Trout Eggs in Boro Nashimescro Tan

Trout Eggs in Boro Nashimescro Tan (the place with the big racecourse – Romani)

In River by Ted Hughes – a collection of poems about a year in the life of a river and the salmon’s cycle – he writes, in ‘Flesh of Light’, about salmon eggs:  “eyes of ova/round and swell”  – and riffs on the earth as female, her great fertility in ‘Salmon Eggs’: “Perpetual mass/Of the waters/Wells from the cleft. / This is the swollen vent/ Of the nameless/Teeming inside atoms – and inside the haze/ And inside the sun and inside the earth.”  Hughes, later condemned by a certain period of literary feminism for his patriarchal oppression of Sylvia Plath, pondering the monstrous creativity of the woman’s swollen vent.

It’s 1967.  Some schoolgirls aged sixteen are crowding round a bench in a science lab, as their biology teacher shows them a wide, glass container filled with water and trouts’ eggs.  Light spills through the open,high windows, lemony May sunlight that warms the wood of the benches, the air is full of birdsong and Spring. On the bench, the eggs float in the water, inert, pale, round, each with its dark, mysterious dot of life.  In the course of time, in studious quietness, the girls draw the round eggs with dots, the dot lengthening to a comma, and finally th emergent troutlets, their organs shockingly visible through a still transparent body, a large fish eye shining.  

With Hughes hanging over my shoulder, his tweed jacket scratchy, his Yorkshire vowels and uncomfortable values scratchier still, I fall to thinking about the cautiously slow and indirect way in which we girls – ourselves with new breasts, teeming with eggs, with bleeding fertile uteri, full of hormonal yearnings for boyfriends in our hothouse girls’ grammar school, growing up in the decade of The Pill and sexual ‘liberation’ which was, however, not yet for us  – were invited, without explicit reference to this being our ‘sexual education’, to contemplate sexual reproduction through first, the buttercup – cross section diagram, and then the trout (same), before moving onto the rabbit (same) and finally a hasty glance at human reproduction as pretty much the same kind of thing really – sufficiently covered by labelling yet another mimeographed cross-section of the male and female reproductive system for homework.  In glass cupboards, glass jars contain dead animals – a mouse, a puppy, a seahorse – and, if you knew where to look, a human foetus.  Young girls ripe for sex crowd round the bowl of trouts’ eggs, witnessed by a lonely and forlorn grey-coloured infanta and her court of dead grey mice, puppies and seahorses.

On my bed one day then, the western sun falling on the bed covers, a small booklet with a discreetly grey cover.  Wordlessly placed there, an action as wordless as the purpose of the study of buttercups and trout and rabbits, a medical booklet written by ‘A Nurse’ described what girls should know about sexual reproduction, without once mentioning what actually happened to the penis that could be ‘inserted’ into the vagina, so that for too long a time I puzzled – wordlessly – about how the floppy object I’d caught glimpses of could ever – without such extreme social and physical awkwardness that one would be mad to bother – be so ‘inserted’.  The nurse’s grey information I hid in the airing cupboard, from time to time re-reading it to see if I could have somehow missed the telling fact.

Larkin, in his rueful manner, remarks that before the Annus Mirabilis of 1963 when “sexual intercourse began”, that “Up to then there’d only been/…A shame that started at sixteen/And spread to everything.”  The facts of life. The fact of life being such awkwardness, such wordlessness – out of which silent female seclusion we eventually burst into the bright colours and loud music of “The Sixties” – such a shout as would chase that furtive, whispered world into the shadows and out of our lives forever – a window that didn’t just open but slammed open, it seemed at the time, throwing light in and letting us out.

What are the streets of your life?

This is a riff on something I read which I can’t remember where it came from.  Apologies to the author of the original article.

