At the foot of the meshed metal icon, amongst the demountables and near the mounds of wired-off grass, on the hard pavements a little away from the long queues waiting to climb the tower, a solitary briefcase sits abandoned beside a bench. Some people freeze in quiet fright. One woman approaches the bicycle police. As the police swoop to confiscate the brown leather bag, a well-suited man runs up, sorry sorry sorry sorry. The police shake their heads. It makes no difference, now, whether it is London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo; we are past the age of innocence, where a dropped teddy bear [let alone a briefcase] could be left on the roadside without raising an alarm
Looking up the scooped pylons, the great Iron Lady is like an inverted cat’s cradle. Around its base, the sellers of gewgaws tout their desperately second-quality plastic wares. They are all dark-skinned Africans trying to gain a foothold in this country. Our children have noticed that cleaners, and these kind of touts, are all black. I have noticed that toilet attendants can be those with a moderate mental illness, often working in pairs, engaged in sour end-games with each other, feeding their addictions to nicotene and vodka even at 10 in the morning. The children are learning about social history even as they queue for the toilet.
We are swooped upon by deaf-mutes, blowing the air with kisses, gesturing to their hearts in a kind of supplication we are obliged not to resist. Each face strikes a pose of suffering; they thrust a photocopied page at our chests, with a pen swiftly placed in unwitting hands. There is a small ‘handicapped’ insignia on the page, ruled lines, a few signatures, but not much more to indicate that anything on the page comes from a bona fide organisation. Nonethelees, they swoop so swiftly that one is left breathless, and the tourist has this interior monologue thrown at her, the collector not even moving her lips:
Ahh, madam, you consumer you, I am so glad you are here, at the foot of this incredible monument. Take a moment to think of how hard it is for people who are not as you, who have no chance to take in these delights, who need your help because our government, our fickle Prime Minister, you know his name I’m sure, no-one is giving it to them. I touch at my heart, you will blush and give me what I ask for. You struggle with your French, but I struggle every day through the silence. Madame, Monsieur, here is the paper, sign.
They become hostile when you wave them away. Over a few days, we become accustomed to the pattern of their swooping, watching them herd those in a crowd looking up [at the sights] rather than down [at their ground], isolate them, and begin to peck. Tim steps back and watches the gaggle of them [there must be about 15 working the square] chatting together –without hand-signs-- planning their next swoop, eyes cocked at another group of tourists.
O city city city….
We meet with an old friend of Tim’s and her delightful daughter C. in the Tuileries. She shows us the square of grass where we are allowed to sit [on many we are not].