Wednesday, May 01, 2013

On The Wrong Side of the Circus at the Funeral

Along with a lot of other people I felt angry in the days between  Margaret Thatcher’s  death and the funeral. Media reports brought back memories of the  eighties, when I was teaching in the East End, my students convinced that elections must  rigged.  Nothing seemed set to change, and I left  for a job abroad.

The poll tax riots happened in my absence, but when a notice about a funeral procession protest appeared on my Facebook page I decided to join in. ‘Wear red and turn your back’ it said on the website. The main rallying point was to be Ludgate Circus.


At 9.30am I arrived at Blackfriars station, a short way from the Circus. Metal barriers were in place but it was fairly quiet, apart from office workers in a hurry, so I sat near the window in Caffe Nero, where I had a view of soldiers in red coats and busbies, standing in lines


A woman on the pavement outside waved a cardboard cup at a policeman. ‘I’m on jury service at the Old Bailey,’ I heard her complain. He directed her to traffic lights nearer the tube station. ‘You’ll have to go round. There’s a crossing point on Fleet Street’.

Around quarter past ten the soldiers marched off, so   I grabbed my red jacket and rucksack and followed. But the crowd was already four deep at the Circus. Once there, I couldn’t move. An Italian reporter and a cameraman had commandeered a plinth. The reporter talked into a microphone glancing over his shoulder towards Fleet Street every few seconds. Some people had been lucky enough to sit on another plinth. Office workers had a great view from the tall buildings opposite. I glimpsed  a line of marchers in naval uniforms through gaps in the crowd, and some men in white helmets.  


 I was a lone figure in red among tall men in dark overcoats and women with expensive hair-dos.  

Behind me I heard a man with a foreign accent ask about a group of elderly men in dark red berets, gathered  in the Circus. ‘Paras,’ someone told him. ‘Oh, I thought they hated her.’ Then, ‘Why are there Parisians here?’
‘Paratroopers!’ someone growled.  
A woman in front of me turned round. ’And they didn’t hate her- they admired her. They wished she was on their side to negotiate with the Common Market.’  After this, silence for about half an hour.

 I could hear protesters on the north side of the Circus: a single voice shouted ‘Maggie. Maggie. Maggie’ and a chorus answered, ‘Dead. Dead. Dead’.


I knew when the cortege passed because people were clapping. I don’t think I could have turned my back if I’d tried. When  I got home and downloaded photos onto my computer I was surprised by this image that shows my arms holding my iphone aloft. How could I have taken a photos of my own arms holding the camera?


It was over quite quickly, and fifty or so policemen in yellow coats dashed across the Circus towards the protesters, whom I couldn’t see. I was glad to be a short walk away from the tube station, and was home just after twelve.
Although I'd not seen anything of the cortege I was glad I'd stood there. Despite all the echoes of her policies heard in the voices of the current government, something convinced me she was gone and can’t come back.  I didn't join the protesters, but just being  there made me feel better.   

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