Joy and Mayhem in London

I spent Sunday in this great capital city of ours shaking my head in wonder at the contrasts it offers in life and entertainment. Within a few hundred yards Schnitzel, my Jack Russell, and I watched a free performance in Trafalgar Square of some of the finest musicals currently playing in London, stood in amazement as a bonfire was lit on the road near the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square and listened to a military band playing wartime songs in St James’s Park. Not bad for an afternoon’s fun, you must agree.

As we watched the casts of Thriller, Jersey Boys, Billy Eliot, Mamma Mia,The Lion King and Miss Saigon singing their hearts out on a stage in the shadow of Nelson’s column, thousands of disgruntled and largely foul-mouthed austerity protesters, determined to have their voices heard despite having been outvoted in a national election a month ago, filed past in the distance in a column of banners that took an hour to pass as they headed towards Whitehall. Sadly for them, however, any chants they were attempting went unheard by the hundreds listening to the musicals in Trafalgar Square, our enjoyment only somewhat spoilt by the two police helicopters buzzing overhead to monitor the demonstrators.

For four hours Schnitzel and I wandered amongst the crowds listening to the West End casts singing their hearts out in a joyous atmosphere, oblivious to the miserable protesters filing past the eastern periphery of the square.

Some time around 5.00 pm, before the performances had ended, I decided to walk down to Parliament Square to give Schnitzel a bit of exercise. As we waded through discarded placards, treading on their tired old “Tory Scum” sentiments, and past obscenities scrawled on the boarding that covered the Cenotaph to protect it from the demonstrators, it was immediately apparent that Schnitz and I had had the better afternoon. Rounding the corner we watched a bonfire being build out of the placards, stoked by a heavily tattooed man carrying a can of lager in one hand while flinging wooden staves onto the fire with the other. Taken in isolation it conjured up a scene from a post-apocalyptic horror movie, as police in high-viz jackets stood and watched, mingling with the crowd of mostly young onlookers, some of whom sported black balaclavas and face scarves to prevent their identification – to give themselves a spurious air of mystery, but more likely in case they appeared on television and were spotted by their employers on the evening news.

A fire engine was eventually summoned to put out the flames, although why the fire, which had been burning for a good half hour, had ever been permitted in the first place is an absolute mystery. I even asked one apparently senior policeman why they were allowing this in front of the seat of government, whereupon, clearly as a result of my indignation, he broke into a trot with a group of approaching coppers brandishing mini fire extinguishers and exclaimed: “We’re not”. Lucky I was there to hurry things along.

Thankfully the rain arrived shortly afterwards although not quite in time to prevent Russell Brand taking to a stage on the other side of the green. Mercifully few people paid any attention to him, preferring to watch the bonfire and the eventual arrival of the fire brigade.

Bored with the moaning of the disgruntled, I felt Schnitzel deserved a bit of a run in nearby St James’s Park. She had mingled with demonstration stranglers with increasing enthusiasm as it became apparent that along with their detritus a number of half eaten hot dogs and spilled crisps were to be hovered up. I think protests might become her favourite type of walk.

As we meandered into the park we heard the distant timpani of brass instruments and there among the trees we came upon a band of the Royal Green Jackets playing their hearts out beneath a circular canvas tent. What had once been a proper bandstand had to have its “stage” removed in the aftermath of the 1982 IRA bombing of a band of Green Jackets performing in Regents Park which killed seven band members and injured dozens of others along with members of the audience. But here they were, post IRA and a few hundred yards from the anarchic mayhem of Parliament Square, playing Vera Lynn tunes to a small audience that braved the light drizzle to listen to them. Schnitzel tore around the bandstand four or five times in sheer joy at having her faith in humanity restored, as the audience smiled indulgently at her antics. And all was well in London again. “Great city,” I said to a couple of policemen watching the spectacle. “300 yards away your colleagues are putting out a fire in Parliament Square and listening to calls for revolution, while here we are transported to a quintessentially English scene that could have taken place 50 years ago.  “We were just saying the same thing,” they said.