The weather turned again this week. Now we’re riding the gloom train until the tracks run out. Our last warm evening was Tuesday. The birds here have been agitated since then. That evening about a hundred ravens and magpies flew from the trees in front of the flat, squawking and cawing and barking. Something spooked them and they did everything to get that something out of their tree. It’s the numbers. They rally together. Every bird in the tree goes at whatever it is that is threatening them.
I thought you had to be in a position of power to wield any power. We can do things on the micro but on the macro, we feel helpless. “Impotent rage,” my mother calls it. But I think we’re starting to realise we’re all in positions of power and it’s time we started using it, because as many have already said: the UK is not innocent when it comes to racism, not in the past, and not now.
The world is turning faster than ever before, and it’s only natural that some of us will lose our footing every now and again. What’s important is that we find it again as quickly as possible. We could have done all of this, realised all this, a lot sooner.
And if you haven’t yet, it’s not too late to change your mind.
Protests change things. Riots change them faster. Small actions every day also change things. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Don’t let that pressure drop.
Like running cancer races, you go on protests because you don’t want anyone else to have to go through it ever again, because you want things to change, and you do it for the people you love, you loved. At the moment there’s the whole virus issue, which I respect and take very seriously. But when I heard today’s protest was starting in Battersea, a fixture of my childhood, the home of my late Trinidadian godmother, I knew I had to go. I had to show respect and solidarity to the people in my life. And I had to show it to strangers. They didn’t need me there, but I wanted to make up the numbers, because in numbers we change things.
It’s a fifteen-mile walk down to Battersea and back, but how hard can that be? I ran a marathon, remember. It’ll be like Virginia Woolf’s Street Haunting, I tell myself, a lot of looking in windows and watching lives go by. And to begin with, it is.
We walk past firemen practicing rolling up their hoses. We watch the multitudinous bike-riding families roll past. Down past closed and run-down frame emporiums, antique shops with brass candlesticks and old dolls, where ivy has been pulled off its sign recently, exposing leaf and vine-shaped green paint beneath the black.
There’s a dilapidated house, at its dark and empty window hangs large mustard yellow velvet curtains, one artfully drawn back.
The honeysuckle’s coming out and the sky is moody over the gothic St Pancras hotel in Kings Cross, but nothing like yesterday’s storms. We go past a plaque for Percy and Mary Shelley and I think of what I read this week, that his son took Percy’s heart from the funeral pyre and kept it. I think it’s kind of beautiful. Certainly more beautiful than it is gross.
Passing all these closed places, some of these closed places are places I used to work. In Holborn I remember the hideous period as a cocktail waitress in a “boutique bowling” alley – I get a kick out of seeing it shut now. I only lasted 3 or 4 months at that place, but somehow I made two lifelong friends there.
We head down a tree-lined street in Holborn that looks like an avenue in Paris, except someone in a moment of wishful extravagance has graffitied on an office “Abolish Work”.
We walk through Bloomsbury, where I met a friend at a bookshop and had coffee and pastel de nata—that was the last time I met with anyone before lockdown. At the time she said about her preparations: “I’ve bought an extra can of tuna, it’s going to be fine.”
Suddenly we’re by the river, I can’t remember when I last saw the river. By the time we get to the bridge you can hear the helicopters, chopping the stormish clouds above, and from there on out that sound doesn’t go away.
To my surprise, there are tourists on the South Bank for their post-apocalyptic holidays, dragging suitcases and looking lost as they go past a deserted and caged-off merry-go-round.
Big Ben’s covered in scaffolding and by the time my feet start to ache we’re in Battersea. The protest moves over Vauxhall Bridge and towards Parliament Square. Cars honk and wave signs from out their windows– the louder the honk the louder the applause from the crowd. People lean out from their flats waving their self-made ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs, someone waves a Sudanese flag. One woman shakes a Tambourine from her flat window.
We stay until I can hardly stand anymore, and then head back on the 7mile journey home. I can tell you, walking 15 miles in leather trousers is much harder than running a marathon.
Covent Garden is silent, and feels confused by that silence.
The rest of the walk home is horrendous. We didn’t get back long ago, and the last hour of the walk I started to feel drunk. Then I hallucinated (we hadn’t eaten since a crumpet at breakfast). There was a bunch of electric wiring tied to the wall of the newsagent that I thought was a man; I politely stood aside for the bunch of wiring to walk past. Fucker didn’t move, didn’t even say thank you.
We got home, and I broke in half.
Today, the protest, the whole thing was entirely peaceful – except for some fascists who felt the need to turn up and stand behind a line of police. People just ignored them. Yesterday however, whoever shoved a bike into the side of a horse—not ok. The poor horse doesn’t know what’s going on. Whether we like it or not (and as much as I like horses, I don’t in these situations) the police horses are there: don’t fucking hurt the animals. Don’t hurt anyone. But today there was none of that, and I think 98-99% of people were wearing face masks. And no, I agree, the timing’s not perfect, what with the pandemic and everything, but the time is now. No doubt about it.
And I’m not going anywhere for a couple of weeks, so…
As I write, the birdfeeder swings. A parakeet has, in the last week or so, got the hang of nibbling the peanuts. He’s quite a spectacle but I like the little chickadees. A few of which are fledglings now and incredibly scruffy. They bop about with their little mohawks in the drizzle.
Everyone seems to have a pet now except me and I fear I am turning into one for lack of one. I’ve started biting. I yowl like a cat just for something to do.
A group of men in suits congregate loudly in the communal gardens. It’s an odd sight. I haven’t seen the short-sleeved shirts and black trouser a combination since Barnstaple —the men all dressed up for a night on the lash outside Golden Lion Tavern in their short-sleeved shirts, hair slicked wet with Dax Wax, Jack Daniels belt buckles on. It seems to be a funeral gathering, and if it is, they’re all in remarkably good spirits. I’d be pissed off if I were the person who died!
Planes fly over late at night.
I forgot what normal was like.
There’s a break in the clouds for a while.
We watch a brilliant series called Rock and Roll America about the evolution of rock and roll, from blues in New Orleans and Memphis to the influence of the waves on Californian surf music. I watch girls screaming at the men on stage in total bewilderment.
I can’t imagine getting that excited about anything.
My loss, I suppose.
The other night I couldn’t sleep. The soles of my feet were hot. The wind was blowing the trees so hard if I closed by eyes I could have been by the sea. I needed to be outside. I got up, lit a candle and placed the hot soles of my feet on the cold tiles.
I found that I miss the world.
I’m reading Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (tr. William Rees). He was the dude who wrote The Little Prince, but he was also a pioneering airmail pilot who was shot down somewhere at sea. This is a book astronauts often reference; they call him a “mystic”. I can see why. After being lost with no fuel somewhere over the Sahara he and his astrologer, Néri, land in Casablanca.
“Neri and I would go down into town where there are little cafés already open at dawn…Neri and I would find a table and sit down safely, laughing off the night, with warm croissants and milky coffee set before us. Life would give to Neri and to me that morning gift. An old peasant woman finds her God only through a painted image, or a primitive medallion, or her rosary; we too must hear a simple language if we are to hear it truly. And so the joy of being alive was gathered in that aromatic and burning first taste, in that blend of milk, coffee and wheat which brings communion with peaceful pastures, with exotic plantations and with harvests, communion with all the earth. Among so many stars there was only one accessible to us, only one that could compose that fragrant breakfast bowl.”
In hedges everywhere brambles are flowering. What will have happened on the only star available to us in the months that form the blackberries?