So it was, then, that he had invited her, Marthe, to a Sunday walk on a cold, bright day in February. He couldn’t afford to take her to dinner, he said, but a Sunday stroll he could afford, and anyway, quoting Balzac, “strolling is the gastronomy of the eye.”  By way of come on, he suggested the idea of The Delirious Museum, which is, he explained, any  crowded but unfamiliar street that would allow them to stroll, comme des flaneurs, observing with interest but in a disengaged way, the unfathomable complexity of the city’s past. Any street will do, Marcel said to Marthe – any street can be the Delirious Museum. It is just a matter of attention – not to the overblown state monuments and architectural public gestures, but to the ordinary details of any old street. “What are the streets of your life?” he pressed her. “Mine are Rue de Pourquoi-Pas, Place St. Helene, Rue de la Colombe.”

“You can learn a lot about the past – and it’s a pleasant distraction too,” he coaxed. Street signs, par exemple, you can see that the famous white on blue plaques are sometimes placed over names cut into the stone buildings. Did she know that the revolutionaries had decreed that no royal or religious epithets were to be allowed and that was why no saints’ names were allowed. Later, Napoleon, as with so many things, standardised the signs.

>> What are the streets of your life?  The 1950s suburbs and the 1960s estates. History in hedges and roses and street names.  Willow Way. Links Road. Prospect Terrace. Old Orchard. There were no willows in Willow Way – were there once? Where Holman Hunt had painted the Hogsmill River? The breezy shoreline golf links where the skylarks sang at four in the morning, and the salmon fishers had once hauled their coble boats up the beach..  Was there once a prospect of the River Dee at Prospect Terrace, now obscured by fish packing factories, the railway yards, the castellated prison?  Was there once a  well-to-do family in the house, smugly overlooking their prospect from the top of the hill,  now isolated and semi-derelict in a modern estate of white pebble-dashed bungalows? What civic mind decreed that what people wanted was street names that  evoked a lost countryside, while simultaneously attesting to guilty acknowledgement that those very streets lay over the countryside they had destroyed.  Old Orchard, a 1960s estate of small houses in a new town built for London ‘overspill’ as it was called, evoking a nostalgia of ‘oldness’ as desirable, nostalgic, prized – a prettiness of cherry blossom, of nature’s free bounty, for city dwellers leaving their urban, old,  ‘condemned’ homes for a better life in a new house, ‘in the country’.  Old Orchard was a pig farm. It stank. It was noisy with oinks.

On that cold city afternoon Marcel showed Marthe that in les places, you could still see that the ground floors of the grand houses had been given over to shops and workplaces – even now small businesses crowded the pedestrianised streets. In London, by contrast, business was banned from impinging on the lives of the nobility. Nothing of the noisy, haphazard vitality of the people who passed their lives in the streets, hauling, banging, dragging, calling, disputing, would ever penetrate the hushed and secluded life being lived indoors by the propertied classes in England. Marcel and Marthe sat at a table set on the pavement in the loud promiscuity of the street. “When you go into the museum, what do you see? Teacups from which no one drinks, hand mirrors that reflect nothing, pictures which will never be bought by someone who knew just where they wanted to hang them in their home, stuffed animals poised as if startled and about to run from your gaze, things torn from their workaday context – the inkless pen, the fishless basket, the single shoe, the empty oil jar, the lintel of a door that has no entrance…”

Tales from the therapy room

We’re talking about work.  She’s a part-time care assistant, working for local social work services. She works with elderly people, some of whom have dementia, many of whom are frail and ill, most of whom are lonely and poor.  We discuss what it is like to be old, poor, and on your own, or with a partner who is mentally or physically ill, and also what it is like to work with the old – to be party to the perceived ‘downward trajectory’ of this time in their lives, about the inevitability of death, the increasing loss of friends, family and partners, and the approaching end of their own lives.

–     She dreams, she says, of walking over the hills. Alone.  The wind in her hair, fresh air to breathe, a day ahead with just her and the landscape.

