Sunday 11 December 2011
Protests great and small
I little thought, when Tunisia set the democratic trail blazing at the beginning of the year, that 2011 would draw to a close with Putin-dominated Russia joining the party. But there they were south of Moscow's centre, about 50,000 of them, all protesting against parliamentary elections that no-one seems to doubt were rigged.
The top photo was swiftly placed on Wikimedia Commons by one of those ever-growing people whose courage we can't begin to grasp, Dmitry Mottl; below it is a kind of Where's Willy? shot by Brian Rybolt - who also took the next image - in which I am one of quite a few grinning gleefully not (knowingly) at the camera but at the fabulous Henry Goodman's witty song-plea to keep Gaby's Deli safe from needless obliteration by the ghastly Westminster City Council. Here's Henry with the owner, Gaby Elyahou, at the more or less impromptu 'Cabaret Falafel' on Thursday afternoon, where they were preceded by another wry ditty from Gaye Brown.
It's a drop in the ocean, yet equally reliant on force of numbers - as well I know in the dismal lack of response to save the black poplar trees on the south side of our gardens from a very dubiously reasoned execution - and once a London landmark is gone, it's gone for good. Daquise, unchanged since Coronation Year, outlived plans to redevelop the row of shops by South Kensington but then had a horrid makeover by New Polish Prosperity and is now unrecognisable. Here the proposition is to replace thriving Gaby's, which caters for salt-beef addicts and vegetarians alike, with a 'Strada-like chain restaurant', of which there are already hundreds in the West End. My colleague Judith Flanders set the ball rolling on The Arts Desk, clarifying the situation: sign the petition, please.
And I hope we'll have sound and/or vision of Henry's speech and song up soon. With that easy charm which makes everyone instantly jolly, he remembered sitting in Gaby's at various times with Jeremy Irons, Alun Armstrong and Ute Lemper. Whose image on the Chicago poster next to the cafe here - my pic as they were assembling for an outdoor shot - is both apt and a reminder that Gaby's is tied up with the soul of West End theatreland.
Then I was off, buying myself on the way a Chinese pork bun and a strong Italian espresso from other Soho stalwarts, to pure escapism and the fabulous Anne Schwanewilms digging luminously deep into Mahler at the Wigmore. But what a year it's been for people power. Not always successful - pray, or whatever it is you do, for the Syrians - and often with an ambiguous outcome; yet I can't remember a time in my life where the tide of the world seemed to turn so momentously in such a potentially hopeful direction. More, no doubt, to follow in 2012.