Saturday, 2 July 2016

Solidarity March

I've just spent the day at an anti-Brexit march and feel a lot happier as a result. There's something rather healing about being surrounded by people who share your views. You can rant and rail and no one tells you to get over yourself! I understand there's even a dating app for the 48% of us who voted remain!

A group of us met at the top end of Oxford Street at 10.45am. I'd put out a Facebook post which was answered by all sorts of people from very different stages of my life. Tammy Cooper (now Palmer) was there with her husband and son. Tammy and I went to school together and have known each other since I was 13 and she was 11. We used to attend a Spiritualist church in Rushden as impressionable sixth formers. Nat and Nic were there. We met as students doing a show in the 1995 Edinburgh Festival. Nat brought her Mum, who had made a series of spectacular placards, which, as we arrived, she was adorning with swear words. "Tory scum" "F**k Brexit!" There were people from my drama school, my ex, Daniel, his partner, Matthew, and their two kids, Tina, and various friends of friends...

We were held for some time on Park Lane. I think someone must have been addressing the front of the crowd because cheers kept rolling through the crowd like vocal Mexican waves. A huge number of people were plainly gathering behind us. People were getting very frustrated with the BBC website who were woefully underestimating numbers in their reporting of the demonstration. There were so many people in one place that all the phone networks started going down.

I have to say that throughout this nonsense, I've been bitterly disappointed by the BBC's reporting of events. They always demonstrate this ludicrous desire to report things from both sides - usually in the form of somewhat inane "vox pops." There's always one person arguing for, one against and one who hasn't yet made their mind up. I don't give a shit what a gurning idiot thinks about Brexit. I want to know what the experts say. Even today, the BBC felt the need to report an individual's tweet who described the 100,000 marchers as "having a tantrum" about the result. Later on, the BBC's report ceased to mention that this was an individual's tweet and started reporting the tweet under the guises of "critics of the march claim..."

What was particularly charming about the demonstration were the number of home-made placards that were being waved in the air by marchers. Often with these demonstrations, organisers have had the time to print out thousands of posters, so everyone ends up holding the same image, but today's crop were all unique, and all demonstrated a great deal of wit, thought and effort: "I can't live if living is without EU." "Pulling out doesn't stop people coming" "Cymru am byth YN Ewrop" "I have a Euro-vision" "No Brex please, we're British" "Gisela Stuart, we won't forget what you've done..."

The crowd sang ABBA (the lyrics to SOS are particularly prescient) and the chorus to Hey Jude: "na na na na na na na, E U!" The feeling was upbeat and peaceful. Every time a bus full of tourists drove past the march, particularly buses with European number plates, everyone erupted into great cheers. People were polite, even when a ghastly bunch of Essex slappers on a hen-do in the "Big Smoke" rushed through the crowd screaming "out out out" and giggling like a load of slags.

At that moment, a trumpeter walked through the crowd playing Ode to Joy, so we turned away from the stupid women and sang our hearts out instead. On the entire route of the march I only saw two policemen, with the exception of a large cluster standing outside Downing Street, where the marchers stopped and started chanting "shame." That was about as aggressive as it got.

Spin, from the cast of Brass appeared in the crowd at one point. It was lovey to see him. This was his first demonstration. He was too young to vote in the referendum but he wanted to make his feelings felt and had come into London from Hampshire with his sister.

Tammy works for a prominent charity who are apparently deeply worried about the referendum result, which apparently looks like it might be catastrophic for elderly people in terms of dementia research and funding for carers. She's been looking at the results in terms of which people in which age group were most likely to vote which way. The "old old" category - those who remember the war - overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining whilst, unsurprisingly the "we're-alright-Jack" baby-boomers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit. It seems that the young voters let the side down by not actually voting!

