The Straight Road/ Johny Brown / Chapter 10/ August-September

The autumn leaves begin to fall but here we go , here we go ,time to get your Guido masks out …Its August, Susan embraces her new life , two hearts beating as one and so excited at the thought of  marching in song through to September and the Million Mask March.

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AUGUST

It became an infectious obsession and soon it was all they talked about. The day they would leave this backwater town of smug Surreyites and engage with real people, proper people, that they may effect some change in the world. Sam insisted though that Susan was still not properly healed and she wasn’t ready for London even if the situation was holding him back.

And then the Million Mask March reared its head again and Susan knew they both had to go despite Sam’s reservations. To bypass any protest she bought two tickets herself, that she had saved from her pay, and presented them over the table one night as they sat at their respective laptops. She was excited that they were going to do something meaningful together.

Student Loans, Syria, Isis, Surveillance, Climate Change, all these terrible things were happening in the world and this was their chance for their voice to be heard. Samuel nodded gravely, he respected Susan greatly though he was maybe a bit put out she had undertaken the buying of tickets without consulting him but woah, ok, matey, bring it on…

And then it happened. Susan found out she was pregnant and the family was overjoyed. It affected Sam the most. This would change everything he declared. Susan felt good inside and looked forward to the Million Mask March more than ever. It would be three of them together on the march now with Susan carrying the very hope for the future inside her as they marched: wow.

 

SEPTEMBER

The big day arrived and they both got dressed in shirts of black and packed the Guido masks they’d bought online. Susan told Sam she was excited he was finally going to show her what it was all about and felt honoured to have him lead her on to a march. She felt very protected by him. Sam warned her that if it went off and he got stuck in she would be on her own.

They got to the station early and Sam paced up and down the length of the platform in quite a hyped up manner. Susan wished she could calm him down but admired his passion and his commitment to the integral cause. He looked ready for action. They were going to stay overnight in the new apartment the family had recently bought in the Docklands area.

The train pulled in and they hopped aboard. Susan busied herself stashing her rucksack in the luggage hold and then turned to deal with Sam’s. She lunged at fresh air. He wasn’t there. She looked up and down the carriage; maybe he was in the toilet? That would be so typical of Sam to just break the rules about using the cubicle when the train was at station.

She sat herself in the designated seat and waited for him to return, the train passed through another stop before a text arrived on her phone. ‘Damn, I realised I was wearing the wrong shirt, went back to change into my lucky black Anarchist shirt, these things matter, you go ahead and I will catch you up’.

Susan rang Sam’s number frantically, but the answering service kicked in every time. And the countryside of Surrey was already giving way to the ramshackle outer suburbs of London. She blinked her eyes and felt like crying with frustration a moment before feeling the muscles in her arm, strong, newly developed muscles, that made her feel a bit better.

And then she started thinking a bit clearer and the suspicious shadow of a thought danced in her mind that Samuel might have actually chickened out on the trip for whatever reason, and you know what, fuck it, there was no turning back. She was going to London, she was going to protest, she was going to the Million Mask March in Trafalgar Square.

She was going because it meant the world to her and more for the love of ordinary people rather than for grand political causes. Susan couldn’t wait. She had thoughts and she wanted to use them. She had a voice and she wanted to express herself. The world was so palpably wrong that she wanted to at least make the point and try to exert a bit of what was right.

And London itself… the last time she was there her mind was full of religious flotsam and spiritual jetsom, she spent so much time striving to shine that all she did was cast a pall of gloom around any room she walked in, but she knew she had meant well and had tried to do good even then, but now, she was a different person, she hoped so anyway.

But was it a different city to the one she had left? Susan looked hard as the train rolled through South London. The run down social housing estates stuck like venereal crabs between the shiny new investment towers and the mayors bumbling benevolent face beaming out despotically from billboards everywhere. She could feel the change in pace already.

