A place that surprised me. In a museum in Boston. The Peabody. I went there not expecting to be taken out of myself, because after all I’ve been to many museums. That’s a thing I do, and in this case we, my friend Joe Haldeman and I, were planning to study an exhibit on “Lakota Images of the Contested West”. Native American art in the 1860s. Incidentally it was fascinating: showing pictograph ledger book drawings done with newly discovered Euroamerican pencils and inks.
But upstairs in a hallway we found the place that blind-sided me. It was set up for the tenth anniversary of 9.11. It was reds and blacks and masses of orange chrysanthemums. There were candles and skulls and a central Aztec head. It was a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration set up to commemorate the many unknown illegal immigrants who were killed when the Twin Towers collapsed. Those from Mexico who died are likely to remain unidentified.
Last night I was working on an etching at my computer desk. John rang and told me that gangs had smashed in the entrance to the Electric Ballroom. The heavy curtains here were pulled, and of course my own music was playing, and I hadn’t noticed a thing about what was happening across the road. He was ringing from Maine, in the US. He had just found this news in the Guardian online. Indeed I looked outside and found the police had cordoned off the area. Even shut down the bars in Inverness Street. The police were like a little army getting ready for something nasty. About ten police cars at one time were parked in Inverness Street. Since they had closed the area to traffic their vehicles could come in either direction in this otherwise one way street.
And so I pulled open the curtains facing the High Street and kept the place dark so I could stand and watch what was happening out there. For a while it was just police. Then I saw throngs of teenage boys, faces hidden by scarves, come up the street, raring for a fight. They looked frightening and they knew it, basking in the atmosphere of testosterone. But then, because they were still to their mind off stage – the action was ahead – you’d see an excited exchange and one would pull down his face cover and laugh and say something like, “We should go to Hatton Garden”. But they ran south along the street towards the junction outside Camden Town station. And the police were waiting for them.
I think the police procedures were excellent. They were confrontational in appropriate measure, standing across the road where they didn’t want the youths to go. So the kids rampaged into Inverness Street and they pulled one of the market barrows into our Camden High Street. And then the police chased the lads into Inverness Street and by this time the action was out of my viewing.
I don’t think I ever saw that same bunch again. I think the police sort of boxed them in at the other side of the junction. I could hear angry shouts and dogs barking. But further sorties of guys would come from the north. They came in small knots of expectation, mostly young. You could spot some however as more hardened nasties. The ones who come to life when there’s a good fight to be had.
And quite a bit later I saw two older guys coming down on their push bikes. They worried me. They looked especially tough. But one said to the other. “Don’t go down there, the police have got them caged. That’s what they’re trained to do now.” And they went away.
In due course you could feel the tension ease somewhat. People were now coming on their bikes to photograph from a safe distance. People would stand in front of our place and photograph whatever was to be seen at the junction.
So the evening passed without further incident for us in this little patch of Camden Town. And I think the police did an excellent job.