My parents sent me an email this morning which helped me to process what's been going on in my mind of late and made me understand why it is I've been feeling quite so sad and let down. They wrote about one of their friend's daughters, a professional singer, who broke down in tears performing a solo version of the hymn "Dear Lord and Father" in a recent concert. She was suddenly struck by the appropriateness of words like 're-clothe us in our rightful minds' and 'forgive our foolish ways' and was overcome. What my Dad wrote next struck a massive chord with me: "She realised then that she'd lost her identity. Like you she was raised a European."

And suddenly I understood everything. My parents raised me to think of myself as European, to value Europe as much as I value Britain. My Mum skimped and saved to take us on holidays to Germany and Austria so that we could practice our German. We didn't go to beaches. We didn't chase the sun. We went to celebrate European culture, and more often than not, I was encouraged to go native! I was raised to think that my life might well be spent in Europe. Not as a tourist, or a sun-seeking retiree, but as worker standing shoulder to shoulder with my European siblings. Both my brothers ended up doing just that. These values are so ingrained that I genuinely can't get my head around why anyone would view Europe in another way. I don't even understand what this "independence" means that people are so obsessed with. Whether it's Brussels or Whitehall making decisions, you're still having decisions made for you, and if people took general elections as seriously as they did this referendum, we probably wouldn't be feeling like we are being ignored by politicians!

At Hyde Park Corner, a group of people were standing wearing T-shirts which said "I'm an immigrant, and I'd like a hug." It was rather moving to see them being hugged by marcher after marcher. If nothing else has come out of this mess, it's the fact that we all need to be more vigilant. However scared we are of doing so, if we witness racially-motivated attacks on the street, be they physical or verbal, we have an absolute duty as human beings to make sure we a) report them and b) stand up for the person being attacked. We're not yet in 1930s Germany but we are skating perilously close. "History never repeats itself. Man always does." It's very interesting to note that Hitler was a great fan of the referendum. Far right parties always are. The general population, particularly in a period of financial instability, can alway be relied on to demonstrate quite astonishingly intolerant views in the privacy and anonymity of a voting booth.

The highlight of the demonstration for me was watching a group of ten year-old children standing on the base of one of the statues on Whitehall, screaming "what do we want? EU! When do we want it? Now!" I don't know where their parents were, but I should imagine they would have been feeling incredibly proud. If this catastrophe politicises the young, then at least one good thing has come from it.

I was somewhat horrified by a drag queen who was wandering around the demonstration wearing next to nothing. Every time someone tried to take his photo, he said, "one pound for a pose or a selfie." Very distasteful, I thought. You're there to show your solidarity, not to make money.

We eventually snaked our way to Parliament Square where lots of speeches and things were taking place, none of which we could hear. It was rather odd to be standing underneath Big Ben in the middle of a traffic-free street whilst it chimed 3pm.

We crossed over the Thames and had a sneaky cocktail sitting outside a cafe in Waterloo. Well, I had a sneaky pot of tea. Natalie had a PiƱa Colada.

We left our placards in an alcove outside Waterloo Station. We felt passers by might like to read the messages. We also thought it might be fun for a Brexiteer to smash them up angrily. Anger is, after all, the currency of the Brexit camp as firmly demonstrated by a woman who wrote some awfully aggressive comments on Tina's Facebook post. When I checked this woman's Facebook page it was a mass of deeply offensive jokes about women in burkas.

I finish with a little story. I met a lady today whose husband was a prominent Europhile. Sadly her husband died fairly recently. When the Brexit verdict came, she told me she literally had no one to talk to about it and merely went to a park and sat on a bench and cried: "cried so that no one would notice, of course," she said. My heart broke for her.


  1. Thanks for your post about the march. I am in hospital at the moment or would have been there myself. You don't know me but I have been following your blog since attending, and very much enjoying, your London Requiem and Brass. Hope to see Brass again next month if I am well enough. All the best!

  2. That is very kind of you. Thank you for the message, and I do hope you get out of hospital very soon. I am sending positive vibes out into the ether... whoever you are.