The City had palpably changed. She had definitely changed. Both were changing still. Who knows where either body was going, who knows how they would end up? This was life and living itself. No turning back now. Susan took notes. There were things she needed to get down, many things to say and a lot of things to do.

At Waterloo she lost herself in the sheer mass of people around her. There were many different nationalities and she could hear differing tongues and the advertising seemed so brash so bold and so in her face. She stood a good twenty minutes on the concourse breathing in the hubbub and hurrah before descending down the steps and into the city proper.

Susan followed the crowd. She was soon swept along to the Thames.  The brutalism of the South Bank was up to her right and a train line leading towards Charing Cross ran on her left side. Susan ascended the stairs of Hungerford Bridge. A busker’s saxophone bounced off the rhythm of a passing train and echoed out over the water.

She looked down to see a boat pass under her and a gaggle of Japanese tourists waving up. She would have liked to stop and wave back but the jostling moving crowd kept her moving forward. She could feel her heart beating a little bit faster again, the evening sun dipped behind a dark cloud as a shiver of a brief chill ran through the crowd.

She realised that the other people around her were walking with the same purpose she had and were headed for Trafalgar Square too. Things were getting very interesting. Voices were raised and passions high. There was a shared fervour in the air. Susan felt alive. Where would she end up? What would happen? What did she have to offer the communal spirit here?

In Trafalgar Square she looked around and felt great optimism. All these people, so many placards expressing original thoughts, surely there was enough volume here to be heard, to make aware the demand for what is right, and good, and just, well, to effect change? It was amazing to be part of something so vital. She tucked in behind a banner that caught her eye.

She looked up at Nelson’s column and watched some lads clamber aboard one of the lions to wave a huge flag. Looking over towards the National Gallery she saw a message transmitted across the building in neon green hipster typeface, it was from the police telling people they had the power to unmask them if they so wished or needed to.

A girl next to her put a sarcastic finger up to the message whilst her friends took a photo, they immediately got busy on their phones, sharing and giggling so it seemed. Almost everyone was wearing a mask or was covered by a scarf and so Susan put her mask on too. She took a photo and mailed it to Sam. So far the experience bore no relation to any of the Black Bloc tales he’d told.

Soon they were surging out of the square and down towards Whitehall, the objective being to reach Parliament Square after making their voices heard outside Downing Street. Susan was surprised that there were more police than the protestors but they were acting reasonably enough, laughing joking and clowning about with the protestors.

Two of the police even started dancing to the sound system on a bicycle that was parked by one of the fountains. They had taken their jackets off and were down to their white shirts, one of the policemen was showing off Viking tattoo design work on gym toned arms and his blonde hair bounced as he moved quite ecstatically to the drum and bass sound.

They could be at carnival, someone said. ‘That will change later’, another replied. These words came from a loud and cheery ginger bearded guy who had a camera attached to his head. ‘The mask will slip mark my words’. Susan wondered quite what he meant; they weren’t wearing masks, just really nice matey smiles. She felt really good.

The bearded guy introduced himself as Matt. He was filming everything as they progressed and this was going to a live feed on the Internet. ‘I’m competing with Russia Today, but I know I will get better footage’. Stick by me. You can help me interview the participants’. He passed her a little silver flask and she took a gulp. Her throat burnt. Pleasantly. Whisky.

When they got to the heavily guarded terrorist proof gates of Downing Street they stood and directed measured chants at David Cameron and George Osbourne. Ian Duncan Smith was branded a vile murderer of the poor and disabled whilst Boris Johnson was called out as being a mere affable rogueish cunt. Susan was taken aback by the vituperation.

Matt explained a few of the chants to Susan. The Pig Fucker chant for instance related to a recent tabloid front page about the prime minister placing his anatomy in the orifice of a dead animal. Matt couldn’t testify to the story’s authenticity but it did make the material for a jolly good chant right now, as did Osbourne’s own cocaine and whore tabloid expose couplet.

