I thought I might be able to find the blimp, so I walked into town. Aldwych is closed to traffic. Armed police, mounted police, bobbies and soldiers stand in huddles by ancient monuments. Helicopters are constantly droning overhead. Two smiling women walk away with their MAGA hats on. There are protests in both directions. People walk with purpose towards and away from parliament in small groups, bearing various placards and various sentiments. There is the atmosphere of something about to happen but right now it’s just an assembly. It’s the women’s march here that I’ve happened on. I hadn’t done my research but that’s great. It’s what I did last time I got involved with Plumpkin.
In Parliament Square itself, a growing crowd mills on the dead grass at the snarling base of that controversial blimp. It’s smaller than I anticipated, the baby. Maybe the media have inflated it.
“Stay close now guys,” says a kiwi accent. “This is awesome,” says a Canadian accent. It’s just a lot of people milling about right now though.
Everyone is taking photos. There are lots of big cameras. I have mirrored sunglasses and my hat is pulled down. I’m all too aware, in this messed up era, that a photo of me here might show up in a visa application. I’ll probably leave before the shouting starts.
A troupe of overheating middle aged women diligently practice their dance-protest under a gazebo in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. It is earnest, unusual and angry, like a medieval haka. “Ha!” they repeat. “Get out of here!” It feels like an exorcism for a demon of sweat, hate, money and manipulation. On the corner of Broad Sanctuary by the Abbey door, a busker loops his own arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner on the violin – mournful and slow. A dirge to the American Dream. Bring me your huddled masses. We have plenty of cages for them.
A voice is now being amped from the soundstage in the square. With all the reverb it is impossible to understand most of her words but her sentiment is clear. She leaves gaps for people to cheer. Who needs content when you have form? The crowd is larger now. They are singing “We’ve got the whole world in our hands.” We gather in public and immediately we are back at school assembly. I wonder if they’ll give out certificates. Someone just gave me a sticker, so there’s a start. It says “Bollocks to Brexit.” He’s made a whole roll of them. I let him stick one on me for all the good it’ll do.
Lots of people have brought their kids. Lots have made signs. Some of the signs are brilliant. Others hopeful. Others beautifully naïve. It all feels terribly benign. The Trump baby balloon is moving around the edges of the square. “That’s the little one,” says one of the babysitters. That makes sense. The bigger one must be in Oxford Street. It has a mobile phone in its tiny hand. So do most of the people in the crowd. Everyone is taking selfies. It’s the modern way. Proof of attendance. Here I am writing about it. I was there. Validate me.
It’s important to protest, even if it feels like an exercise in futility. There’s power in coming together as a group and just sharing the knowledge that we all think things are a bit shit. There’s plenty to protest about, and we must be wary of extremism.
Time has passed, and there is a shift in the weather. When I went to the women’s March in LA it was the only bright day in a fortnight of torrential rain, and rain like that is not common in LA. The natural world cries about this man. London, after weeks of stable heat, is now washed in unexpected rain. “How the hell do you have an umbrella?” I ask the woman at the bus stop. Nobody can have been expecting this rain. It’s backlash rain. It’s a cleansing. She laughs. “I work in a restaurant.” She’s been into the lost property. I wish I had. I’m soaked. Although I’m glad I don’t work in a restaurant.
I’m trying to imagine the Queen with Trump. I expect she just let him talk and talk. Maybe a little interjection after some particularly brash comment: “You are the 11th American President I’ve had the fortune to meet, mister Trump.” … and then… just let him keep talking. Give him the rope to hang himself. It’s all he ever does.