Saturday, 22 October 2011

St Paul's - Forgive us our trespasses

The doors of St Paul's are closed today, just like it says in the news. That makes the steps and forecourt into a fantastic natural amphitheatre, with the massive corinthian columns lending their imposing presence to the event. The protesters are making good use of the location, although most likely everyone would have been happier if that was not at the expense of closing down the cathedral. This afternoon a succession of speakers made their points from a microphone set up by the Queen Victoria monument, to an audience sitting on the cobblestones, and more people standing around them and all over the steps. A sizeable turnout, with more people arriving by bus, Tube and on Boris bikes, but not overcrowded. The weather is fine and everyone seems cheerful, even the police.

The Portland stone colonnade of the Paternoster Square buildings opposite has been taken over as a poster wall, with the piers and columns covered in imaginative printed and handmade posters - more arty satire than political rant. There's no pasting, everything is carefully taped to the stone, some with printed tapes reading 'Capitalism means War' and 'Another World is Possible'. One of my favourites was just plain stencilled lettering reading 'More to life than money', with the 'O's drawn as bombs.

Organisation is better than it was earlier in the week. A busy kitchen is handing out free meals, and they have lots of boxes of apples. Bins are labelled with instructions for recycling and sorting, and there was a council rubbish collection in progress. Portable toilets, although only two of them, are locked until the public ones close for the night. A fenced-off fire escape route for the cathedral is presumably now redundant but still kept clear. Some bigger tents have appeared but there is still plenty of room to walk through the site. No litter and no vandalism to be seen. This does affect local businesses though - the staff in Paul, the French sandwich chain, say that their takings are down because they usually have tables outside and there isn't enough room now. Policing remains low key: Paternoster Square is fenced off and both police and security guards are making sure no-one gets in, but there are no police lines, just pairs of officers walking around in hi-viz uniform.

Friday, 21 October 2011

St Paul's protest - poster making

Paint, crayons and markers: making posters next to St Paul's portico.
Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow.

The St Paul's protest camp, far from fizzling out from lack of commitment, seems to be growing in size. Contradictory media reports suggest support from Canon Giles Frasier of St Paul's cathedral, but also reporting that the cathedral might have to close. With protesters talking of a long stay, and not the slightest chance of changing the entire international financial capitalist situation overnight, it's not difficult to foresee a replay of Dale Farm at some point in the future. It's impossible to predict what effects this worldwide movement may have. Meanwhile this looks like great fun to participate in.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tent city at St Paul's Cathedral

So much goes on in London that it's easy to be blissfully unaware of even dramatic events like this. I vaguely registered that protesters are occupying part of Wall Street and Times Square, but it was only when I bought the Independent's baby sister paper i this morning that I found out we have our own protest occupation, not in the City - security is presumably draconian there - but at that symbol of London, St Paul's Cathedral. And even so, coming up from the Tube the scale of this is surprising. There are over a hundred tents pitched in Paternoster Square, and makeshift enclosures of tarpaulin strung up by the cathedral railings. Lots of placards, organised catering and a bank of portaloos, a media centre, speakers going on about practical matters and a lone guitarist with his battery-powered amp, completely ignored. An excitable but entirely peaceful atmosphere. The tourists continue to pile into the cathedral - the protest wisely keeps the main entrance steps clear - and there is an extremely modest police presence. Some of the beautifully lettered slogans:

and my favourite, 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Remembering Gandhi

Cycling past Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, I took a break from my journey to visit the statue of Mahatma Gandhi that sits in the square. A timely visit, as it turned out, because the anniversary of his birth was on 02 October 1869, just a week ago, and the statue sported a garland of orange flowers, cellophane-wrapped bouquets on his lap and more flowers piled on the stone steps. At other times, there are always a few flowers - his fame in the history of non-violent resistance is not forgotten. Gandhi sits cross-legged on a bell-shaped stone pedestal, in the centre of the square, surrounded by sedate English gardening and benches occupied by office workers and academics from London University eating their lunches. The roughly sculpted bronze figure was made by Fredda Brilliant, a colourful globetrotting character, and installed in Tavistock Square in 1968.

Although the principles of  non-violent resistance originate from Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, Gandhi was the first to use those principles in an organised way and on a large scale. He pioneered his ideas under apartheid in South Africa, fighting for the rights of the Indian population there. He went on to become a figurehead of India's long struggle to free itself of British rule, although failing to stop the slide into sectarian violence that followed.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Regent Street on Friday night, a modest display of flowers and half-eaten apples. The picture says it all really.

Friday, 7 October 2011

See It Now Remember It Forever

Today, a real piece of street art. This tribute to TOX, the tagger jailed for persistent vandalism, appeared on the end wall of a house in Camden during the summer. Tox, real name Daniel Halpin, is notorious for the quantity of his tags, not for any artistic merit. Londonist once called him a serial wall-spammer, and commented "Poor Tox just can't help himself". Banksy's take on that affair is a small boy with his face blanked out (to protect his identity?) blowing red bubbles spelling out T-O-X. It's open to various interpretations: sympathy or solidarity, piss take, opportunism. The image appeared overnight, and by the following afternoon the property owner boarded it over, and then installed a protective perspex cover and frame. A couple of months later the prospects for this theoretically valuable work of art do not look very promising. The perspex is no longer very transparent, with a new tag scribbled on the surface. Someone has bashed a hole through to spray paint onto the image behind (with limited success). The passing bus unintentionally provides an ironic commentary.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Pavement art in Dalston

Rubbish masquerading as art, litter louts with a sense of humour - or a bit of a laugh, done by someone who has already arranged for this old mattress to be responsibly recycled? Discarded mattresses are not unusual in this part of town, and at least this isn't a particularly disgusting example, but the art reference is a bit off. Ceci n'est pas une pipe reads the text on the famous surrealist painting. This version is a bit mangled, and mattress certainly isn't a French word. Whatever the motivation, there it sits on Dalston Lane waiting to be removed. The bin men were there today and one of them asked what it was about, but they were doing a proper regulated collection, not just picking up any old stuff.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Cool Camden

Earlier this year, the top floor of a residential tower block in Camden bore this bold and somehow pleasing message in two metre high letters. You can work out the height by the architect's technique of counting the brick courses, and multiplying by 75 millimetres. The eyes make it, reinforcing the words and giving the whole tower a sort of face. Despite the large size and the height of the building, it wasn't visible from many places and although I'm sure it must be on a website somewhere, I've not been able to find out anything about it. This is in Stanhope Street, an area of well-kept postwar public housing still run and maintained by Camden council. It's far from being the most desirable of the housing blocks around there, but prominent graffiti is really out of place in these surroundings and inevitably, walking past today I see it's been painted over in a tasteful shade of cream.