She complains about her exhaustion.  She says she looks at her colleagues and they look exhausted too. The demands to cover more cases, to work faster, is relentless.  Do six cases, not three, a day.  Close down any outstanding cases by referring them to universal services.  I look at her questioningly.  Universal services, she explains, are those that are publicly available to anyone: tell your clients to go to the library and pick up information there; go on the internet…  Her laughter is infectious, as we think of her elderly patients who can’t get out of the house without help, or who have dementia, or who can’t leave a partner even to go shopping.  I keep saying to myself – stop laughing.  It’s not funny.  What are we doing, laughing?  Why do we deal with this by laughing. Ha ha haing away the outrageousness and futility of this paltry idea of ‘care’ .  That she should have to perpetrate this outrageousness in her reports. It’s a betrayal of the old people she works with, she says, of her reasons for doing the work.  She goes into their houses, gets to know them, they get to trust her and she gets fond of them, they reveal their worries and dependency to her, and then she is supposed to tell them there aren’t going to be any regular visits, they might see someone every six weeks and, because of another new organisational practice, it won’t be the same person each time, just someone who reads their case notes prior to the visit; or that some service can’t after all be provided – they are, instead, to go to the library and read about their rights. She hates her betrayal of them, hates being forced to be this way.

–    She wanted to be a writer.  She wrote and wrote until she was ready to come to therapy.  It was her  way of coping.  She could only come to therapy once she’d sorted things out in her mind, by writing.  She wrote letters to her old teacher, a man whose authority excited her, his recognition of her, her school girl’s intellect, the thrill of his expectations of her mind, his body blocking the doorway that she had to squeeze past.

She’s caused trouble again, she sighs.  What have you done?  She giggles  – (semi)apologetically.  We are supposed to love her supposed ‘naughtiness’.  I do, but wonder how useful it is for us to think of it this way.   A couple of overgrown adolescents, dissing the adults.  Could we think about her making complaints about work in a grown up way – would that offer her more imaginative ways out of her impasse, more effective ways to change things?  Seeing it as ‘naughtiness’ castrates the potency of her criticisms, perhaps.  Safer that way?

So what’s this trouble you’ve caused then?  She’s received replies from another social work office in another part of the county.  There has been a reorganisation and, in a new and more remote system of accountability, the staff in this office now have a supervisory role.  They must read and pass the recommendations coming in from the uploaded care assistants’ reports. This is a strategy to control demand on a limited local authority budget. My client’s recommendations have been sent back to her because the office says she hasn’t filled the form in correctly.  It’s obvious from the form what was intended so my client suspects this is just a delaying tactic or, possibly, that someone who is ‘directed’ to only accept correctly-filled-in forms is not allowed to use his or her intelligence about them.  She writes back about the waste of time this involves.  Also, the office questions her recommendations.  They ask, “Have you considered universal services?”  She writes back, “No. I wouldn’t be recommending x if I thought universal services would do the trick. This client has dementia.”  It all takes time. Time when they could be getting on with finding some proper help for the client.  She is oppressed by her sense of urgency and ‘their’ lack of urgency.  She is frustrated by their questioning her decisions all the time.  Stupid.  It’s stupid.  She thinks they probably think of her as a trouble maker.

Could she not think of  ‘being a trouble maker’ as being someone trying to speak back to authority/power from the grassroots?  Oh dear, here I go, off the therapy-piste again. It’s that word, grassroots. Perhaps, I wonder to her, there’s a way to dignify ‘naughtiness’ by saying what it is – the resistance of the labour force to impossible demands placed on them? To speak with and from the authority of those who actually do the work?

But there’s the shame of having to tell supervisors and managers that the work is piling up, she’s not managing her case load, she’s weak because she has to confess that she’s feeling so stressed.  Being told to rework your recommendations perhaps feels like being told off at school again, your best isn’t good enough, do it again.  Shame isolates us, I say – we hide our sense of not coping out of shame.  When we begin to talk to co-workers, it is often an enormous sense of relief to discover that it isn’t you, your pathetic personality or difficult home life, it’s the work  that is the problem of not coping. Was there a way she could ask her manager if the team could have an hour a week to meet to identify shared  concerns and find solutions –  might allowing them this time appeal to managers as a way of them working more effectively?  But it’s a new manager, replacing the nice one that she liked (and who solved the workload problem by overworking herself, taking on her employees’ cases herself), this one is a ‘career’ manager, my client thinks. And some of her colleagues would think it’s risky – they just want to keep their heads down, she says. She wonders why.  Perhaps they’re afraid of losing their mortgages.

