There can be fewer more depressing places on a chilly, autumnal Saturday morning than New Street station in Birmingham. One place, however, is New Street station on a cold October Saturday night surrounded by herds of morose and drunken Aston Villa fans following a one nil defeat away to Fulham.
Announcing that another meeting had to be attended in that there London did not cause any surprise in the hippo household. Over the past few months, visits to our capital city and host to the Olympic circus have not been uncommon. Sadly, the rather splendid project being proposed was dropped due, you guessed it, to budget cuts. When told that this meeting would be with trade unionists and others opposed to greed, austerity and budget cuts, one child commented: “One of these days Dad, you`re going to get your head kicked in.” There was little point in arguing to the contrary and in spite of offers to join the march, I found myself alone at New Street at half eight in the morning armed only with some corned beef sandwiches, a bottle of water and a packet of Jammy Dodgers. The corrupt establishment were already quaking at the thought of this one man Durruti column sipping coffee that cost a little bit less than the Columbian national debt and only a little bit less than the tax owed by a certain evil bunch of mercenary bastards that operate an evil, mercenary chain of coffee shops. How ironic that this act of defiance and moral outrage should be delayed by the late running Virgin Trains service to London Euston. I decided not to sit in first class and claim to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer because I do not have access to an expense account to pay for the 160 quid upgrade.
Euston was its cheery, welcoming self and the plan was to take the Northern line to Bank and meet up with some chums who had travelled up from Brighton. The tube was packed with middle class anarchist families and the platform at Bank was absolutely heaving with well dressed, polite revolutionaries. It seemed wise to continue onto London Bridge and then walk back over the river and reach Bank along King William Street. I was no longer alone and the city was full of people carrying flags, placards and children. At the lovely old church of Saint Mary Woolnoth, some words from Eliot`s The Waste Land came back from A-level times with a thump to the chest:
“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.”
In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot was describing the bland wage slaves working in the banks of the City of London from nine to five. This was noon on a Saturday and the whistles, horns, bells and bands were proclaiming that the heirs to those bland bankers in the City of London were the ones responsible for this entire, unholy mess a corrupt government seeks to perpetuate. Text messages were sent and received to and from the chums from Brighton but the sheer numbers of people made the planned rendezvous unlikely and we agreed to meet up later. Joining the back of the march on the Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge, I shared a corned beef sandwich with a doctor from Basingstoke. I had to apologise when she suggested that corned beef sandwiches were made better by the addition of tomato sauce. Medical advice we should all follow.
After about 90 minutes we started to move or, more accurately, shuffle along towards Westminster. One fellow terrorist, who turned out to be a Deputy Head teacher from Durham, received news via his phone that the front of the march had already reached Hyde Park and that the police had stated a turnout of more than 100,000 demonstrators. Interestingly, and in sharp contrast to the recent nonsense involving the EDL in Walsall, the police presence seemed rather low key and generally very friendly. In fact, the biggest deployment of the Met`s finest was outside a branch of an evil, mercenary tax dodging chain of coffee shops and an evil, mercenary tax dodging residential street just off Whitehall. Cameron was probably hiding at Chequers blaming Clement Atlee and Kier Hardie.
By the time we got to Hyde Park, we were 150,000 strong and everywhere there was song and celebration. We missed the speeches which, on reflection, was probably a bit of a result and a text message from the Brighton chums directed me to Marble Arch where DPAC were blocking Park Lane. Finding my university lecturer friend chaining her wheelchair to another wheelchair, the most surreal of conversations ensued. We asked for news about each others` children and partners and discussed our summer holidays as if we had met for lunch and were not about to be arrested. The moment of the day was when a charmless overweight taxi driver upset by the road closure screamed at us: “Why don`t you get a f**king job? F**king scroungers.” My friend, not normally known for being unpleasant, shouted back: “Why don`t you get a gastric band, you fat f**king bigot.” Even the police officers laughed.
When the fuss died down, we retreated to Bayswater for something to eat. The owner of the trattoria, seeing the banner attached to the wheelchair asked if we had been demonstrating against the government. When we confirmed that we were indeed anarchists, he walked away but soon returned with two bottles of wine which, he said, were “on the house”. We left a more than generous tip.
Back at Euston, the soulless concourse was filled with football fans either emptying their bladders or attempting to communicate with each other via the medium of vomit. In the great scheme of things, being beaten one nil by Fulham is probably the end of the world. The journey back to New Street was awful and the temptation to impersonate Gideon Osborne and occupy first class without the correct ticket became overwhelming. But, once a pleb always a pleb and I remained in my position as second class. Walking home from Walsall station at approaching 11 o`clock on a Saturday night is always an interesting experience. Avoiding the fighting boys and ignoring the obese girls dressed only in dental floss, I realised that I still had something nice.
Arriving home, the boy child was still up and awake. “So Dad,” he said, “you managed not to get your head kicked in.” I had to agree and offered the last Jammy Dodger that I had saved for him.