Tuesday, June 1, 2010
So there I am at the gates of Downing Street, at around 3pm this afternoon, with a moderately raucous throng of people in purple demanding 'Fair Votes Now.' We're here to hand in a petition as thick as a man's thigh, demanding a referendum on proportional representation.
And it's all got a bit noisy and spontaneous, in a shufflingly British sort of way, and I've managed to end up at the front of the line, just behind all the people with the huge cameras, who are always there at protests in London but don't really count. This is the closest I've ever been to Number Ten and aha, here come the vans.
Three riot vans screech up and police in yellow jackets pour out of the hatches like predatory lymphocytes to sterilise the dissent. They stream into formation and edge us back from the gates, politely for now, but extremely firmly. One young policeperson's face is really close to mine as he shuffles us unseeingly back, and suddenly hey, I bloody know you, officer.
Last time I saw Officer X, he was wearing my underwear and a red velvet corset.
This was about three years ago, at a photoshoot for Genet studio show we were both involved in, in which I played a cross-dressing lesbian hooker in 18th-century Paris and he played, funnily enough, a career sadist. We were all set up in an empty wine bar to do the shoot for the publicity posters, and we decided it'd look great and also be kinda hot if we swapped clothes.
So we did, and then we did the play, and then we left university and went our separate ways in the way that young people do, me to urban squalor, activism and writing, him to be a state t-cell. I recognised him instantly, because he was doing the same flinty, murderous, slightly suggestive gaze into the middle distance that made his character so effective. He's clearly not going to be on the beat for long.
So I say, hey. And he says nothing. And I say, hey, name. And he says, oh- er, hi!
His flak jacket is still all up in my face. We exchange awkward pleasantries. Because he's a copper now, he asks me if there really are another thousand of us coming. Because I'm an activist, I deny any knowledge of anything.
The crowd shifts, surges forward behind me, a shifting sea of quiet human rage. We're losing each other in the swell. The moment of connection is gone, and time rushes back with the noise of the chanting and more vans turning up.
We promise to contact each other on Facebook, and I disappear into the crowd