The party raged at Oxford Circus around the trojan horse as a samba band led those who didn’t want to listen to speeches in Hyde Park in dance and defiance outside companies like Nike and Top Shop. Numbers begun to swell and as the 15:30 meeting time for UKUncut’s occupation of a top secret target grew closer the group’s flags begun to appear towards Regents Street.
One of the flag bearers had recognised me from the picket of a Tory party conference a month earlier, but knew as little as I did about the nature of the secret target. That wouldn’t matter for much longer though as the front of a giant UKUncut march set off down Regents Street past all the usual shops it would be occupying on a Saturday afternoon. The sound of the samba band was left behind and replaced with the adrenalin of knowing that a group with numbers in its hundreads would be occupying for the alternative all together – the biggest UKUncut action yet.
As a couple of police vans seemed to try to block us off we all begun to run and soon reached Piccadilly Circus. People were masking up and blending into the main march, but we all diligently followed the red umbrellas to our target and were soon veering to the left and making our way past a police officer who realised the futility of stopping such as large group.
I had failed to look up at the shop name before entering, but once inside instantly recognised the opulence of Fortnum and Mason. The last time I had been in that shop it was to gawp at the ridiculously priced biscuits and see where Her Majesty gets her fine tea. This time I felt as though I had an actual right to be there as the staff futily hushed the group who was by now singing “you can shove your royal wedding up your arse”, a chant I had only become accustomed to the weekend before on the Rock the Banks action.
More and more of us filed in and we begun to head towards the rear of the store to make space. Someone had knocked over the overpriced biscuits that my last visit had focussed on and a velvet rope was drawn across the stairs to the cafe area, we respected this boundary and did not disturb customers who had chosen to enjoy some afternoon tea (my optimistic side says they were anti-cuts marchers taking a break from the tiresome day). From upstairs I could see the full extent of the space we had occupied and the real number of us who were there – it was simply massive. Trying to join the majority back downstairs led to my expulsion by a nervous police officer however, but not before I over heard they would be getting the TSG in to remove this overwhelmingly peaceful protest against tax avoidance at the heartland of the rich ruling classes.
Back on the streets I realised the energy of the occupation was as spreading to the march which had become jubilant as occupiers waved flags from the windows of Fortnum and Mason. the crowd were certainly not ready to let that end as the TSG attempted to get past the group, but were blocked off from both the main and side entrances. Reinforcements arrived from our rear and attempted to enforce a kettle, one that was short-lived as a mass of marchers arrived from a side street and kettled the police right back.
This bout of kettling and ‘anti-kettling’ continued until officers managed to force our group down back towards Picadilly Circus were many joined the crowds waving to those still inside Fortnum and Mason who soon came out on to a balcony area and had food thrown up to them so they wouldn’t have to raid the supplies of their hosts. Some climbed up the pipes and joined them as TSG beat back anyone who got too close to the entrance.
Oxford Street was ours, and for some time so was what is usually dubbed the “The Royal Grocers”.
Watch the peaceful protest here: