A bit of nothing about somethingby Sean O’Toole / 07.11.2011
“How was Rome?” I ask.
“Cool! We got to see white people rioting,” she replies.
“Which is kinda different, no?”
“Yeah, it’s more like…” she pauses, “a party.”
People drink and mostly do nothing, she says: “Although I did see a burnt out car.”
“Sometimes whitey gets angry too,” I say.
“In a weird way,” she laughs.
So, recently I dropped in at St Paul’s Cathedral. Big place in the middle of London. Close to the stock exchange. Famous landmark. Seat of the Bishop of London. Looks like a Cape Union Mart expo at the moment. You’re online, Google “Occupy the London Stock Exchange”.
It’s Sunday. Autumn. A powerful spotlight illuminates everything, including the banner strung across the square in front of the cathedral. “CAPITALISM IS CRISIS” reads the pink lettering on transparent green. I take a photo of the banner. So does someone else. And another someone else. There are lots of people taking photos. Some use cameras, like me, although most prefer those clever phones with the capacity to amplify the mundane in a much quicker way. “What’s on your mind?” they answer the eternal prompt, bodies jack-knifed on the stairs, faces illuminated by the radiance of handheld connections to someplace else.
I poke my head in at Freedom University. Date established: yesterday. Curriculum: some magazines (Red Pepper, The Humanist, New Scientist) and a mishmash of books (novels by Dan Brown, Bill Bryson, Herman Hesse and George Orwell, also a big selection of non-fiction titles from Verso Books, the left publishing house). The bookish turn in this part of the tented encampment is not out of keeping with the general tone of this beat-less party.
Across the square, Queen Victoria, orb and sceptre at hand, is surrounded by words. Attached the black ironwork separating the regent from her public are countless scripted thought bubbles. “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” “We can’t feed the poor but we can fund wars?” (The question mark, I guess, is rhetorical.) “We are the 99%.” Stone age poetry by those who believe in this sort of entitled numeracy. But don’t get me wrong. “Grrr,” reads the lettering above a scrunched up smiley face. “Jail the Bankers.” Hell yeah!
I dawdle across to another island of language. The information point, like the university also one day old, is already speaking the language of bureaucratic necessity. “Kitchen Needs: storage for food, bottled water, vegan food, whipable tables…” Ergo: we’re here for the long haul. Another sign adumbrates 99 percenter speak. A quick tutorial.
Both hands flailing in the air, fingers spread open wide: I agree, or silent clapping.
Index finger pointing to God, Allah or those Easyjet daytrippers returning from Iceland: I have a point.
Index finger pointing to the heavens, thumb showing the way to Buckingham Palace: language issue.
Index finger retracted, thumb enclosed by the rest of the fingers: I believe in Richard Dawkins (or a veto sign, for use during decision making).
Middle finger: Where’s the party? (Not really.)
Heading back to the car, my party spirit waning, I overhear this guy with university elocution and a nice jersey talking to his girlfriend. “Hey, this looks cool,” he says. “I don’t have anything to do for seven weeks, maybe I should go home and fetch my tent.” I don’t hear what his girlfriend says, my attention having shifted to the newly arrived campers setting up their tent. The trio are doing an impromptu Marx Brothers routine. “This way.” “No this way.” “Wait.” “Here.” “No here.” The trio are trying to work out where the tent-poles go. They haven’t even got to the gaffer tape yet, which on this concrete island functions the way tent pegs do roundabout this part of the world.
The next day I decide to go back. Call it curiosity, a partisan spirit, the desire to see what 1968 looked like, a need to take better photos, whatever. Hey ho! The party is finally on. Singer-songwriter types are lining up to softly kill me with their songs. During the transition from Bob Dylan to Rodriguez, or at least their 99% approximations, the MC, a guy with a beanie, a beard and accent east of Dover, points his index finger at the daytrippers headed to Iceland. “Don’t do too much of nothing, because you might pull a muscle or something,” he rhymes. “Do a smooth transition from nothing to nothing.”
*All images © Sean O’Toole