About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Thoughts from a body-bag

One hour inside a white plastic body-bag, lying on the cold slab stones of Piccadilly Circus, just outside the tube exit, supposed to be a dead body.

An hour was quite enough; you begin to understand, in this curious position, just how Edgar Allen Poe's buried alive character might have felt, if it had not been foe the coffin and the weight of the soil.

Oh, well I suppose I could ays that once again I am fulfilling my destiny, that is to act the corpse.

And yes, once again at the behest of Belarus Free Theatre.  If ever you've seen them you'll know why I was happy to get up at 6am and cycle to central London to be one their bodies.

And if you haven't, read this BBC article on Belarus for an introduction to the techniques of a government which seems not to have noticed the passing of Joe Stalin.

It was meant to be warm today, but at 7am there were low clouds and an icy east wind buffeted central London The coldest place of all was at ground level.

 I couldn't quite fit into my small to medium body bag. It felt like a useless sleeping bag, too short and too wide and too thin. But, as the marvellous Belarus Free Theatre's Fenella said, the main thing was that they were breathable.

Not that it would've made much difference to me, as half my face was sticking out into the freezing air.

Apart from that, each bag really made a little cocoon for each of us  - the 10 or so volunteers, at this location, many more in the more high-profile spots, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square -  who for whatever reasons had chosen to lend our bodies to Belarus for a couple of early morning hours.

Last year, we gave our bodies, naked on the ice-cold concrete paving of Hammersmith's Riverside Studios for Fuck Realpolitik.

This year, we were part of the Belarus give-a-body-back campaign.

Our carcasses were there to represent the bodies of  Belarusians who had died - no, who had been executed - in Belarus, and whose bodies had never been returned to their families.

Each time I meet or see or listen to any of the BFT people, who are always so delightful and friendly and appreciative - but I se in their eyes that there are dreadful,  urgent matters to be dealt with, they are driven - they are driven because in many cases, their friends and partners and lovers and family and colleagues and neighbours have already become victims to what is now (again thanks to BFT) widely known as the last dictatorship in Europe.

By comparison, being a corpse for an hour was easy stuff. Or so I thought.

The trouble was, once zipped up in your bag, you could see nothing but the vaguest shadows of passing people. Voices came and went. In the first few minutes, loud male scorn seemed to be pouring in - "oh dead bodies, but are you really dead?" "you're going to get very stiff  mate - watch out for piles", they said, on their way to god knows where.

After that, a strange silence descended - punctured ever few mintures by the voices of our supervisors, trying to interest passers-by in the demo. Sometimes you'd hear the clip-clop of high-heeled shoes getting closer, and closer , and about to stamp on your face - and then they'd pass. Office boys and office girls on their way to work, gasping on their last fags before the working day began. Lost tourists failing to meet he people they'd wanted to meet, phoning, texting, cursing. A few vaguely amused arty types on their way, perhaps to some gallery or auction room. "oh my god, dead bodies! Cool!".

Then again just you and your aching, freezing body. It is June but there is a cold East wind coming in over the back of my head and my legs are about to walk away from all this on their own.

 Feels like it's blowing all the way from Minsk, just for us.

Have I been here long now? Is it half-time yet?

Then - amazingly, the voice of our friendly organiser: "Volunteers! Ten minutes more."

The last 10 minutes seemed much longer than the first 50 - nothing but white and grey shadows to see, and disembodied voices to hear. And then, oh thank god, the 9am call, the tricky unzipping, staggering back to vertical, staggering past Eros to reach the bit of the square in sunshine.



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