I look at her questioningly.  It’s a climate of fear.  Re-organisations, directives, more work coming down the chute all the time – perhaps they’ll be re-organised out of their jobs if they say they don’t like the way things are being done.  Each worker isolated in her job insecurity from the next. She wonders if she’d quite like to be ‘re-organised’ out of her job, do things she really cares about.  You really care about this job, I point out.

Recently,  her team were re-organised, something that seems to happen regularly.  Re-organisation meant removal from the office where the team often met each other and could share and discuss their experiences of the work they did.  It’s more efficient (rental and heating/maintenance costs reduced) if care assistants  ‘work from home’.  They are given shiny free laptops in order to do this. My client discovers, without much surprise but without resistance, that she works even more unpaid hours than before, following up the visits she makes to her case-load with lengthy assessment reports and recommendations for various ‘care packages’ to be put in place.She has a long backlog of unclosed cases that she’s always not finding the time to deal with because of all the crisis cases she is dealing with in the present.

The care assistants are ‘encouraged’ to visit the new office once a week where they ‘hotseat’ at desks vacated by other social workers – it’s so you feel part of the team of social workers, it’s to ‘stay in touch’, the managers say – but my client misses the ongoing conversations about work, the shared problem-solving and the supportive comments and emotional warmth from colleagues that was all part of being a ‘team’ with desks of their own, and a place for them – symbolically as actually – in the mind of the workplace.

Her supervisor offers to help with my client’s complaint that she has too much to do in the time available, even with all the extra unpaid time she gives to the work. Simples. She is just not working efficiently. Close down all these old cases – you just need to refer them to other services. Pass them on – most of them could be thought of as the responsibility of  mental health services. She knows she won’t.

“Tabu and the sodden habitat of Bogofarlo”

‘Torres Straits’ Modern Anthropological Society Minutes (2052: UK Branch)
Diary of Sir Biddley Biddulph, anthropologist on the natives of Bogofarlo. (Bog: 1217b (iii) – incomplete)
“It is tabu to make reference to the wetlands they live in, and so the natives have developed a psychoanalytically recognisable cultural practice of referring to the continuous rainfall as The Drought.  However, before I provide my psychoanthropological analysis of the cultural habits of the native peoples of Bogofarlo, it’s important to set down some – albeit tabu – facts about the environment. It’s been raining now non stop for forty years – here in Bogofarlo, the natives push their wooden punts between sodden thickets of alder and birch, constructing simple homes out of reeds and hazel wands which they line with the skins of voles and rabbits, sewn together by their skilful menfolk using strips of bark. Despite an unfriendly climate, the natives manage to keep warm in their mallard-skin slippers and cloaks of Canada geese feathers, living mainly off raw pike and frogs, and the pounded roots of shrubs and flowers in addition to the few scrawny chickens and emaciated goats which provide them, in a good season, with eggs, milk and cheese. The remaining islets of mud on which they and their livestock live their precarious lives are steadily disappearing into the waterplains. On Firedays the entire community gather on Tahnsenta Mound, a modest hill of dried yellow clay where the mysterious and holy Cansillas live, and, one by one, are led by their priests to reverently kneel and warm their hands at the Sacred Flame, burning in the lap of a stone family. In a eerily hypnotic drone, they pray for absolution, lamenting the faults in them that brought upon them the First Rains. They intone: Oh Fire, fierce warmer of our hands, our hearts, our souls, we worship you and call upon you to come once again into our lives. Pierce, oh spear of burning fire, the dribbly wetness of our sinful thoughts, scorch out from us the impure dankness of our mouldy vices … “

Therapy at the london occupation

Therapy at the London Occupation

So, it’s a freezing night and I’m sitting on one of those reclining cushioned patio chairs, under a bulb powered by a generator. I’m wearing all my clothes like the homeless so I’m feeling rather bulky but reasonably warm. There’s a sofa piled with sleeping bags, another camping chair and a little table with a battery lamp on it.  I have a fleeting image of traditional psychotherapy – someone lying on the couch, talking.  Really?  Here?  Do we zip up the tent for privacy? That seems a bit weird.

