Friday night I went out for drinks with J. He and I have been friends for a long time. Originally colleagues who worked on a project together (I took some of his staff over when they moved to my site), over the years our friendship has been both simple and complex. He is quite traditional and up-standing whilst I am less inclined to behave myself. He has managed, despite the recession, to keep his career on track, a combination of a bit of good luck and a lot of hard graft and I have not.
So we are very different and our lives currently could not be more diverse. We meet around twice a year, normally for a night involving large amounts of food, alcohol and merry-making. I forget at times that he reads my blog so he always surprises me with how up to date he is about my life. And the sod would not let me pay for anything apart from a round of drinks, bless him as he was aware from my blog that things have not been good.
We enjoy each other’s company thoroughly. He is probably one of the most “normal” friends I have. I suspect I am one of the more “oddball” friends he has. We also have a shared interest in heavy rock music and both adore Alice Cooper. Alice was our excuse for meeting up as, after two years of trying to get us in the same place as Alice had once again ended up in an epic fail when J ended up being out of the country and I ended up being out of town. So we were having drinks to commiserate.
Normally, we would start with drinks, have something to eat and carry on drinking and this evening was no different apart from location. Over the years, we have probably been in every one of the watering holes around London Bridge and the City.
Given my circumstances, he was kind enough to meet me locally. We had made a sort of arrangement to eat at my favourite Italian.
The giggles started almost immediately. Telling him about the researcher from last weekend’s protest viewing us as a “niche market” and having it confirmed that I probably was made me lol and I nearly made him choke with news of a mutual friend.
He was that startled, he said “blimey, nothing this evening is going to top what you have just told me”. Sadly, to the universe, who seems to view my life as some sort of Carry On movie, that was simply a challenge.
We went on to the restaurant, ordered the first of a few bottles of their eminently drinkable house wine and continued nattering. I was about to go out for a cigarette when the opera singer struck. In the midst of our chatting, I had completely forgotten the restaurant did live opera and even if I had remembered, I would have thought it took place later in the evening.
As she struck up (and she does have an amazing voice), I remembered a very salient point about J. He hates opera. He looked at me horror-struck and said “oh my god, we’re sitting in a restaurant with an opera singer”. I confessed that I had forgotten all about it (I am not sure he believed me) and thought it was a good time to make my exit for a ciggie.
I got talking to someone outside and completely missed what then happened.
After I had made my exit, said singer made a beeline for J, sung to him, then clasped him closely in her ample bosom and continued to warble, hitting a few very high notes along the way. This continued for some minutes, with poor J stunned into compliance with his face pressed firmly in the swell of her breasts, fellow patrons laughing their heads off and ended when she finished the verse, roundly kissed his cheek and departed, still singing.
I came back in to find him still shell-shocked, bright red and on his cheek an even brighter lipstick mark. Once he recovered his ability to speak coherently (it took a glass or two), he explained what had gone on and I was laughing so much I could hardly eat.
She came back for several return visits and poor J nearly died of embarrassment as I roared my head off which probably wasn’t helpful. She did however sort of make it up by singing Nessun Dorma beautifully.
J asked whether my life was always like this and I had to admit that yes, it was. We needed a bottle or two more to recover from it all followed up by several shorts and I woke up the next morning feeling a little worse for wear.
Which was excellent timing because I had another anti-fur protest to do. Arthur woke me up demanding food with menaces (you get up or I claw your nose) because my alarms had gone off and I had failed to respond to them. With a slightly scratched nose (it was clear he had been at it for some time, poor cat, as he had not only scratched my nose but recruited several of the others to employ the age-old tactic of bouncing on top of me), I blearily fed them before C, my ex-husband, arrived to help me trawl everything into Croydon for the protest.
I felt very jaded and slightly deja-vuish as I stumbled around the streets I had been in just a few too-short hours before and the thought of being even more disreputable after being slightly disreputable in them did not really appeal until I had several cups of tea and some toast inside of me.
The restaurant is in the same street as the shop and heavily CCTVed as we found out from a previous protest, so heaven knows what the poor police thought as they once again spotted my purple bonce stumbling down the road.
There is no greater feel of companionship than getting together with people you know, like, respect and trust to do something right and good. I soon snapped into it.
M and I had the previous week come up with the idea of upping the ante a bit and I was due to “skin” her on the pavement. She had bought a very realistic fake fur coat and applied paint liberally to it. The photos we took did not do it justice – it looked very horribly real.
