Yesterday afternoon’s coughing (I still have a bad cough) was lightened slightly by reports on Twitter and the Huffington Post about Whitehall and some nearby streets in Westminster being closed for three hours.
The first I knew of it was a Tweet from one James Thorne, who apparently has some connection with the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford, saying:
Whitehall currently closed as police try to coax down a naked man from atop Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge.
When I looked up the Huffington Post, it was their lead story on the front page.
Meanwhile, back on Twitter, the London Evening Standard’s political correspondent Peter Dominiczak had Tweeted:
Now hearing that the police closed Whitehall because of fears the man has a knife. I could see an offensive weapon. But no knife.
I thought This must be on the front page of the tabloids tomorrow but, no, nothing this morning.
Last night, though, my eternally-un-named friend told me amid coughs (she is afflicted, too):
“There was a bloke I vaguely knew around Deptford/Lewisham way who used to climb up high places to protest.”
“What was he protesting about?” I asked.
“I can’t remember,” she replied. “It would have been about the war in somewhere-or-other. It wasn’t about the war in Vietnam, because this must have been in the late 1970s after the war had finished. But something like that. Some war or other. We could phone up someone and ask for actual details.”
“Nah,” I said, “I don’t think we should let facts interfere with my blog.”
But then I did ask someone else.
“Something I remember him doing,” this other person told me, “was putting up a bunch of drawings all over the London Underground as he felt ‘art was for the people’. The ‘people’ obviously liked his art because no sooner did the pictures go up than they were taken and he continued to put them up over quite a while but they never lasted long. Indeed, I have one he did for me hanging in my flat. They looked very like Matisse drawings and he’d do them in a few minutes.”
“What was his background?” I asked my eternally-un-named friend last night.
“I think,” she told me, “both his parents were shrinks – or maybe only one – but they both worked in a mental home and he was raised in the mental home. I think it would be like being raised in a pub. You’ve got your actual own home, but it happens to be on the grounds of…”
“Insanity,” I suggested.
My eternally-un-named friend sighed.
“…an institution,” she said.
“Perhaps he modelled himself on the people he met when he was a kid,” I suggested. “His father figures were the inmates of the asylum.”
“Not exactly modelling himself,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “but perhaps having a view of the world where he could see the ‘real’ world is crazy in other ways. Maybe he was familiar with people having a protest and taking all their clothes off or doing something daft.”
“And to meet him and talk to him…?” I asked.
“He was a nice guy,” she told me. “It was the late 1970s. Maybe he might have been a bit of a hippie. It was so long ago. If I remember right, he was very pleasant, decent, easy-going. He probably went to Goldsmiths College. “
“Was he eccentric in other ways?” I asked.
“Well, you see,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “I wouldn’t exactly say he was eccentric. More like he just liked to be hands-on in a protest and his way of protesting would be to climb up something.”
“Was he arrested?”
“I think that sort of thing did happen. But it was a harmless thing. It was never an aggressive protest. It was more of… Big sigh. I disapprove of this. I have my beliefs. So I’m going to save the whales by going up a pole, because I know that gets noticed.”
“The South Pole?” I asked.
My eternally-un-named friend looked at me, unsmiling.
“He was a bit of a hippie,” she said, “but then everyone was in the late 1970s. Well, most of the people I knew.”
We then both had coughing fits. When we recovered, my eternally-un-named friend mused:
“Maybe, in the mental home, people did things like that and the ones who got noticed weren’t the ones who ranted around yelling, it was the ones who sat on a pole… or maybe he was just good at climbing.”
“It must have been strange being raised in a mental home,” I mumbled.
“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I was raised on RAF camps and it’s very different from the civilian world. So, if you’re raised in a mental home complex, you’re going to have a different view of things. The world out there in the ‘real world’ is different. It’s disorganised, it’s more corrupt… It’s very disorganised. It’s bleedin’ anarchy.”
And then coughed.
Here is the naked man in Whitehall: