Monday, June 19, 2006

London life: London Architecture Bienalle

Universal Wifey likes sheep. She prefers Baa-lambs, but sheep will do, so I organised for us to ride our bikes down to Southwark Cathedral on Saturday so that we could follow Farmer Smith exercise his right as a Freeman of the City of London to drive his sheep across the Thames Bridges and into the city of London. The event was tied-in with the Architecture Bienalle as a way of linking the Borough Market and Smithfield Market - the two great larders of London. It was also a tie-in with some sort of knitting promotion, and the St Bart's fair - the ultimate destination of the flock.

So we arrived at Southwark Cathedral, where the sheep were to be blessed by the Bishop of Southwark before they started their journey, and stood at the back to keep our bikes out of the way of the crowd. We saw a small pen of sheep - somewhat less than the proposed 66. We craned our necks as some sort of street theatre event began to unfold, until we realised that it was a bunch of rabid anti-meat protestors shouting murderer and hypocrite. As members of the public, the protesters were with us, behind the crowd control tape, but they had arrived early and had the spot closest to the sheep. So every time the protesters shouted murderer, or hypocrite, the sheep would hear their loud, violent braying, and move as far away as possible - which was not very far to the other side of their pen. Some children were also frightened, but on the whole, they were harmless. Because nothing else was happening, they got a lot of media attention.

We also saw a clergyman in purple robes who we took to be the bishop, a short man wearing a suit and a large gold chain who we took to be the mayor, or someone with a very expensive bondage fettish, some people in extremely vintage floppy pom-pom hats and black coats who we took to be alderpeople, or fellow freemen of the city, a man wearing a flat cap and carrying a shepherd's crook, who we took to be farmer Smith, and some younger men and boys wearing flat caps and carrying shepherd's crooks who we took to be shepherds.

And so the blessing blessed. The pen was opened, the shepherds began shepherding, two sheep escaped, farmer Smith shouted shut the gates and the crowd scrambled to untie the crowd control tape from the gates so and shut the heavy medieval gates with a shriek. The remaining sheep were shepherded through the end-gate, into the market and we followed intending to cut around the back past the Golden Hind in order to get ahead of the flock. Suddently there was a excitement behind us as a girl in jeans and a t-shirt dragged a sheep out of the bushes and off towards the pen.

We took a short cut to and waited on the Millenium Bridge hoping to see the sheep pass us on the bridge. In the distance we saw the people in black caps, we saw the shepherds, and we saw a gap in the crowd where we assumed the sheep were, and a Policeman moved us on so that the bridge would be clear for the sheep.

We passed a woman wearing lots of velvet who was defending her vegetarian Doc Martens to camera.

We stopped on the other side of the bridge oppisite Salvation Army headquarters where the band was to play The Lord is My Shepherd. The band didn't show. We stood on a fire escape and waited. We saw the people in black caps, we saw the shepherds, we saw a gap, and in the gap, we saw wool. We heard the violent braying and yelling of the anti-meat protesters. They were immediatley behind the sheep. The sheep at the front of the flock were walking normally - just a sheep out for a walk in the city, what are you looking at.

Now if you have spent anything more than a moment with a flock of sheep you will have learned that sheep don't like being startled. The are calm and placid creatures who like to find a nice grassy field and eat it. They are not political. They are not particularly assertive (although there is always one...) and they do not speak enough of any human language to tell the difference between one loud, murderous shout and another.

The protesters were following the sheep closely - very closely. They were, in fact, directly behind the sheep. And they were screaming and yelling with a frightening violence and vitriol. The sheep at the back of the flock were tightly bunched together, pushing their faces between the shoulders of the sheep in front, climbing the flock from the back. The protesters may have had all meat-kind on their minds, but the happiness of these sheep was sacrificed for the cause. The sheep - what we could see of them - were terrified.

Disgusted at riding so far to see very little, we left the sheep to walk across the western steps of St Pauls Cathedral (not the northern, not the southern, not up or down, but across the western steps) and rode through the back-streets to Smithfield, where we found the market not quite ready, filled-out a London Energy questionnaire, collected a bunch of architecture brochures and a free high-efficiency light bulb and set off, slightly disapointed, to see the knitted house and the solar powered kinetic sculpture on Clerkenwell Green.

Suddenly a Policeman strode towards us, "Stand aside please!" and we barely had time to pull our bikes onto the footpath when some people in black caps, some shepherds and a whole happy flock of sheep brushed past our legs heading towards the sheep's pen for the afternoon. The protesters were gone. The sheep were gamboling happily along the road, and after a twelve mile round trip we finally met the sheep as soon as we gave up.

So the moral of is... I don't know, perhaps that animal-rights protesters are just as willing to sacrifice individual animals for the common cause, and that sometimes you have to give up looking to find the thing you are looking for.


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