23/12/2011 09:24 GMT | Updated 21/02/2012 05:12 GMT

A Farmyard Fable: Occupy London

I have been following developments at the Occupy camp in London from the beginning, occasionally in person, more often as an observer. The story of the movement so far has, I believe, a strong - and seasonally apt - allegorical message.


Nobody is quite sure of anything, the morning after.

It is like waking from a medieval night of revels: dazed, damp-blanketed, sore-boned, needing a pee:

"What have I done? Why am I here? Who is that?"

Makeshift tents, discarded placards, cathedral pillars, lines of police, a daybreak harmonica: Occupy the London Stock Exchange slowly gets to its feet, like a newborn calf.

"It feels like people have finally..." an elderly woman breathes out a long sigh, "...decided we've really had enough."

"My name is Giles Fraser. All is fine and there's a very calm atmosphere here. I've asked the police to move on and they have. The bad news for those sleeping is these bells are spectacularly loud!"

"I don't really have any political leanings, it's just that I care about my fellow human beings and here I'm caring in a very direct way. Oh, thank you, guys. I'll get breakfast on in maybe half an hour."

Gifts are placed in the manger: bread, water, vegetables, fruit.

They mill, campers and sightseers, photographers and mask-wearers, activists and onlookers. Donations are made at the Info Point; there's talk of a library; medical personnel are among the first volunteers.

The calf stumbles on the barn-yard stone, hesitant, crooked of haunch, timid-eyed in the sunlight of autumn.

"Consensus is contentious. We want to build what a society should look like."

Optimism attends the day's assemblies: many hands waved in agreement with ground rules. It is chilly but dry on the stone steps. Barriers prevent access to Paternoster Square. The Latin means 'our father'. A cardboard sign, taped to a concrete pillar, reads: Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

"Hippy scum!" shouts a stern passer-by. "Go get a fucking job!"

"We have one," a girl whispers to her boyfriend. "It's to make things better."

Their held hands tighten, knowing love.


Tent City University hosts an address by Professor David Harvey. Hundreds sit on the broad steps below St Paul's, most bare-headed in the dry evening air. A red London bus noses its way down Ludgate Hill, once, it is said, the site of a Roman temple to Diana, goddess of the hunt, of the moon, and birthing.

"You're in the heart of the beast, the belly of the beast, and your job is to give the beast a stomach-ache."

He stands on a rostrum of pallets, talking into a microphone. Some sip beverages from the Tea Tent. Placards and posters hang on railings. There is no litter, no chanting, no anger.

"But the more stomach-ache they get, the more grouchy they're likely to get. And then you have to stiffen your resolve."

Stiff-standers, dilly-danders, lookers, crookers, and a wig-wag. The camp is stronger, a month into the occupation: the weaned calf grown sturdy, frolicsome, rounder-bellied. On full-laden, wooden shelves in the kitchen stand cartons of milk, jars of honey.

Visitors linger longer now: browsing in the library; thumbing The Occupied Times; glancing at watercolours in street artists' sketch-books; tinkering on the upright piano, also under canvas.

"This is going to be a long haul for all of us, I think. This is a marvellous site and a marvellous initiative that you've taken."

Professor Harvey has been speaking, without notes, for half an hour. General Assemblies stop when the cathedral, busy again after a week's closure, is soon to hold a service. There are more wanting to sweep the steps than available brushes.

"And this is going to change politics in a very fundamental way. Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it."

The applause is that earned by a respected academic: no prolonged ovation, no hero worship.

In the kitchen, a young man announces he's going to cook meat.

"We only do vegetarian here."

"Call yourselves anarchists! I thought the idea was that there'd be no fucking rules!"

Out he stomps, spittle-mouthed, red-templed, shot-eyed. Like a roused bullock.


Wind, raw-knuckled and unforgiving, ripped the legal tent from the encampment's womb-warmth, damaging others, herding the calf-young into a huddle among the sanctuary of stalls. Winter stalks the thinned figures, the occupied fingers. Tarpaulin and sand-bag defences strain against onslaughts, some of malice, some goaded by malcontents.

"If we lose the court case, nobody will be able to seek sanctuary on the steps of St Paul's ever again. In its three hundred year history, nobody has ever slept rough here before."

There are seventeen bells housed in the cathedral towers, including two quarter-jacks cast in 1707, adding forty-eight long hundredweight to the belfry: ringing the changes.

Slippery now are the stone walk-ways, steel-sharp the frosts, dark and drenching the rain-pours. Those on Nightwatch tread cautiously in and out of shadow.

"I'm good for up to minus ten degrees. Or do I mean down to?"

Several have strayed from the original camp to occupy other sites: Finsbury Square, the Bank of Ideas, an abandoned court-house in Old Street: grazing land for foals; barns for roosters, doves and night owls; roofs over frowned heads and cavaliers.

"This is only the beginning of the beginning. People are having to re-learn forgotten ways of doing things. Everyone's been talking at once. We need to remember we have two ears, but only one mouth."

The high court judge, with entourage and carrying a furled umbrella, has visited the camp. The hearing draws to a close. Whatever the outcome, choral voices will celebrate the coming feast days; hugs will be embraced; assemblies will be held and consensus reached.

"We're opening up about feelings: why we're there, what irritates us, what inspires us. Some have said they'd rather die here than anywhere else."

Bulls champ on neighbouring land, maybe yet to be unleashed in fierce stampede. And there remain those desirous of slitting the throats of the calf-young, of further engorging their obese bellies with cuts of tender veal.

(Each of Marcus's daily blogs is 2011 characters in length. A small increase is expected shortly. His writings include observations on education, topical socio-political issues, and the arts.)