Wow, thought Susan, these guys seems really tainted. She had never thought of her politicians in these terms before and Sam hadn’t really bothered about them, he always wanted to convey the notion of the ideals of pure underground anarchy to her and this lot he said were far to pedestrian and mainstream to bother wasting militant time on.

For mundane types though they were certainly stirring up a lot of passion now, and so many variations on the grudges, and spite. Palestine came up a lot, and Syria too, then there were a paedophile angle to the chants, as well as fracking, and fossil fuels everyone here were grinding big axes but for all the grinding the gates remained solid and high and unbreached.

Susan didn’t feel qualified or inclined even to join in with this torrent of abuse. Matt didn’t join in either but carried on his informed commentary to Susan, and his camera, of what every chant meant and from where it’s provenance was derived, it was all very educational in a highly deranged manner. She would definitely have tales to tell Sam now.

There was a sudden rush of panic. ‘Aw no, the police are coming, aw no, we got to go in a different direction. Go another way’. The crowd was predominately white but there were lots of Spanish Italian Polish and Latin voices. The crowd bolted down Whitehall. Susan and Matt got carried along with the flow. At times it felt like she was being swept off her feet such was the momentum.

At one point she was bounced off a monument. Matt pulled her back, asked her if she was ok to go on. She had no time to answer and could only offer an exhilarated smile as the crowd surged in hyped panic again.  Whistles and horns were filling the night air now. They were turned sharp around a corner to see Westminster all lit up like gold.

The beauty of the building and its incongruity in the context of this march took her breath away for a moment. Big Ben chimed above the noise of the crowd and a woman on a motorised wheel chair gave her the most radiant optimistic smile. There was plenty of love in the air and Susan wished Sam were here to share it. She took another snap and tried to send but no signal.

The sky was grey above, dark, yet illuminated by sodium. ‘We can’t go on the bridge we’ll get kettled.’ Matt told her. Instead they turned another corner and started walking back along the embankment.  ‘Can I borrow your mask to have my photo taken’ asked an American tourist. They laughed at this and Susan gave the tourist Sam’s unused Guido mask.

“Now go and do something good, something revolutionary’ Sam shouted and pushed the tourist into the crowd. It seemed a defining moment for Susan somehow, like Sam himself was disappearing into the throng. She laughed and pushed on with Matt, it certainly wasn’t about Sam anymore. He had had his chance to come and had not taken it.

A gang of black youth wheeled through on red Boris bikes that advertised the financial firm Santander. They made the clunky bikes look unutterably cool she thought. An ambulance drove slowly down the road and the throng parted in a civilised manner. People kept thrusting leaflets into her hand. At first she accepted them but it became a bit too much in the end.

And then there was the eye lit up neon red over on the South Bank and the river running so dark deep and cold just below her. She stuck next to Matt and on they progressed past Portcullis House. MP’s stood at the window smirking as they surveyed the crowd below. She would never have noticed them if Matt hadn’t of pointed this out. One of them caught Susan’s eye and laughed at her.

A police helicopter kept swooping down its ugly noise drowning out their spirited chants. They marched along the embankment before turning again and finding themselves back in Trafalgar Square. And round they went in a circle. It seemed the protestors were going nowhere. They knew they would have to break away somehow; it was drizzly and quite cold now.

Susan couldn’t help but look up again.  She saw more office workers, quite detached behind office glass, drinking champagne, laughing, taking photos with their phones and no doubt filling their twitter feeds with the snaps. This felt somehow not right. They in there drinking wine in the warmth, Susan’s lot out here in the cold wanting nothing but change for good.

Susan was getting to grips with the plethora of masks and flags around her though and she liked the pirate ones best. They found themselves at the gates to Downing Street again and the same chants went up. Susan felt much more minded to join in this time as another brief conflict of push and shove erupted this one provoking a thousand documenting flashbulbs.

The police were playing a patient game of entrapment, waiting to kettle still, every one kept saying that, every one seemed to be looking out for it, but no one single person was there to lead in a forced direction away from the force, and the jokes the policemen cracked were a bit heavier now, a bit more cynical and sinister. The march had a licence until 9 o clock. It was 8 at that moment.