I’ve just come from the tail-end of the Rev Jesse Jackson’s speech outside the front of St Paul’s.  I’d missed the main part and when I arrived, he was saying phrases in a kind of mesmeric chant with pauses and they were being repeated by the audience, particularly by the black members.  The phrases seemed to be almost a whole long list of good thoughts, comforting and encouraging phrases, balm for the beleaguered. The audience murmured them back.  I left when the press began to ask questions, and sought out the welfare tent.

It’s slightly warmer here than six inches further outside.  I’m not alone.  A young woman studying anthropology has been given the job of filming ‘welfare’ at the Occupation, she’s asked permission on the googlegroup and done everything ethically about explaining what she’s doing  – and she’s been very helpful – showing me how to put the light on, and filling me in with what’s been going on in the Occupation.  She wants to capture, she says, the ordinariness of the occupation in its day-to-dayness rather than the dramatic events and key discussions. She is uncomfortable with the thought of having anything as formal as an interview, so we’re just chatting and I don’t really know if she plans to interview me or whether she’s actually here to ‘do some counselling’.

The tent is round the side of St Paul’s out of the main action – and as the time passes from 4 to 8 that night, I watch the crowds of office workers swell and then die away again as they hurry towards the tube on this cold night.  They look over, sometimes.  I smile, give a wave.  Shyly, some make eye contact and look as if they’d like to smile back. One or two women – well-to-do, mature – give in to their impulse and come and talk to us.  They ask, wistfully, plaintively, do we think the Occupation will achieve anything. Oh this is counselling too, I think.

One man in an expensive black coat and white silk scarf – do posh people still wear them, then?   – shouts at us to go away. The young woman with the camera says when she’s been here before the welfare people have ‘huddled together’ and not made contact with the passers by.  I wonder about this, about why they don’t and why I do.

J turns up.  J asks if he can sit with us and can he leave his suitcase in our tent for safety. It’s very heavy. The young woman had said that one of the things she had noticed about the welfare tent was that you couldn’t tell when people came what they were there for.  It’s an interesting question. She meant that when a person turned up you didn’t know if they wanted or needed counselling or welfare – or whether they were there for company, or any other reason, and that that must be very different for us counsellors.  I agreed it was but that even with ‘usual’ counselling people are not always sure what they want, it’s not always easy to know, and perhaps if people pitch up at the welfare tent and want to chat – for any reason and for no reason – counselling or something that might be a new way of thinking about counselling might take place.

J tells us he is going to do a turn for the Occupation and acts out some of the things he will be saying.  He’s against the monarchy, he’s for ‘multilevel farming’ which turns out to mean a way of managing livestock for fertilisation of the land and providing work suited to different levels of people’s capability, he’s very worried about the loss of biodiversity… and he’s going to have a word with the archbishop about his scruffiness. He gives us snatches of his turn: “Bonnie Prince Charlie (monkey noises, chimp gestures) the King of the Great British Banana Republic…”  I realise eventually – so slow on the uptake – that he’s talking about Prince Charles.  He’s got a suitcase full of bits of blackboard painted with symbols.  Round discs with happy and grr faces on either side. Bits of blackboard that represent Westminster in the gutter.  Blackboard swords and other weapons that have what J thinks are more peaceable symbols on their obverse: hammers, tape measures…  He will use these in his act.  He’ll be wearing a monkey mask. It will be at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning – “earth dawn” – and he alone can save us – he can save the UK in 21 days, “no ifs, no buts, no messing about”, Europe will take longer (60 days) and the world a 100 days.  J asks what I think of his claim that he can save the world.  I say the problem will be convincing other people, and it might be hard to do it alone. He asks if he can smoke and we say yes. What, even if it’s funny tobacco?  He rolls a very thin roll up. He hasn’t had a drink for 3 months but today he’s got to psych himself up he says, sloshing some whisky into his cup of tea from the half bottle in his jacket, pausing, and then adding a judicious extra drop.  The Occupation is a no-drink, no-drugs space. The young woman and I don’t intervene.

