Air pollution is a strange one really, isn't it? As environmental catastrophes go, it's fundamentally unsexy. Yes, we sort of know it's bad that the very air we breathe is coating our lungs bible-black with the seeds of an awful drawn-out, wheezing death. But how often, honestly, does it really cross your mind, even as the exhaust on the 185 billows its load directly into your gaping mouth for the third time this week?
Never. So half a cheer for Greenpeace, who spent Monday oozing about London slipping slightly steampunk-y masks on statues of eminent figures across the city in a bid to raise awareness about the foul miasma that squats over us all, all of the time. From Nelson's Column to the Cromwell statue in the grounds of Parliament, to the squashed bronze Thierry Henry outside the Emirates, Greenpeace have been busy. It remains to be seen exactly what a piece of patterned cloth over Eros's mouth is going to do to provoke change, but it's pretty safe to say that "awareness" has been well and truly raised.
The question, though, is whether they could have raised more. Yes, a few activists were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and carted off for an unspecified amount of time in a cosy Met dungeon, but has it really made its mark on the capital outside of excitable news desks on a slow Monday morning? What if they'd stuck exhaust pipes out the Diana memorial, or had a life-size model of Jimmy Savile blowing cigar smoke across the roof of New Broadcasting House?
Every protest is really about striking a balance between publicity and public revulsion, finding a way that's loud enough to get in the papers, but not so loud that people are no longer sympathetic to your cause. With that in mind, here's our exhaustive, authoritative, league-tabled list of alternative protesting spots in the capital.
Public Outcry: 10
Chance Of Getting Arrested: 10
Just ask Charlie Gilmour about the consequences of taking out your piping-hot rage at the British state at the Cenotaph. The son of Pink Floyd shredder David Gilmour was apparently "unaware" that he was swinging from the monument during the student protests in December 2010. Blind rage, commingled with an afternoon of gubbing vallies and LSD, meant that not only did Gilmour commit an act of disrespect that doubles as the quickest shortcut to Daily Mail "SCUMBAG" status, he also threw a rubbish bin at a car in the royal convoy, in what is surely the floppiest attempted regicide in history.
Basically, the Cenotaph is a no-no for direct action. Can you imagine the pain etched on your grandmother's face if that was you caught live by ITV News, T-shirt torn, swinging like a salmon from the most solemn of British monuments? Even if you're protesting the torture and abuse of micro-pigs, it's difficult to imagine you'd garner much sympathy.
FORTNUM & MASON
Public Outcry: 7
Chance Of Getting Arrested: 8
This has gone quite well in the past, with UK Uncut getting big headlines for their protest here in 2011 and racking up 10 convictions in the process. There is obvious potential in gathering a large group of frothing protestors in a boutique department store. Think of the pictorial possibilities: frightened au pairs of oligarchs are locked inside rows of Blenheim hampers, their feet swinging wildly at the wicker walls. A gaggle of trustafarian crusties tipping vats of boutique jam onto the sinister greying heads of the overwhelmed plods on the gilded W1 streets makes for a good front page. The only issue is that it's been done before, but there are plenty of other posh shops that could garner similar attention: why not occupy the toilets in a Waitrose?
THE ROOF OF PARLIAMENT
Public Outcry: 7
Chance Of Getting Arrested: 10
This is one of those ideas that seems great and grandiose, but is in reality just rubbish. Greenpeace have got previous here, as do the forces of suburban fury directed against Heathrow expansion. More recently, a man clambered on the roof and seemed to just pace about a bit before getting down and submitting to arrest.
The thing is, no one knew if he was a protestor or just a pissed, lost tourist. Herein lies the rub. Even if a contemporary Father-4-Justice was lurking, primed with banners, grievances and smarting child support payments, the roof of Parliament would be a crap choice. No one can really see you, it looks like it'd be a nightmare to get up there and your only real audience is a mixture of bemused backbenchers and tired commuters.
ANY NEW SMALL BUSINESS WITH A HINT OF A GIMMICK
Public Outcry: 5
Chance Of Getting Arrested: 2
A few months have passed since the Cereal Cafe brothers were ambushed by a frothing mob of Special K-loving luddites and drowned in shallow bowls of imported milk, their mouths stuffed to overflowing with Fruit Loops, their eye sockets torn bare and filled with beef-flavoured Frosties. Terrible way to go. Sickening. But very, very effective in reversing the aggressive gentrification of east London. Since the protest there have only been eleven new branches of Byron opened on my street and my rent increased by, at most, 35 percent this month. So thank god that small business was smashed up, everything's better now!
CLAPHAM JUNCTION TRAIN STATION
Public Outcry: 0
Chance Of Getting Arrested: 0
I've had a theory for a few years that Clapham Junction station might be the place that sparks the revolution. All of the damp souls commuting from Forest Hill to Hammersmith, the chorus of Sky Sports salesmen, the sodden-bagel-in-a-bag kiosks. Imagine if someone, someday, swaggered up with a big sign and some multi-coloured knickers on their head and said: "Work is bad. You are a slave. A Drone. A Shill." Imagine that person did that at 8:30am on a Tuesday morning in mid-March. There would be stampedes of long-repressed fury. Anarchy as the legions of the poor downtrodden finally fought back and kicked against the grain of their empty, exploited lives. You could get a full-on bonkers Class War rammy going down and I sincerely think the entire rotten edifice would collapse. Or at least slightly inconvenience the Sainsbury's Local at the arse-end exit.
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