The protestor’s emotions were building in intensity and all around her pink fluorescent smoke bombs were being discharged. The chants were narrowing down and rising in pitch. ‘Whose Street, Our Street’ was repeated over and over it’s timbre becoming more demanding, followed quickly by pig noises. The cops in turn were beating their batons against their shields.

Susan could feel something that she had never felt before now, a quickening of the blood and a spinning of the head, scared yet inspired, knowing that this energy had to go somewhere that it was being contained by the police wall, that there would have to be a reaction, and she was very much caught up in the moment. She would do whatever was to be done.

Someone passed a huge flag to her and she grabbed hold of the pole as the cold drizzly wind caught hold of it. She felt proud, it was the anonymous flag, a red circle, a black A encircled with black laurel leaves, she felt cool as fuck and just a bit powerful as another chant went up, one of Scum, Scum, Scum. This one directed straight at the line of police in front of her.

The sheer din of chaos was deafening, sirens, glass smashing, batons drumming on shields, horns, whistles and the smell of skunk absolutely everywhere, the strong weed permeating the damp night air. They were pushed up another street and then found a break to run down another. Yes! They had left the impending kettle behind.

They poured into this Queen Anne’s Gate where an abandoned police car was on fire, protestors stood on the bonnet and took selfies with this qualified trophy. ‘Honey Trap’ said Matt mysteriously. On the corner of Great George Street they found a man slumped in a doorway. Blood was oozing out of a wound in his head and his moans were audible.

Susan made a quick bandage whilst Matt filmed. It was streamed live on the net. The man said he had been hit over the head with a police truncheon for no reason he could discern. Matt seemed quite pleased with this, if this incident appeared in the mainstream media at all, the slant would be on the police assailant acting in self-defence.

Here was Matt though offering a direct outlet for the wronged man and whilst Susan asked him where he was from and how he came to find himself in his situation Matt filmed and tweeted. They were knocked repeatedly, all three of them, as they strove to conduct the interview, the crowd were becoming much less self-conscious now.

A great cry went up that they were to head for Buckingham Palace so they left the bloody head man and joined the throng of protesters trying first to access St James Palace. A luxury brand car drove straight into a protestor, knocking him to the ground, reversing sharply and speeding into the night before a crazy mob justice could be unleashed.

It seemed to drive people crazy though, more so because they had lost the target of their ire and all of a sudden they turned on a line of policemen and charged. The police took pure fright and turned on their heels and fled. Susan wasn’t sure she’d ever felt such exhilaration before and she wasn’t sure what was right or wrong anymore, it felt like she was in a film.

There was a moment of calm and Susan checked herself. Then another police charge brought her back into the game and she ran with about fifty others. Then they stopped turned and instinctively ran back at the police line, unleashing a hail of bottles and burning bins at their foe, who in turn now turned and fled. A policeman fell under a hail of missiles.

This frenzied bloody cat and mouse game went on awhile. They were way off from Buckingham Palace but that didn’t matter because notion and intent had changed and now Regent Street was the destination, they would find the Monsanto Offices and force their way in and now they were fragmenting into several groups to be as effective as others.

Susan’s kept her wits about her.  Nine o clock struck and the police started arresting protestors for public order offences for breaching the conditions of the march and it seemed to Susan they were just grabbing people at random, and all because they were protesting censorship, government corruption, and police brutality.

They were at the intersection of Oxford Street and Hanover Square now and Matt asked her if she fancied a drink. Yes she very much wanted that but felt there was still mileage to be had out of the night. They joined on to another group and made their way through Soho and Chinatown towards Trafalgar Square once more.

The neon of the Soho streets thrilled her heart and she noted it as somewhere to return to. A window of a shop went in to her right and then a doorway to an office. A crazy dance ensued through Gerard Street a dragon weaving through dragon land that moved at such a fast pace and then all of a sudden they were in Trafalgar Square itself.

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