We chatted about how nice it would be to have had masks and lo and behold, C nipped to the stationery shop and with nothing except paper, scissors, a pen and a stapler, came up with three – one a cat face for M, who was going to play the victim, one evil face for me who was going to play the baddie and one other for me which was a bit naughty but which was going to be part of a video we were putting together.
S, an animal and people rights veteran arrived just after E, B and baby and in sitting making masks, planning the theatre piece and chatting we soon attracted the attention of two ladies at an adjacent table who were horrified to find that Bonita’s sold fur.So they went off to spread the word and we set off to set up.
It always amazes me how a group of completely disparate people can get together for a common purpose and suddenly, all the talents and experience one needs are in one place. There was nothing missing as E checked to see if the fur was still there (it was and there was more of it), I spread the tarpaulin, C and S helped with the tarp, the posters and paper and M lay down to portray the dead, mutilated cat.
M is drop dead gorgeous with a stunning figure. Having her on the ground got us attention from the get go. I did not need to even start cutting her up before people stopped. If I had known what effect we would get by putting gorgeous women on pavements in fake fur coats dripping with blood I would have done this years ago.
People stopped, stared, commented, chatted, agreed with us how awful it was. I asked E to film in a certain way and we did the theatre piece several times over as we got the right shots to splice together.
C wrote poetry, composed and sang a song, wrote salient prose to go with the photos and the big banner. E, M and I took turns to be the victim and the protest roared ahead.
We also attracted several interesting characters, one of whom thought that we were protesting about cats and dogs being used in Chinese takeaway meals (that old racist chestnut apparently still rears its head sadly) and one conspiracy theorist who was bang on the money but sadly had a nationalist slant which became more and more prominent (why oh why do people think that the English are a race?) and I managed to sideline him and eventually disappear him by initiating another round of videos.
It is amazing how vulnerable one feels with a mask on and I have learned that I shall not put anyone on the floor again without having their head towards the protest rather than the door as, in one of the only two pieces of negative feedback, someone threatened to kick M in the head.
The other piece of negative feedback came from some wally as we were setting up, protesting that the photos were disgraceful. Yes, they are but only by showing people what happens do we get the message across. And it is not our behaviour which is disgraceful, but those people who profit from such pain and torture. And I told him so.
The hours passed quickly in bursts of quiet time when we videoed, then huge, extended flurries of interest. Several bystanders stopped and shouted into the shop that they were a disgrace (not something we encouraged). We were filmed, photographed and commented on.
One poor lady walking past was reduced to tears by the photos and, being a regular client of Bonita’s, went in to remonstrate with them. Another we stopped before she went in, explaining that we could not encourage harassment so she promised to come back another day.
Towards the end of the protest, one of the owner’s friends came out to tell us we were wrong because it was fake. When we corrected her she said okay yes it was, but it was from farmed animals and no cats and dog fur was in the shop.
We asked her how she could tell, given that the fur came from China and was unlabelled. That tactic not working, she then told us that the owner loved her cats. We asked how she could love animals when she profited from the extreme cruelty of the fur trade.
The silly woman kept protesting that it wasn’t cat or dog fur and we asked what the difference was. A wild animal living in a cage and mistreated, only to end up hung from a hook and skinned alive is no less disgraceful than a dog or cat undergoing the same fate.
Apparently we were also terrible for targeting a small trader. We should be focussing our attention on the bigger shops. I did not bother to ask her why she thought it was justified to target a chain rather than a smaller shop if both sold fur.
The point we finally made was that the fur she was selling in the shop was exactly the unlabelled fur described in the press as coming from “fur farms” from where the pictures we use were taken and she had no idea what fur was used. I was on the pavement at this point and I have to say that remonstrating with a woman when you are lying on the ground in a cat mask and bloody coat was a new experience for me.
The apologist eventually asked if we would go away if she took the fur out of the shop. I said yes, we would go away if she stopped selling it (bearing in mind that over the road they have a bridal studio and would just set up in there). She finally gave up and went away which was good because my temper was starting to fray a little.
We finished off with loads more interest, a couple more re-enactments (M and C both managed to be far better baddies than me 🙂 ), some more filming and then we all shot off to our busy lives.
It will be very interesting to see what happens now. I hope she has received the message that if she keeps on selling it, she will keep on seeing us. We are now clearly having a significant impact on how that shop is perceived so she would be foolish to continue. Job almost done. And I am almost over my hangover :-).