Saturday. It was rather full on. So much so that I am still fitting it all together in my mind. Because it must fit together. Too many connections for it not to. But where to start? I suppose at the beginning….which would be shortly after 3 am when we were woken to police lights and screaming, lots of screaming. From directly across the street. The road was absolutely filled with police cars and ambulance vehicles. A girl was on the pavement, hand wrapped in something bulky. Officers and paramedics were everywhere. Rushing in and out of the house. Controlled chaos. Eventually the screaming stopped but the police stayed. By morning it was quiet, though officers and their cars were still everywhere. The whole area was cordoned off, including my car, which was now part of the crime scene. Details emerged. Two men in their 20s, both with stab wounds, one dead, the other arrested. And the girl, only 17 years old, with wounds to her hands. Why was she there? At 3 am? The whole thing is so so so sad. And unacceptable.
Later that morning, but still early, just as the police were finishing marking the area with their blue and white crime scene tape, Taylor, the gorgeous Australian girl who lived with us in 2011 on her gap year, strolled up the street, for a 24 hour visit on her way to other cities. What could I say but “welcome back to SW London.” We didn’t stay long in the neighbourhood however, as Taylor needed some art and it was the day of The March. National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Off we went. Arriving in the square hours before the march even set off, we wandered through the very crowded halls of the National Gallery. Such beautiful old old things. My addiction to art is well known, but you may also be wondering why I didn’t actually join the march, just waited for it to arrive. And that is because I didn’t know, and still not sure I do, what everyone was marching for. And when the first marchers arrived, I was none the clearer. Vegans, Communists, Socialists, anti-nuclear, anti-Brexiteers, Environmentalists, and lots of women holding slapdash signs with crude slogans using the word “pussy.” Not funny slogans, just crude. And herein lies my problem. I have never, ever been convinced that the way to equality is through ladette behavior. Proving that I can be as rude and unpleasant as any man isn’t the feminism I have believed in passionately for decades, nor is it the one that I have shared with my girls. Worse still, a group of very little girls, under the age of 10, were holding pieces of paper on which “I am a Pussy,” was written. Presumably by their mothers. Really??? Really?? This kind of things upsets me greatly. The sexualiziation of children does nothing to promote equal rights. It is one of the many reasons I loathe Taylor Swift with her baby doll clothes and little girl persona. A paedophile’s dream. But I will save that particular rant for another day. With all these disparate causes, there was no sense of fun or excitement or indeed purpose. Just lots of milling about. And eventually we wandered off, back into the gallery, where we were joined by many many others who had taken place in the march. A protest of it own, if we take Churchill’s words about the arts being something worth fighting for as truth.
Since Saturday afternoon, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends telling me that their experience was completely different and sharing loads of photos of witty, clever placards. I am very very glad to hear this. I must have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, delighted to have so many disagree with me. But still…
And then came the furor over numbers. The numbers at the inauguaration, the numbers at the march, fake news, real news….and into this discussion my wonderful, wise, former NYC roommate and reporter offered the fact (a controversial word these days) that with news organizations cutting the number of actual reporters on the ground and increasingly relying on talking heads in studios just reading out stuff other people have cobbled together, it should be no surprise that into this gap has come the scourge that is fake news. Or, as it is now being described, “alternative facts.” For shame.
Then Saturday night, the theatre. The Kite Runner. I am going to assume you have all read it, so you know what a powerful story it is. And an intense two hours plus of theatre. A tale, about, among other things, weakness. The weakness of one boy and the loyalty of another. And the terrible, terrible price of this imbalance.
What was I to make of it all? A full on London day, if ever there was. And Taylor too, a young woman who slotted seamlessly back into the family after so many years. Suddenly, slowly, slowly it was all coming together. And I realized what I had missed about the march. It wasn’t so much about this issue or that one, or no issue at all just a general sense of disquiet, unease and anger, but rather the gathering of people, lots and lots of people, on a beautiful London day to say not just I AM HERE, but WE ARE HERE. We. You and me and all of us. A collection. A community. A community with different agendas and viewpoints and goals, yes. But a community nonetheless. Not social media, not phones, not political organizations, but an actual community of real people, talking to each other. Laughing with each other. Walking with each other. Looking at great art with each other. Murder, that is about as far from good community you can get. A peaceful march, even with fluid purpose, is good community. Beautiful community.
These are unsettling times. It is easy to be weak and cynical and belligerent. And therein lies the challenge. To hold onto the good. The people we care about, even if we only see them occasionally. The art and culture that need, not just support with words but actual bodies in buildings, bottoms on seats. Kindness towards those who are struggling with all the many many ways the world can be cruel. Patience. Understanding. All the hard stuff. But if we do it together, maybe it will get easier. Maybe we will all feel a little less fearful. So grab a friend, or several, an old one, better yet a brand new one, and go look at some paintings, listen to music, stroll through a park in the winter sunshine, talk to strangers, read that book you keep meaning to get to, or read an old favourite to a child, anything that lifts, inspires, gives hope, if only for a moment in time. Because my friends, hope and beauty, in all its variety and variation, is how we are going to overcome.