In London yesterday, at least half a million people marched to protest not simply against something (the cuts), but to say that they were not inevitable – that there is an alternative.
I’m taking the half a million figure from the Daily Mail of all publications – but since it can hardly be accused of being a bastion of ‘loony lefties’, one can assume that it’s at least a genuine minimum of the numbers present.
The picture you’ve already seen is of Ghurka veterans who marched – so hardly ‘the usual suspects’. But that was always going to be the real story. (The one below is of an elderly supporter of the Robin Hood Tax).
Personally, I’d put it closer to a million, after standing in the middle of the march for over two hours – and then finding later that they kept on coming for at least another two hours after that.
I know people who were directed all the way to Fleet Street to join the back of the march as people walked some way to even begin the route proper from Hungerford Bridge.
For me it was a work day, armed only with my camera and a brief of snapping as many UNISON regional and branch banners as possible (with as many members with them!) and also a few odds and sods for the staff magazine.
After actually managing to get myself organised enough to eat a breakfast at home – I went to work on two soft boiled eggs, as per Fay Weldon’s advertising famous jingle – it was down to Hackney Road and a 26 bus to Waterloo Bridge, leaving a short hop along the Strand and down to the Embankment alongside the Savoy Theatre.
Which was rather funny, in a coincidental sort of way, since I’m just reading a biography of the great chef Escoffier, and the story has just reached the beginning of his time at the Savoy, working with Cèsar Ritz for Richard D’Oyly Carte.
This, of course, is the same D’Oyly Carte who gave the world Gilbert & Sullivan and whose own opera company in his Savoy Theatre, staged their operas (hence G&S followers often being called ‘Savoyards’).
The theatre itself was the first building in the world to be completely lit by electricity – a fact I was reminded of when I walked down the narrow passageway down to the gardens at the front of the hotel and spotted a plaque on the wall of the theatre to this effect.
Personally, my love of G&S is one of few things that my parents gave me. So there was an added piquancy to that walk.
In the gardens I spotted a bust of Sir Arthur Sullivan. Wonderful! But where was the comparable one to WS Gilbert?
However, moving on, I hit the Embankment at around 9.30am, to find colleagues who had been there for around two hours, unloading and preparing all the materials they’d worked to prepare. I felt like a dilettante by comparison.
It was a cool morning, but with the sun showing signs of burning through. I started taking my pictures.
The march was scheduled to start at 11am. Now that was never going to happen – it was around 45 minutes later.
Bur what an atmosphere!
Seriously good humoured – the police were fantastic.
Indeed, I hear from UNISON colleagues that, as UNISON police staff branches went past (these involve scene of crime staff, photographers, call centre staff – in other words, ‘frontline’ staff) they were close to applauding.
Personally, I chatted with officers and had to work with them professionally during the day (to get on Hungerford Bridge for photographs, for instance) and they were relaxed and we had a great atmosphere going.
So here’s a good chance to thank my police colleagues too. You do a thankless job, guys and gals, but a very important one. Thank you.
Indeed, a Parliamentary committee, on Friday, had applauded how well the TUC and Metropolitan Police had worked together to plan the day’s events. Nobody with an ounce of sense wanted this to be anything other than a safe and positive day.
As the march began, I was in a traffic island just before Hungerford Bridge. The atmosphere was electric – the noise form the UNISON delegation at the front, with vuvuzelas and whistles, was just stunning.
Goosebumps ran up and down my spine; tears pricked my eyes. It was utterly incredible. It was a privilege to be there.
They eventually set off. I snapped away, but with an ever-increasing sense of awe as it became clear just how many people were there.
My editor gave me chocolate to keep me going – thank you, Diana!
Eventually, I dipped into my rucksack to pull out a can of V (one of those caffeine drinks, but I prefer it to Red Bull). In fear of not being able to find a loo for hours, it was my first liquid of the day.
And still they came. There was one young man, dressed in a tail coat and with a lovely tray with tea pot and cup and saucer, who was carrying a small, hand-made placard that said: ‘Teapots against kettling’. The photo will go up later!
There was wit and humour everywhere. There was no aggression and no threat – well, apart from the toy town anarchists who slouched past at one point, faces covered.
It makes me feel old to say it, but some of them were really SO small that I felt that I wanted to ask them: ‘Do you mother and father really know where you are and what you’re doing?’
They gave off the only ‘attitude’ of the day. But I found myself worrying that some of them were too young t really make educated choices about what they were doing; that they had been suckered into whatever was being planned, and that they might seriously suffer for it.
