The English are known for ignoring eccentricity, or at least humouring those who don’t conform, and London has more than its fair share. I posted about the Mole Man of Hackney and I once had Turner prize-winning potter Grayson Perry, dressed as Little Bo Peep in the back of the cab.
Some self-proclaimed eccentrics even attend the Eccentric Club, formed in the 1780s although there are some earlier references to its conception in London in the 1760s and largely representing that very British tradition of the eccentric aristocrat.
Anyone who listened to London’s late-night radio stations at the turn of the century would have heard the distinctive voice of Rainbow George Weiss, a serial caller of radio chat shows, who squatted so long in a Hampstead house he became the owner, only to sell the property for £710,000 then spending part of his windfall standing in 13 constituencies in the 2005 General Election and then giving away much of the remaining proceeds.
We all like to complain and if really aggrieved, protest to make our point, but for having eccentric protesters with the greatest tenacity, London would appear to lead the way.
We have of course our regular Saturday weekend protesters, who spend their week in comfortable City jobs or living off the State, who then like to spend their weekends selling copies of the Socialist Worker or walking around London with a banner, the latter becoming the leader of a major political party.
Taking those aside, an entrepreneurial spirit has at times been commendable with some individuals, for example, Stanley Green who upon retirement from the civil service decided against taking up golf but chose to spend 25 years warning of the dangers of protein. ‘Less Lust From Less Protein’ his leaflets printed in his front room: Eight Passion Proteins with Care went through 84 editions and sold 87,000 copies over 20 years.
The 14 pages warned that an excess of protein was responsible for uncontrollable passions and recommended that you reduce your consumption of fish, bird, meat, cheese, egg, peas, beans, nuts and well err . . . sitting, and the world would be a happier place.
Phil Howard, a scruffy, beaming Scouser who hung around from around 2000 bellowing through a megaphone at shoppers and office workers. His catchphrase, ‘be a winner, not a sinner’, would extol the benefits of Christianity at Oxford Circus greatly improving the ambience of the area until he had an anti-social behaviour order served by Westminster Council, forcing him to relocate to Piccadilly Circus. Then every evening illuminated by the neon signs revellers could hear him chastising them, telling people they were going to hell because they dyed their hair until that is a second ASBO was served to prevent him from loudly proclaiming his faith. He then relocated out of the West End popping up at other London landmarks as well as major sporting events across the capital.
Gold Lamé Man
A third lone individual could still be found, after over 15 years outside White’s Club in St. James’ Street resplendent dressed in a gold jacket and gold shoes. He divided his time between a certain Lord of the Realm’s club, who he claimed had ruined his business. He blamed Her Majesty for not supporting his one-man crusade but boasted proudly to me that once he saw the Queen watching him from behind her net curtains as he stood outside Buckingham Palace regaling he for not supporting him.
For a far more spiritual demo, go to Portland Place, there opposite the Chinese Embassy since June 2002, protesting against an oppressive regime, sympathisers of Falun Gong practise Tai Chi, 24 hours a day, commendable but utterly fruitless since China hardly feels threatened by the slow movements of the protesters. But of course, if you want free Tai Chi lessons CabbieBlog recommends the pavement outside RIBA.
Make Love Not War
But my all-time favourite for endurance and cocking a snoop at authority has to be Brian Haw, who on 2 June 2001 decided to begin camping in Parliament Square in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. Unfortunately for Brian, the second Iraq war overtook events making him a cause célèbre and preventing him from ever giving up his one-man protest against the forces of the State. Westminster City Council then failed in their prosecution against Brian for obstructing the pavement, later his continuous use of a megaphone led to objections by Members of Parliament. Then in a glorious twist, a House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended that the law be changed to prohibit his protest as his camp could provide an opportunity for terrorists to disguise explosive devices. The Government then passed a provision to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, however, because Brian’s protest was on-going and residing on Parliament Square before the enactment of the Act, it was unclear whether the Act applied to him. He died in Berlin of lung cancer in 2011, no doubt still regaling the authorities.