October 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
October 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s 7am. Helicopters circle overhead. A sharp siren is triggered accidentally, spreading the fear through Dale Farm like a tsunami. Activists are running in all directions in a state of frenzy. One shouts ‘police in the back field!’ as he whirls past. I follow half-thinking this is one of the many false alarms that have occurred since the early hours of the morning. Through the gaps in the makeshift barricade at the back of the site peer the faces of fifty or so riot policemen. They seem oddly still and calm. Then it happens.
With brute force the police enter the illegal site. I note how odd it is that each policeman has a dull look on his or her face, as if this is a routine procedure; and I suppose that for them, it is. For the residents of Dale Farm it is far from normal. The eviction will leave children without access to schooling. I remember my first visit to Dale Farm, before the eviction. The residents warmly welcomed me into their homes and asked me to read aloud the newspapers for them, pointing at pictures of Dale Farm; they were completely illiterate.
Back to the present and the police are swinging sledgehammers, knocking down a brick wall. Residents are screaming that they are damaging legal plots but they carry on relentlessly, like machines. One poor activist full of bravado repeats ‘STOP’ while a young traveller weeps loudly, running without purpose as if lost and exclaiming ‘help us’. I feel for the activist because even now, we all know that Dale Farm will not escape Basildon Council this time.
Light is beginning to creep up on Dale Farm, creating a backdrop of oranges and blues upon which events that will colour the newsstands tomorrow morning will occur. The activists pour petrol onto one of the barricades and set it alight, hoping to delay the policemen, but there are many routes around Dale Farm and the policemen easily avoid this obstruction. Travellers are bravely littering their emotions onto the policemen;
‘Have ye children? Have ye a mother? Our mothers and children will be on d’ side of d’ road tonight. Have ye a heart? Save us!’
The policemen halt, awaiting instructions, an impenetrable barrier. Emotions on this side of the shields are raw; on the other side there is calm and emptiness. One activist preaches from the doorway of a caravan, brandishing a wooden cross into the air and snarling, fire reflecting in her eyes.
A traveller is dragged away from the action, sobbing. The policeman releases his grip on her and she clutches her back as she hobbles away, her mouth gaping with shock and despair. She is quickly engulfed by news reporters. I hear later on that she has been evacuated on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
Another traveller shows the bleeding wound on her forehead to the lenses of press officials. She, too, has a dazed, shocked look on her face.
One teenager is unable to control herself, alternating between sobbing and uttering taunts to the policemen, gesticulating melodramatically. Her friend tries to calm her down while an elderly member of the community looks on without surprise, as if to say ‘now watch what you have done, Basildon Council.’
In the distance there is a loud bang; a gas canister inside a burning caravan explodes. Once the home of an elderly lady with breathing problems, the caravan burns steadily, black smoke chasing the helicopters across the sky.
Again the policemen charge, taking another chunk of land from the travellers. They halt, charge, halt again, until they reach the main barricade, the gate through which I was warmly welcomed the first time I visited Dale Farm. In the long, cold hours that follow, activists are slowly picked off the site like ants. I half admire their courage, half pity their futile attempts to halt the inevitable.
Slowly but surely, Dale Farm is conquered.
October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
I wanted to spend a night with the homeless, as I predicted that the cold night would be the most difficult time to get through, and a time when everyone would pull together to help each other through.
We get to the bridge at 10pm, but this is a little too late. Most of the men are already asleep, helped on their way by alcohol or drugs. I am advised not to sit on the floor as it is dark and we can’t see if there are needles. I spend most of the evening chatting to the men; some I have met before and they recognise me. Most warm up to me fairly quickly, but one particularly drunk man shouts in a dizzy frenzy ‘meri photo na kich!’ every time my flash goes off. This reccurring episode is often coupled with a stumble of some kind or a cheeky grin and a ‘cheers!’. This man is one of the few homeless men who manages somehow to get benefits. He explains to me that the money is gone within an hour, because he has a family of twenty to feed. By this of course, he means his friends who also sleep under the bridge. The money he gets is easily enough for him to pay rent for himself every week. I often wonder why the rest of our community don’t feel the same way about our brothers and uncles under the bridge.
At around 4am a prostitute drags one of the men out of his sleeping quarters, presumably to her house, exclaiming incredulously to me before she leaves; ‘Don’t the smell get to ya?’