On Hotel Street
An anonymous purple coach filled with EDL supporters drives pasts me. It is sandwiched between four police motorcycles: two at the front and two at the back. The protesters inside are banging on the windows and whooping as the coach slows at the line of police officers twenty meters away from me. They start to get off the bus. One of the youths in a black hooded sweater is taken aside and searched. As I watch this I am approached myself. “Can you tell me what you are doing sir?”
The voice belongs to a police constable, dressed tactically and ready for a riot. He is much taller than me. He looks down at me. I decide that it would be a good idea to cooperate.
“I’m taking notes,” I say.
“Could you tell me what for?”
“Sure. I’m making notes for a piece of creative non-fiction. Journalism. There’s been a reading festival on all week. The EDL being here have disrupted it, but also provide an angle.” I think the police officer understands me.
“Do you mind showing me what you’ve written?” he asks me. I am quite sure that I’ve done nothing wrong, but with a hundred riot police guarding two hundred members of the EDL a literal stones throw away from me I thought it best to not protest. I flip the notebook to the front page. It’s a list of numbers and statistics.
“What are they? Are they badge numbers?”
“No. No. They’re statistics on the population of Afghanistan. I was at an event on Afghan women’s literature last Sunday and wanted context.”
I flipped forwards a few pages and showed him the numbers on literacy.
“I’m sorry I can’t really see them. I’m not wearing my glasses.”
“They’re appalling. But the talk was fascinating. Afghan poetry and short stories written by women is a really interesting lens to view that country with,” I say. I get to the pages about the peace vigil the day before and explain them quickly. We get to the page on the last hour. The police officer, who’s name I forget to ask for, sees the acronym SWP.
“What does that mean?” he asks pointing to the word.
“Socialist Workers Party, you know the guys who are always trying to sell their newspaper at demonstrations.”
I look at him and ask, “is everything all right?”
“Yes. We just think that the EDL might think you are a spotter for the ‘other side’ making notes about who’s arriving. We don’t want this to be the first incident.”
“I understand,” I say. I hadn’t considered the possibility that the EDL would be that paranoid or organized. I thought that their militant stance was all posing.
“You don’t have to stop what you are doing, but just be aware that you may get approached by other officers if you continue doing it. You aren’t part of the UAF are you?”
“No. I’m just an observer today.”
“Good. Where are you going to be?”
“I’m intending to stay around the clock tower and observe from there.” This is mostly the truth. I haven’t planned exactly where I am going to be. I intend to fairly fluid about specific plans.
“Good idea. I wish I was. Have a good day.”
I nod back at him, and he walks back through St. Martins Square leaving me with the unsettling feeling that I’d been watched by the police since taking notes at the clock tower fifteen minutes earlier. The conversation with the police officer has distracted me from observing the EDL supporters departing from the bus.
This I suspect was deliberate.
Image taken by a Citizens’ Eye reporter and found on this page: Massive police operation under way as protesters arrive in Leicester. The full sized version of the image can be found here and does not actually belong to me.