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Posts Tagged ‘Speakers Corner’

Sunday, 13 July 1975 continued

After the Petticoat Lane and Club Row markets, I took a bus intending to go to Hampstead Heath, but it passed by Hyde Park and then I remembered, seeing the crowds—Speakers Corner!  So off I hopped and strolled around the park a bit.

Hyde Park, with the lawn showing the long drought.

view from Hyde Park

And then I walked into the thick of Speakers Corner.

 

It was 3 o clock then and I did not leave till 10:45 PM!  At Speakers Corner on Sunday, all the oddballs and thrill seekers come out to a) save the world, b) talk politics, c) give speeches about the inferiority of anyone non male or non white or non Gentile or d) spread their religion or e) scream and yell and argue and verbally cut up everyone possible. 

The corner of the park is full of various sized knots of people, either one speaker with lots of  listeners,  or (most common) one speaker with several hecklers, or an argument with lots of listeners craning to see if it will break out into a fight. 

two bobbies keeping a watchful eye

There were some nice speakers, like an old woman leading a sing along.

 Something about it was glorious, perhaps because the audience was loudly heckling and not letting the mean speakers get away with saying nasty things.

I wondered if some of the men giving mysogynistic speeches dispose of their misogyny here without doing anyone physical harm.  I really saw the disgusting side of people.  Lots of “anti-commies”.  I was shocked at the anti-Semitism, as I observed in three groups.  I yelled something in objection and a speaker told me, “If you are Jewish, your day is over.”  In one group, a heavily made up orangey-powdered woman was told by another woman, “You’re a Jewess” (made to sound vile). “I’m a cockney born in London,” the highly offended target screeched back.  I started to rethink my desire to live in London!  My romantic image of the city had been well cracked.

This German man asked me to take a photo of him and his daughter and mail it to him, so I did.

Later in the evening, I witnessed another incident.  While walking around a religious group, and returning for the second time to listen in amazement to an Indian man talking about American women (although when an American woman tried to tell him he was misinformed, he yelled at her to shut up as she “didn’t know what she was talking about”), I saw a huge pink and orange flower being held up in the centre of another group.  I wormed my way up to its source and found a man who had gone absolutely beautifully insanely gloriously mad.  He used to be William, he made no secret of that, but one night he was standing by the window of his flat when lightning filled the room and he knew he was the reincarnation of Jesus. 

His best friend Marko agreed.  Now this tall young man with stringy blond hair, an ugly-beautiful smile, a soft voice, dressed in tattered wizard clothes, holding an enormous paper flower and a sign which read “WE ARE INOCENT  I NEED HELP TO REMAIN ON THIS PLANET AND MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY  I AM A NATURAL PERFORMER  ALL THE SAME AGE.

 

He looked gorgeous to me.  He had hecklers— one an old, eccentric man, one a middle aged man in a suit who had a similar cohort.  The man in a suit kept making mildly obscene motions (lifting Jesus/William’s robe and so on) and making mildly amusing remarks. 

William/Jesus’ audience

The main in the suit kept on pawing and shoving and heckling Jesus/William and he did not get mad!  He produced a bongo drum and beat on it and chanted an innocuous little song.  Then the old man swiped his tambourine and played it rather well.

 

Later, the middle aged suited man swiped Jesus/William’s flute-recorder and heckled Jesus/William to play it and so he did—a lovely tune—lovely. 

Suit man danced, a bit sarcastically, but not entirely so.  By now, Jesus/William had a large crowd.  He held out his long-stemmed flower for us to smell. He had scented it like jasmine.  I smelled it, he smiled at me, and I was moved.  Someone threw him a long pink carnation, which the old man ended up keeping.  A heckler said, “You’ve got them all spellbound!” and it was true.  I was quite smitten with the strange insane prophet of a man because he so sweetly did not get mad at anyone.  He kept asking what time it was, which was rather out of character—as if he had an important appointment to keep.  I felt sad when he left and felt quite like following him home.

Later, a short bearded man wearing a turban stopped me and asked if he could take my photograph.  I’d been taking close ups, rather rudely, all day, click click click, so I acquiesced and he took several.  I felt embarrassed.  Then he said he’d show me his other telephoto lenses and he wanted to take the lens off my camera.  I said no, and some boys who were standing around by then said, “If she says no, she means no.”  I felt better when the boys went away.  He showed me his lens and some of his photos—they were good, not dirty as I had feared (from a learned distrust of strange men).  Unfortunately, he spoiled the friendly moment by telling me he had had only one woman in all his 30 years and that he did not like the way women were always after his money, and that he lived with his parents who would not let him bring any girls home since he did not want to get married, and that he went to a photo school where he “mostly took photos of fashion dresses.” 

I finally escaped him (temporarily) by joining another group listening to a fellow who had previously been talking about police immorality and was now onto cosmic infinity and what is reality, and then I joined another group and an Indian man called to me and introduced me to a group of young Americans, three beautiful woman and two men—very embarrassing.  He then trotted off, delighted with himself.  One of the  American men was so pleasant that we hung around together for a couple of hours.  We wondered if we could start a group, and sure enough, as soon as the pleasant American man got up on a soap box and we started talking to each other in that context, we gathered an audience and two hecklers.  So we let one of the hecklers, an elderly woman, get up on the box.  She started telling us all about politics and religion and unfortunately soon segued into anti-Semitism. She told me that I asked intelligent questions.  “I’m Jewish”, I told her, wanting to make a point, and she suddenly completely ignored me. Her audience seemed to realize the ridiculous nature of her diatribe.  She soon became irked with an incoherent heckler and off she went.  I was disheartened to have been pulled back into the orbit of someone so prejudiced, after the kind nature of the Jesus/William man.

Two young women came to me and said “We’re Christians!” and one poked my headband and said only “artists and immoral people wear headbands in London” and that it looked peculiar.  I extricated myself and was surprised to see how late it was, and returned to the hostel with many gloomy thoughts about the undercurrents of prejudice swirling through the speeches in the park.

[The Speakers Corner tradition still goes on today.  Read this fascinating article about someone who has been following it since 1977.]

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