45 4.6 with Fried Chicken

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June 4th – Trump is coming to town, divisive- loathsome-rascist-climate-change-denying-mysoginistic-wanker-shit-house-excuse of a man. You may glean from my words that I am not a great fan. From here on I will just call him 45, this seems rather fitting on a number of levels:-

(i) Two digits is all I would give him.

(ii) In some cultures malevolent or evil spirits are never spoken of by their actual name, to do so gives them power, so limiting him to no more than a number seems like a good idea.

(iii) 45 is just a number in a sequence, it follows 44 & 46 will be along soon, at least I hope so.

I can’t bring myself to ignore 45’s visit to London, despite a lifetime of doggedly trying to ignore the problems I’ve encountered in the hope they will go away I have been thwarted each time, ignoring 45’s visit will not cut the mustard. Of course adding myself to the other dissenters in Trafalgar Square, what difference does one person make? Bugger all of course, but if I do nothing then I know it will be just one more regret to add to all the others I’ve collected so fuck it, I’m going to the protest.

My first issue of the day is how to get into town, the tube makes sense, but I have a five pound note and some change in my wallet, then I am broke. I won’t dwell on this pecuniary embarrassment, hopefully it is temporary, lets just say I have an enduring ability to ignore the value of money, I go with the thought that there really is no point in having money unless you spend it on something. I have pursed this modus operandi diligently, which has got me to here. To keep my last few quid intact I decide to cycle into central London, it costs me nothing & I most definitely could do with the exercise.

I set of from NW2 on an English summers day, five minutes into my journey it begins to rain, cold rain. I ruminate on the thought that just three weeks before I was in India, melting in forty degrees & fantasising about being in chilly England. Now back in chilly England I wish I was somewhere warm. The thought crosses my mind that I am just a tad mad and quite possibly cursed to never ever be satisfied.

By the time I reach Westbourne Grove I’m knackered, out of breath & feeling like a drowned rat. I want to stop and take a break, but the tables of the chic cafes of the grove are all full of well heeled ladies keeping their manolo’s & louboutins from the rain splattered pavements, I look a sight & god forbid I might bump into someone i know, I’m keeping a low profile these days. So I go just a bit further along the road & at the end of Westbourne Grove I pull up my bike, telling myself I’m taking a break because of the rain, not because I’m shagged. I dive into a corner cafe and order a double espresso, then on the counter I spot Natas, Portuguese custard tarts. Calorie catastrophe ensues when I am compelled by unseen and overwhelming forces to blow the remainder of my money on coffee & cakes. I feebly lie to myself with the misguided idea that the cycling will counter act the calories and that once I’ve spent my money there is no more, so I can’t spend what I don’t have can I?

I grab a seat outside the cafe under an awning and sit and watch the world go by. The moment I do so the rain stops and some sunshine appears, why exactly it chose that moment, when I found cover, to stop raining I don’t know, but I have this feeling that someone has it in for me.

People watching, it’s endlessly fascinating, take this spot for instance, a steady stream of people pass by: An old lady with a zimmer frame ( slowly ), a rather attractive woman of forty or so, Yoga Mat slung over her shoulder in a come and get me, you know I’m bendy kind of way, a yummy mummy with a space age pram and child ( only the pram was space age not the child ) then an old fella in a wheelchair being pushed by a carer. I then have one of my deep philosophical moments – they occur quite regularly – this time I reflect on the circle of life, we begin as babies being pushed around the streets in prams, then rather often as life draws to a close once again we are pushed along the pavements in wheeled perambulators.

I’m impressed with myself – and inwardly congratulate me on perception, insight & depth. Then I glance down to my plate, the natas, they’ve gone? Just a few crumbs remain, I then realise I was so taken up in my philosophical musings that I ate the cakes unconsciously, failing entirely to savour the rich deliciousness or indeed even register that I ate them at all. Now broke, I wonder if a Nata will ever pass my lips again?

I attempt to console myself with the remaining crumbs, which doesn’t work, then in Buddhist ideology on the folly of desire, the nature of impermanence & the foolishness of attachment. This also fails.