J chats on about his plans to save the world – he worries that we might not be ready to hear his real views because they are mystical and involve magic – and being Jesus and not from this earth. He kindly fetches us cups of tea, though.  I think to myself that if anyone in real distress – what do I mean? –  did come round the corner to our lonely Welfare tent because they wanted to ‘do counselling’, that J might put them off a bit, and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere soon.  But no-one does, anyway.

We speak to the big security guy dressed in black with the mobile phone – he tells us that there are security guys sleeping in the tents behind our tent, so we’re to know that we have support ‘if anything happens’.

The young woman asks if I want to be part of her project and I agree.  We move the light so that it hangs just over my head and I have to hold the flex to keep it from swaying which is giving the film a rather horror-movie effect. This is better, though, than illuminating my face from below with the battery lamp – even more horror-movie like.  We decide it’s ok for J to join in too.  What’s my background?  Why am I here?  How is it different to doing counselling in my usual setting? Inside, I panic, rolling my eyes at the thought of committing myself to ‘a view’.  What if I’m wrong or an idiot? Look I’m a counsellor because I prefer listening to having views of my own, dammit.  My inner me gives me a shove and says, do it for once, and then I’m out there, saying things – bits from a Quaker past – living adventurously – bits from Socialism – capitalist system really really doesn’t work even though I’ve spent my life trying to play the game and just can’t pretend anymore, need for change, old Left unable to adapt but inescapable the need for a genuine uprising of working people and Occupation isn’t it  – bits about moral duty towards the younger generation left to live in a world that is frighteningly without work, hope, even survival – bits about wanting to explore what a radical view of psychotherapy might mean, could the occupation space be an environment in which to practise that idea?  Fortunately, J reminds us that he is the  solution  to these problems –  he is going to save us, it will take 21 days, we’ll see, tomorrow, 9 o’clock, earth dawn, on the steps of St Paul’s.   When I say that the occupation is an opportunity for me to experiment…. I was going to say in a different way of being in community with other people… J pounces on the word.  You shouldn’t, he says firmly, experiment on people. He begins to talk about psychiatric interventions with people with mental health issues, and is knowledgeable about drug therapies and also about electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) which, he says, works, in the short term – calms you down, he says. The young woman says she thinks it’s wrong even so.  J says he has drugs to keep him calm.  I nod.

We settle into a tolerant threesome as J rattles on   – I watch the passers by, wonder what the time is, muse about sitting in a tent in the middle of London hoping to do something useful.  Is this useful?   Is it useful to talk with people in a different way?  Shouldn’t I know some answers by my age?  We are  joined by the other counsellor, F,  who is a drama therapist.  He is small, neat and quiet and concerned that Welfare seems to be doing so little for the people in the occupation.  He wonders if it would be possible to run a group.  The young woman says some people are thinking of doing this at one of the other London occupation sites. There are regular Monday evening meetings for welfare people at which issues and plans are discussed  –  F says he’s attended one.   The young woman informs us that there is another occupation site being set up in Hackney.  P, another counsellor, stops by briefly on his way to pick up his daughter from university. Sorry, he can’t stop tonight, but he’ll be around the next day – will the young woman be there then?

A young man comes by with a carrier bag.  Are we first aid?  No, we’re welfare.  First aid is next door but there’s no one there.  There should be – it’s supposed to be 24/7.  He’s from a hospital – he’s brought toothbrushes, some first aid stuff, a plastic flask for clean water.  Would we give it to the first aiders when they come – from R?  From X hospital? Yes of course.

Someone brings us a plate with a bacon roll on it.  It’s supposed to be for the person in the first aid tent but there’s no one there.  He goes away and then comes back.  You might as well have it.  The young woman and I share it between us. We sit on, our hands and noses getting cold, gossiping about the welfare meetings and individuals’ comments.  W had said at the meeting that the therapists might need the occupation more than the occupation needs the therapists.  I think that a good challenging comment – why am I here?  Why do I think I need to be here? I’m OK about admitting my countertransference, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t actually be articulated and thought through. Does the occupation need a welfare tent?  It thinks it does but what does it want one for?  On the googlemail come various ideas – shouldn’t we be teaching the occupation about wellbeing – someone has a website and a business that trains people in wellbeing. He’d like to offer his services.