UNISON member Mary Locke, who is a hospital housekeeper in Birmingham, had hoped to see me – indeed, had promised to bring me lunch (it’s not easy carrying a picnic when you’ve got a camera around your neck), but the march was so vast we ended up with no chance of spotting each other.
I’m sure Mary would agree that that was the better outcome – although I’ve had one of Mary’s wonderful cobs, full of lovely, moist cheese and coleslaw, before, so I did regret not getting one this time!
At another point, UNISON member Tracey Lambert darted out of the mass to tell me that she loved my blog. Wow! That makes me feel really humble and very happy. Thank you, Tracey.
And eventually, when I broke away and managed to get back toward the Embankment gardens, I bumped into Sue and Alan, who coaxed me out of being too hyped and gave me Pepsi and the encouragement to sit down for a fag and chat – and they’d been on the road since the early hours trying to get down in time!
I then hopped a cab to get back to the office as quickly as possible (400-odd pictures to go through, process and upload to the interwebby!).
After bidding farewell to Sue and Alan at Charing Cross, I hopped a cab and was approaching Centre Point, down a small street, when it was suddenly gridlocked by toy town anarchists.
My cabby was bemused – not least because at least two of them were pushing big bins down the road.
‘What are they doing with those?’ he asked. I responded that they were probably heading to Oxford Street to bring down the nasty capitalist state by smashing a few shop windows with said bins or using them as barricades.
Then one – a woman who really cannot have been much younger than me, but at least she wasn't covering her face – decided that, as she had a camera, she would make a big thing of photographing the number plate of the cab I was in.
Wow! Photographing the number plate of a stationary black cab! I bet that's going to advance the cause, big time.
As it happened, I hadn't packed my own camera away at that stage – it was still around my neck – so as she then walked past my car door window, I picked it up and snapped her.
Cue hysteria – fortunately the cabbie himself was in hysterics by this point – and me giving her the finger in the most insouciant way I could.
They're pathetic. In some ways, they make me even more angry than I am with this government. After all – with them around, the government doesn’t need agents provocateurs, it’s got perfect propaganda material made for it, which detracts beautifully from at least a quarter of a million people marching peacefully!
It makes the ‘infantile disorder’ of Trotskyism look politically mature by comparison.
But it was an amazing day. I feel remarkably privileged to have been a part of it in the way I was.
However, let’s diversify a little.
It never ceases to amaze me how some people currently assert that complaints about the bankers are a result of jealousy.
Let’s be clear: I consider myself very lucky at this point in my life. I work for a very good employer, with (by and large) wonderful people and certainly FOR wonderful people (see above).
Would I like more money? Well don’t be stupid – of course I would! But not mega millions. Just enough to make me feel safe and give me the chance to explore some things. I don’t need to take over countries or anything like that.
But in the last year or so, I have increasingly heard the response from some people that those who object to what this government is doing are ‘jealous’.
And herein lies the true tragedy.
When did it become ‘jealousy’ to care about anyone other than yourself and your immediate family?
When did it become ‘jealousy’ to care about your community – the ‘big society’, surely?
When did it become ‘jealousy’ to work in a role that was not just about how much money you could make, but about how much good you could do?
When did it become ‘jealousy’ to have X amount of income – and still care?
I hate labels. I spent the years from just before I was 40 adopting labels (and manifestos) instead of actually attempting to think through things for myself.
So you might (or might not!) forgive me if I now say that I don’t happily give myself any label, even when I essentially agree with whatever we’re talking about.
But in many conversations, I still get accused of being a ‘champagne socialist’.
What a daft soubriquet. Where is the ‘socialist’ teaching that socialists shouldn’t have the best in life? Simple. It doesn’t exist.
Indeed, a socialist would almost certainly stress that ‘nothing is too good for the workers’. Including champagne, no doubt.
Maybe – just maybe – once we learn ALL these things, we can move forward.
Last night, after I’d finished work, The Other Half (who’d been slogging it out in the office all day) and I went down to Waitrose and picked up dab fillets for £1.98 for two. They’re small but tasty. I did them with new potatoes from Majorca and a bit of salad and an orange butter that I concocted quickly.
My world is not about jealousy: my world view is based on a real, serious knowledge of how utterly shitty it is trying to live on nothing – and a real belief that everyone should have the chance to have a real life.
But finally, thank you to everyone who took part in the real demo. And to the stewards and police and everyone else. Screw the toy town anarchists – we rock. They're a bunch of infantile twerps!