Caught by the River

Lines Made By Walking

Jude Rogers | 13th May 2010

by Jude Rogers.
8. Party Lines

Sometimes my work as a freelancer sees me walking in extraordinary places. Today, I also find myself in extraordinary circumstances. When I normally review records on the BBC, I am in a comfy TV studio in Shepherds Bush, my feet stuck firmly to the carpeted floor. Today, I am sitting on a green garden chair that Michael Howard will take after me, in a small white tent opposite the Houses Of Parliament. This is because all of the BBC is here, waiting and watching for what will happen to our government.

After we go off air, I stand still, gawping at what is unfurling. I cannot do anything other than take this in. So I walk.

a. College Green is actually Abingdon Green, a tiny strip of land to Abingdon Street’s northern flank. It was once part of the River Thames, separated from the College Garden of Westminster Abbey by a medieval wall with a water gate. Today it is dotted with marquees and tall stairways, connected together with cables and plastic covers. Two cameras sit to one side, wrapped in imperial blue, as if William Hague has put them there deliberately.

News of the Labour/Lib Dem talks arrive for the first time as Big Ben stills the elements and announces it is noon. Members of the public mill around, wide-eyed and speechless, waiting for someone to tell them where to go. The atmosphere is like a party without a cloakroom. All they can do is look on, and watch Parliament loom.

I watch a French journalist stand a few metres behind the crowd, quickly doing a link back to his station. He finishes, catches my eye, smiles, shakes his head.

b. I make myself move. On Great College Street, TV vans stutter out impatient putt-putt-putts, and crews sit inside, wiping crumbs from their stubble. TV screens inside them blink different images like wandering eyes. The buildings rise behind them, staunch and stately.

Around the corner sits No 4 Cowley Street, the Liberal Democrat headquarters. The strategists have left here for the time being, and the pavements are busy, but ghostly. The only noise is someone drilling through tarmac on nearby Great Peter Street. Someone jokes that he is the only person around doing anything constructive.

I walk past him to Smith Square, where a green plaque reminds us of W.T. Stead. He was a Victorian journalist from the North-East of England, who brought interviews into national newspapers. He was also a peace campaigner who preached the gospel of Esperanto – a man who believed the people should speak a common language. Another helicopter whirls its blades overhead, and his plaque tries its best to shine in the sunlight.

c. Outside St Johns Church, it is just another day. Volunteers carry cut branches onto imperial blue blankets. A dog pees against a lamppost. Some tough, green weeds curl out of a window frame, forcing their way through the white, heavy bars. A sign next to it is politeness itself in London South West One.

d. On the other side of the square, Nobel House lets out its civil servants. I wonder what the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs do when parliaments are hung – presumably churn the milk, turn the soil, keep the world moving on. I also assume that this Nobel is the same as Alfred Nobel, the man who bequeathed the Prizes for Science, Literature and Peace after his death. I look later on, and this is right.

Everyone forgets he also invented dynamite. Only a few roads away from the site of the Gunpowder Plot, and the female face above the door smiles beatifically as her charges walk into the great unknown.

e. On Victoria Tower Gardens, the Buxton Memorial Fountain glitters, a cone of pretty icing in the middle of the green. It commemorates the emancipation of slaves in 1834, and an MP called Charles Buxton who led the abolitionists. Children play nearby around colourful elephant statues, leaving this beacon to stand by itself. It makes me think of the many things we see every day that we take for granted, and the importance they reveal when we take time to look closer.

f. Back to Parliament, to the people, to Burley and Kuenssberg. The London Duck Tours bus quacks past, as crowds blindly gaze – not to the doors of Westminster, but to the cameras. A police officer stops me taking a photograph of the sign to Black Rod’s Garden, and Cromwell looks at us all, leaning on his sword. A lion lies under him, noble, supine. In London, as in Britain, the ridiculous meets the sublime.

I head to the tube, and head on with my life. The Tories and the Lib Dems and the Labour Party keep talking. I notice another lion on the stonework, and he is laughing.