And then our meditative little group is interrupted as sparky dangerous energy arrives, first with the arrival of Angel, the dog (‘like Bill Sikes’ dog  – yeah, Bull’s Eye’), followed by Angel’s owner  and his friend, and then their girlfriends. Angel, like any dog, occupies our space with aplomb, and eventually settles on the sofa between  F and the young woman, accepts the petting that the young woman and I offer, while  F leans away and looks rather worried about his coat.  Then Angel’s owner, tall, in his thirties, lean faced, missing teeth, talking fast. He adores his dog, he says, in a charming admission of soppiness, as he shakes my hand and welcomes me to the occupation as if he owns it.  Yes, she’s spoiled, I love her to bits he says as he crams himself without seeking leave into the sofa on the other side of F who is now squashed between Angel and Angel’s owner, and looking rather alarmed. Angel’s owner rapidly produces a big spliff and asks J for a light.  He admonishes J for his greed at wanting to share the spliff and lectures him for a while on the etiquette of having to wait until he’s offered but that he will relent now and let J have a turn. Meanwhile, Angel’s owner’s friend is standing in front of us wearing a body length blanket torn into tatters.  He looks even more Dickensian than Angel the dog.  He’s declaiming (accurately) – for no obvious reason – the speech from Macbeth about man’s brief hour upon the stage. He puts particular emphasis on the nihilistic last words, “Signifying NOTHING”. What a literary pair they seem to be, these rather alarming young men with their lack of teeth and their racing-car speediness – completely out of it.

The young woman murmurs to me that she’s feeling uncomfortable about the drugs and alcohol abuse that we now seem to be hosting, with the two waif-girls in the background, saying things that I’m not able to make out.   I say to the young woman that I could go to the information tent if we felt we needed to get some support but what I am hoping to do is say to Angel’s owner that perhaps he could go and smoke somewhere else because we’re the welfare tent and we need to keep the space open for others to come and they might be put off.  Would I say this?  What would Angel’s owner say to me?  Could the situation escalate?   But as is the way of their lives, news comes via one of the waif-girls that ‘something’s happening’ and they all disappear in a flash to ‘sort it out’.  Like a whirl of leaves in an eddy, they’re gone.

We settle back into our quietness.  The passers by are fewer in number.  Our breath hangs in the air.  A reverend comes by and we talk about the Occupation.  “I’m from the North and I speak bluntly.”  He it was who admonished St Pauls’ for closing their doors to the public.  J asks him if he knows the archbish.  The Rev says drily, ‘Not personally.’   He thinks that St Pauls should have talked theology sooner and related itself to the aims of the occupation but now he is disappointed by the occupation’s failure to think about ‘the theology of occupation’,  The occupation people had said they would but have cancelled. He wonders if the occupation now represent anyone but themselves.  We discuss the meaning of ‘occupation’ – it has bad associations for people of his (my) age, he says.  The young woman has been on ‘reclaim the night’ marches and we wonder whether it helps to think about the meaning of claiming spaces back for people, about the original intention to occupy the City space rather than St Pauls, about what it means to be ‘in people’s faces, unignorable’ by just being there, about not having to have a pre-set agenda.  The Rev is finding it difficult  to tolerate J’s interventions about how he has come to  save the world, 21 days, tomorrow, earth dawn.

We check the time – it’s nearly time to close the tent.  I share my chocolate. The young woman and I give up on the ‘interview’ promising that perhaps we’ll continue another time and she packs away her camera.  We disconnect the light bulb and zip up the tent.  J has found a bed for the night in the first-aid tent.  He packs up his blackboard bits and stows his suitcase in his new home. We wish him well with his act tomorrow morning.  21 days. Earth dawn. On the steps of St Pauls.