One of my photos

Zombies in Trafalgar Square

August 3rd, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 1 Comment · Life

The first ten minutes: setting everything up

The first ten minutes: setting everything up

This afternoon I made the short journey up to London to go and see Andrew do his thing in Trafalgar Square as part of Anthony Gormley’s One & Other project.

I went for several reasons: to support Andrew, to support a good cause, to get some use out of my cameras, and because…  well I have made a conscious decision to get out more, to see more things, and to actively embrace new experiences and interesting events.  All part of that mid-life crisis where you realise that you are not getting any younger.The premise was that Andrew was going to use his hour in the spotlight to promote the British Humanist Association by teaching the dance moves to Thriller to anybody who wanted to learn.  On the face of it there is not a direct logical connection between an organisation promoting secularity and the most famous music video of a recently-deceased paedophile much-loved singer,  but it worked.  The BHA’s most recent slogan is “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” so doing something to actively entertain the crowd was entirely logical as it generated an enormous amount of enjoyment.

I arrived in the square very early and noticed two things immediately: there was a lady dressed as a bee up on the 4th plinth, and there was a steel band competition in the square.  There must have been at least six bands all playing six different tunes in various parts of the square.  I did wonder how well Andrew’s portable PA system would compete with that.

As usual, I made the most of my time by popping into the National Gallery.  Just a flying visit to the Spanish and Dutch sections for a dose of Velazquez, El Greco, Rembrandt, Vermeer and de Hooch.  I am still amazed by the crowds in there: it is good to see so many people visiting the galleries and I am sure the policy of free admission to national collections has a lot to do with that.

Nelson and Krypto in mid-routine

Nelson and Krypto in mid-routine

After a wander around Leicester Square and a bite to eat I returned to Trafalgar Square to see the plinth occupied by a lady from Scotland who was demonstrating the sport of curling – not easy under the circumstances.  She was soon replaced by Andrew and his paraphernalia, which took a bit of setting up.  Watching him try to line up the posts on his banner was like watching somebody trying to thread a needle, but soon he was ready to go.  With all the steel bands still playing he could only really address the upper level of the square, but that was OK.

There were quite a few people willing to learn the routine, but many more who stayed to watch.  There was quite a crowd by the end.  I have to say that Andrew turned out to be a natural: he appeared confident, kept up a good rapport with the crowd and even handled a heckler pretty well. (Well.. not so much a heckler as an eccentric and probably drunk old boy).  He even managed to use the word onomatopaeic, which was impressive.

When he first learned about the plinth, Andrew did wonder what to do, and one very firm suggestion was from him mum – suggesting that he used the opportunity to find a new girlfriend.  I think he rejected that idea by choosing to do one of the campest things possible :)    One comment on the One & Other website congratulated him for being obviously out & proud.

I enjoyed the show, and so did the many people who were gathered there by the end.  I have now seen half a dozen or so ‘plinthers’ and generally people stopped to have a look and then drift off after a few minutes.  This is the first time I have seen large numbers decide to stay for the duration – which really flew by.

The BHA came along too, and handed out some leaflets.  They must be serious.  I saw the membership form and it costs £35 a year for membership (or £500 for life).  Given that the churches they are competing with are free, it shows a lot of committment to join.   I am a bit ambivalent towards them.  Although I am completely atheist myself, I find the Dawkins approach to be a bit strident as personally I am more un-religious than anti-religious.

The volunteer dancers being put through their paces

The volunteer dancers being put through their paces

As the clock ticked on, the routine was finally taught, and the forklift with the next plinther was approaching and there was a race against time to manage one complete run through of the whole dance, with music, before the hour was up.

Well done to Andrew.  I don’t know him well – in fact I only met him once before – but I don’t think he is a natural show-off.  However, once he gets an idea I think he likes to see it through, and there was a lot of planning and preparation put into this one hour.

I will admit that I am jealous – that he got chosen, that he came up with a great idea, and that he carried it out so well.  Also in his dancing abilities…

As it all finished I was feeling sorry for whoever was going to have to follow that – how do you top that sort of performance?    I need not have worried: the next person up there was an attractive young lady in bright clothes that showed off her underwear and she started by throwing lollipops to the crowd in a blatant and successful attempt to get them on her side.

If my name comes up for September or October I think I shall buy a big bag of sweets.  It is a lot less work than spending four weeks learning a dance routine.

Finally, I did take a lot of photos – about a hundred.  Some of them are on Flickr, for anybody who is interested.  I also did a bit of video.  As soon as the dance started and I turned the camera on a woman stood right in front of me. So I moved. And then she moved.  Then I moved again and bloodshed & fisticuffs were narrowly averted when she stayed put this time.  The results are below, but the full hour is still being streamed on the One & Other/Sky Arts web site.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Andrew

    Aw, thanks for the lovely write-up! Also for coming along and documenting everything so well – I love the photos and video. Nice to see you again, too.

    I could possibly have been more camp if I’d…no, no you’re right. Oh well, Andrew’s Wall of Dates can happen next time.