At this point the man in the wheelchair is parked up at the next table to mine by his carer who disappears into the cafe. I’ll get you something to eat John she says as she goes. Her tone is extra loud, like the way English people speak to foreigners because we know they will understand better that way.

As I look at the man there’s something familiar about him, then I realise that I’ve seen him before, he used to hang around Portobello a few years back, only then he had no wheelchair, you’d see him wandering around the Bella, or hanging around street corners, a fella perhaps somewhere in his sixties, dressed in an old threadbare suit, lanky and slightly stooped, his face crowned with a rather splendid hooked nose from which dewdrops of nasal fluid would hang defying gravity. There he’d be scrounging fags off passers by and picking up dog ends from the pavements.

Now he sits in his wheelchair, his long thin fingers with Fu Man Chu fingernails clutch a ham sandwich which he gums into submission. When he finishes his sandwich he is offered a fag by his carer and the fingers once again latch onto it, he brings it to his lips and when lit sucks in his cheeks which crater inwards as he inhales. He says nothing though the process, on his exhale he smiles and reveals a set of gums without a single tooth. At this point I wonder if this is where I am heading, is this my prospect of inevitable mortality?

As a wave of melancholy begins to wash over me I decide its time to go, get on my bike and head on into town, just in time for the rain to begin once again.

A few minutes later I am locking up my bike close to the National Gallery & head on into Trafalgar Square. Though overcast grey skies there’s been no rain here, things are looking up. I’m quite late though, and when I only see a few hundred people scattered around Trafalgar Square, I wonder where everyone is. The Bin Men are collecting rubbish and discarded placards on the ground, have I missed it? Did the weather put people off? I am ready to harangue my fellow countrymen & women for being lightweights when I look down towards Whitehall and clock a sea of people all the way to Parliament. It isn’t a washout at all, I’m just late & everyone has headed off on the march. I move down Whitehall and join the throng of people that grows denser the farther I go. By the time I reach Downing Street I stop to join a crowd picketing. The people are kept well away from no 10 by not one but two sets of barriers, as well as the permanent ones already in place. This is top grade exclusion, but nevertheless  it’s a carnival kind of atmosphere, protesting is fun.

45 is already inside No.10, the train of vehicles he came in exits Downing Street, led by ‘The Beast” twenty or so huge gas guzzlers head down Whitehall with blue lights flashing. For the first time I stand and watch as passenger less cars are booed. I rather like the idea that even the trace of where 45 has been is enough to make people boo.

Later that day Trump gives an interview in which he says that he had heard that the fake media had said there were protesters, but he had seen none, only cheering crowds everywhere happy to see him. I am astounded, deluded imbecile, malign muck spreader of his own bullshit, how does he sleep at night I wonder?

I head on down towards Parliament square & as I approach the crowd becomes increasingly dense and we wove at a snails pace, we are corralled and syphoned through barriers, there’s a tremendous feeling of being ‘contained’ which is rather unpleasant, but the shenanigans of the other protesters make it worth going, shopping trolleys full of 45 toilet paper, his face to wipe your derriere on two for £5. Baby Trump Blimp, Caged 45, placards to make you roar with laughter. For every few hundred protesters against 45 one Pro 45 person could be found, curious figures, like a lunatic escaped from the asylum, or village idiot, or simply alien from another dimension, each given space, walked around or simply given wide berths for fear of strangeness.

After doing the rounds for an hour or so I decide to head back towards Trafalgar square I’m unable to retrace my steps, the Old Bill in their wisdom have decided to implement a one way system, which seems rather pointless as everyone that wanted to come is already in the square, nevertheless I am diverted in a roundabout way along the Thames, on one side of me the tide is racing up the river, the water looks rougher & more angry than I’ve seen it before and I like to think that perhaps even Old Father Thames who’s witnessed plenty in his time still wants to show his displeasure, along with the rest of us that 45 is here. I walk on past statues of old soldiers, whose plinths say we will remember them, then back onto Whitehall.

Soon I’m once again in Trafalgar Square, the bin men have just about finished cleaning up, theres a mood like the end of the party, Socialist Workers are packing up a stall into a Transit Van, a group of LGBT dancers are gyrating to a ghetto blaster close to a plinth by Nelsons column, no doubt he would scowl disapprovingly and wonder what England had come to, but its good to rattle cages and confound the ideas of old men who think they know better.

I decide to sit for a while as my feet are killing me, and I park my ass on a low wall outside the national gallery where an assortment of tourists and other folks have had the same idea. And there I settle in for that favourite pastime of mine, to watch the world go by……………….

My daydreaming is interrupted by the arrival of a dishevelled man who sits next to me, I clock him as a rough sleeper, he carries two battered carrier bags that look as worn out as he does.

For a moment I consider moving on, maybe he’s a loony, maybe he has some horrible lurgy or fleas, but then I stop myself, he’s just another person, I can’t just get up and go.  He says hello, I say hello & we begin to talk, we continue to do so for twenty minutes or more. I learn his name is Andrew he is twenty eight years old. He’s been sleeping rough for six years. I explain that I’ve been travelling, for about the same time.  He asks what my work is, I tell him I dont work. As we talk I am struck by the greyness of his skin, he is clearly black, but his skin looks washed out, as though the streets have taken his colour. He has a scab on his forehead which he itches and picks at throughout our coversation, I want to tell him to stop. It’s like a nervous tick this picking, clearly Andrew has mental health issues, but he talks calmly, clearly, and eloquently, but you just know that he has problems. Often with street people you can see that there are drugs or alcohol issues, I didn’t get that with Andrew, something else entirely.

Andrew went on to say that his Dad was an American, his mother a Brit,  his early years were spent in New England, where his old man was a policeman, in Conneticut, I’m not sure how to spell that & too lazy to use spell check, but you get the idea. His Dad died young, I didn’t ask how, it seemed like a question too far, his mother couldn’t hack America as a single Mum & headed back to London. He grew up in Ealing & after school went on to Greenwich to study Criminology at Uni, maybe that was his Dads genes in there somewhere pulling him, maybe he wanted to follow his fathers work, maybe he had the thought that his father would have been proud of him, but it wasn’t to be. He said that in his first year at college whilst on campus one day the police came to tell him that his mother had died. Andrew said that after that everything went wrong, he couldn’t hold down the college course and he ended up on the streets. Whilst we talk I am struck by the gentleness of this young man, six years on the streets have not made him bitter or angry, there’s not an ounce of aggression in this young man, I feel certain if our roles were reversed I would be a very angry version of Andrew, against the world and all it had given me. At this point Andrew opens one of the carrier bags, somebody gave me some food earlier on he says, do you want some? He pulls out a box of fried chicken and places it between us. “ I always think its a good thing to share what you have, so I always do, go on help yourself. ” The gesture really gets me. 

We eat & talk & at one point I ask him if he could wish for anything what would it be, I suppose it was a bit of a purient question, and I regretted asking immediately after the words left my mouth, he replied a place in a hostel, a residential hostel, & to find work. His dreams are the most basic of all and begin with a roof over his head.  

Shortly afterwards the rain begins again and it’s time to move, I want to be able to do something for Andrew, but my wallet is empty. The only thing I can do is to hold out my hand, we shake & I wish him well, I meant it wholeheartedly.   

As I head home I think about the day, of setting out to protest 45 & what he stands for & meeting Andrew. The young man with nothing, who sleeps rough, has mental health issues, the young man prepared to share the little he had. In him I find more humanity, more decency than the leader of the worlds most powerful nation. There is something quite wrong with this state of affairs, surely we deserve the best of people to lead us, not the worst?

Life gives no guarantees, least of all to give us what we deserve, the only thing I do believe is that as long as there are people like Andrew in the World, with decency and humanity, able to give when nothing is returned, to be gentle and generous when all they’ve received has been harsh, that maybe there is still hope for us all.


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