bridge. And I made it in the end to to Trafalgar Square where there was an enormous variety of people all milling around, in a very good mood, including a group of young people apparently picnicking among the old leaflets and banana skins on the pavement. It was before the “Fahrir Square” Tent City of the evening. I saw one rather Steadmanesque spatter of red paint on the door of Nat West in Charing Cross Road. I walked all the way up to Warren Street, which may not sound like far, but trust me – after the Waterloo-Strand-Blackfriars-Embankment-Westminster-Whitehall-Trafalgar Square thing, it was enough to make my Achilles tendons throb. But everywhere your correspondent went, all was goodness and peace and happiness. People were happy to have made the effort and to be there showing their solidarity.

One man had a sign saying, “The NHS will exist as long as there are people prepared to fight for it.” Another had a sign saying, “I love the NHS.” A woman had “I love the NHS” written on her face.

There were 800 coaches in London yesterday; I heard of at least one person travelling down first class by train because the normal carriages were all full; and more people were unable to get tickets at all. The official number stands, as I write this, at 500,000, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than that. The procession went past Westminster till after 3pm. (I know that because I went past Westminster at 3pm, and I was nowhere near the end of the procession.) That means it was probably almost four solid hours of crowds streaming past.

And if you add that up with the Bad Kids, the ones protesting in Oxford Circus and the students who started in Bloomsbury and never went along the Embankment, how many people do you think were protesting in London?

Here are some of the people I saw:

  • A woman in her late 50s with glasses just like mine, walking heavily on a stick, smiling hugely
  • Lots of old people in sensible quilted jackets
  • Many, many children and babies, and not one of them within my earshot crying
  • Two young women dressed in eighties clothes – NOT the kind that are making a comeback!  It was more like a cross between Dallas and, oh, I don’t know – any movie about yuppies from that era. One was in a wig, and they were great. They were laughing.
  • A woman in a green jacket with a purple sash reading SCHOOL SUPPORT STAFF
  • A man in a motorised wheelchair, in the middle of the procession
  • Rita from Tower Hamlets, as per my past post
  • Two guys with reggae music playing out of sound systems made out of old-fashioned leather suitcases, which they were wheeling behind them on wheelie things. One of them you could see his purple ipod sitting on top of the suitcase. Aww.
  • A young man in his twenties in a grey suit and a porkpie hat
  • A girl dressed as a princess, and another in a hat with a veil
  • A man so seriously fat I was surprised he could walk the distance; but he did
  • A girl with a sign with a kitten on it: “Love cats, hate cuts!”
  • Two girls with a sign that said “David and Nick,  sitting in a tree, C-U-T-T-I-N-G”
  • A drunk kid about 20 or so, beer in hand, telling a guy in his fifties some load of codswallop – the older guy was saying to him, genially, “So how do you know your movement is the biggest in the world? How many people does it have? One?”
  • A very burly, shaved-headed guy with a tattoo, a white T shirt and a big red kilt; and his friends, also in kilts. They did not look like anybody you want to mess with. And yet the government is messing with them.
  • A lot of friendly, pleasant policemen
  • And not a single poet. Though to be fair some poets may have been ahead of me in the crowd. I started a bit late as I was doing an actual poetry tutorial in the morning.

The most fun union I got mixed up among was Equity, who instead of the lame chants – “You say cutback, we say fight back,” etc – were singing a proper song, with printed lyrics they handed out among the crowd, and of course they had good voices and could sing. I have to admit, it was actually a bit of a relief… And I overheard two people greet each other:

“Oh, hiiiii!”

“Hi, oh you marching too! Ohmigod, I can’t remember, where have I met you before..?”

Life on Mars, the first series, we ‘hung out together’ in episode one?”

Just past them, a man with an ENORMOUS sign, held above his head – I don’t know how he held it – on the back of which he had written in block capitals SOCIAL URGENCY   I went round to the front to see what it said on the other side, and had to scoot round a few times, to get a view. Too many people and I got mixed up in the middle of a drum and a vuvuzela… I tell you what, I did make some exceptions for this event. Then he saw me and pointed it at me so I could read it! (See? Nice crowd.)


*Philip Stubbs, writing in the 16th century, describing his countrymen

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