As the protest wound its way through central London and on into Oxford Circus the numbers grew. And where a crisp breeze had cut through the crowd earlier, now the advancing wall of bodies pushed the wind back. It felt warmer. More intense. Angry.
“Our world’s not for sale! Put the bankers into jail!”
“No Planet, No Jobs!”
Drums and fog horns blared among the entourage. At a window above one of the retail outlets a home made banner fluttered gently. “End Global Arms Trade.”
At another window a few girls drinking cans and smoking. Wolf whistles and banter from a group of punks behind me.
Skirting alongside the protesters on the footpaths were the police, shadowing the direction of the march. A girl with purple dreadlocks approached them, wrists pressed together.
“Arrest me now officer, arrest me pleaseee.”
Another lady in a knee length dress did cartwheels past the facing police. “The real criminals are in Parliament! Arrest them!”
An occasional police camera man mounted high on steel platforms took photography as the crowd filed past. Some protesters jeered and abused them, others pulled scarves up over their lower faces or bowed their head, shielding their features with peaked caps and sunglasses.
John, his jacket slung over his shoulder smirked and strolled on indifferent to the clamour. I couldn’t help feeling that he wasn’t taking it seriously. In fact I sort of regretted inviting him. He was wrecking my buzz.
“Job going okay Michael?”
“Total dross. Barely pays the bills. It’s total exploitation.”
“The system is definitely rigged. But trust me, it stops being exploitation when you get a few promotions. Then you’ll be doing the exploiting.” Laughed his slow laugh.
“Fuck the Dark Side mate. No thanks.” John used to be a total anarchist. A regular at Speakers Corner heckling Preachers. Now he seemed to spend his evenings studying for professional exams.
“That’s the way it goes Kane. Either live in a tent in the woods or get on the 7 am tube.”
“I’m not throwing in the towel yet. Hey Johnny, where’s your disguise? You said you were bringing a disguise?”
John laughed, “Yeah, looks like I’m going to need it too.”
“Where is it?” He tapped his back pocket but said nothing. Didn’t seem to be anything there.
A ripple of jeers started as police on horseback appeared from side streets and peered down on us. Further ahead the police were wearing riot gear. The crowd spilled into Oxford Circus but with all exit routes blocked things began to fill up.
An ad-hoc platform was assembled and organisers hollered into loudspeakers. The noise intensified. To our right the police were forming a wall and soon flanked us on all sides. A few protesters were singing and dancing. A red haired guy in combat trousers jigged past us at the head of a human train. The next passenger was carrying a stereo. “Hop on board, we’re getting out’a here!”
However they were forced to turn back as the line of Riot Police stood firm. Individual protesters made further attempts to get past but there was no go. I turned to John who was busy buttoning up his shirt, “No one’s getting out. They’re kettling us in here Johnny. Time to text Joanna and tell her you won’t be making the cinema. This shit could go on for hours.”
“Kane, you need to start being accurate. They’re planning to kettle protesters like cattle in a pen. However I’m just an innocent bystander caught in the chaos.” His eyes sparkled with delight.
“Too late for that Johnny boy, relax and enjoy the party!”
John finished tucking in his shirt and put on the jacket. “Kane?” he looked at me with mock exaggeration. “Did you forget about my disguise Kane!?” He whipped a tie out of his back pocket and with a grin started to fold it neatly into position. Once he closed the top button and slid the tie upwards, he suddenly looked every bit the city professional. Chino’s, suede jacket, shirt and tie.
“And for my final trick,” he said loud enough for those around us to hear, “I shall walk through the wall of police, unharmed!”
And he did exactly that. Straight back and full of confidence. Riot police simply melted away and let him through. Didn’t even ask him a question.
“Smarmy bastard,” and a part of me wished I’d brought a disguise too.