Guiding the Obstructed

In the City Guide course we were taught always to expect the unexpected when you are doing a walk. That was mostly directed to roadworks, but in agitated times there are new factors to consider.

So here I was outside Waterstones at Leadenhall Market, preparing for a lunchtime Walk City walk (www.walkcity.co.uk) within the next few days, and the way out to Leadenhall Street.....was blocked by tape, police and police vans.

The intrepid guide skirted round the back of the Lloyd’s Building and approached from Leadenhall Street, and the picture became clearer. A dark, dreary office building on the corner of Leadenhall Street and Whittington Street (entrance to Market) was festooned with an Occupy London banner.

No other sign of life inside, but outside were hanging around:

  • Police – holding the line and preventing anyone getting anywhere the building
  • Protesters – like an elephant, difficult to define, but easy to recognise, especially in the City
  • A Legal Observer – she must have been so, as she had an inscribed visibility jacket to prove it
  • Miscellaneous hangers around (like me).

Legal observer was unhappy, but with herself as she was cursing having lost her mobile phone – definite impediment in that situation. She was also explaining to others the status quo.

A sign on the building said Rafidian Bank. Wikipedia advises that it is the largest bank in Irag, with 165 branches. But the next Google entry reports the Bank going into provisional liquidation on 31 August 2011, which might explain the unoccupied building.

The guide proceeded on to examine various entrances to The Pinnacle development, an interesting inscription near the Gherkin, and the best place to stand in Mitre Square. Job done after a while, and so return to start via Aldgate and Leadenhall Street east-west.

Problem – Leadenhall Street now being closed from east end, and traffic diversions causing instant chaos, with bus routes suffering. As a City policeman pulled tape across road away from me, I started to walk down Leadenhall Street. “Oi, you can’t go down there!”, he bellowed.

But we in the City are made of sterner stuff, so I skipped round the corner, down an alleyway past a clandestine entrance to a betting shop, and re-emerged 100 metres up the road. There might have been another, more distant, “Oi”, but by this time PC had more important things to do trying to persuade the 25 bus that Leadenhall Street was out of bounds.

Anyway, the “action” was another 300 metres away, so no need for alarm and not much had changed by the time I got back. Except that by now there was more tape, and more policemen and police vans.

I stood and stared, as one does, but soon found myself giving directions to those puzzled by the obstruction – the bemused tourists, the office chap meeting a friend outside Lloyd’s, and a girl who moaned about this happening on Friday night, the implication being that this was sacrilegious behaviour. I had discovered a new pursuit, not guiding the lost, but guiding the obstructed.

Looping round through the market to the Bishopsgate end, one could now see that the Occupy London banner had gone, but the block was still on, and the atmosphere more tense as the bystanders included Occupy reinforcements who were frustrated at not being allowed up to the front line.

Legal observer was still around, but being berated by one protester. Apparently an issue was whether the building was protected diplomatic premises, and the moan was that “the lawyer” hadn’t turned up yet to advise. Always blame the lawyers.

A little more guiding and then time to withdraw, but as a I left there was a positive raising of voices as news filtered through – the lawyer may not yet have turned up, but The Guardian were on their way. Perhaps they had thought that Iraq was being occupied once more.

The author of this blog is a City of London, City of Westminster and National Trust Guide. Please see tabs for details.

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