31/3/90

HAMPSTEAD HEATH AND RIOTS After a late and drunken night, we slept away a good part of the morning, then had a big breakfast of bacon eggs and sausages.

We decided to go out to Hampstead Heath to get some fresh air so we caught the Underground over to Oxford Circus then caught a bus out to the Heath. It was a bright sunny day but there was a cool breeze blowing by the time we got off the bus.  We bought some pastries and fruit then walked up into the park, which covers a couple of hundred acres of rolling hills. We lay in the sun talking and watching the many different varieties of dogs going by with their owners.

After an hour or so we wandered on through the park and eventually ended up amongst the posh, uppercrust houses of Hampstead Heath. We had a drink in a local pub full of rich kids comparing their allowances, then walked back into another corner of the park and lay in the long grass beside a small Lake. Finally we walked up the main street of Hampstead, a ghetto of flash cars and flashier people, and sat on the steps of a building watching the efforts of a hectored traffic warden to stop an unending stream of Yuppies and tossers from parking their convertibles on the No Parking line.

We caught a bus back to Kings Cross Station and from there another to Victoria. Finally, we caught another bus to Piccadilly Circus where the bus conductor informed us a riot over the Poll Tax¹ was in progress. The bus became jammed in traffic about halfway up Piccadilly Circus, so we got off and walked up to the fountain [Eros] in time to see the tail end of the mob as it moved on it’s path of destruction up Regent Street.  A black swarm of police keep the crowd of sightseers and tourists at bay, while the sounds of the mob, left unchecked, could be clearly heard as it smashed it’s way up Regent Street, above the roar of people chanting “NO POLL TAX” and the screams of sirens.

We walked down Haymarket where every window was smashed in by uprooted rubbish tins and pieces of asphalt dug out of the street. Horatio Nelson looked down on the scene of the battle. Trafalgar Square was a mess of broken wood, scaffolding, bricks, cardboard, and 100 other forms of rubble. The portacabins on a building site next to the South African Embassy had been set on fire and their burned-out shells still smoldered as groups of punks skinheads and other dropouts who hadn’t gone off on the rampage, milled around the square heavily outnumbered by grim-faced police.

We walked up Whitehall past number 10 Downing Street where it appeared that the fighting had started, then over Westminster Bridge and back to the pub. For the rest of the day, and long into the night, the scream of sirens echoed through the city. 

¹For a description of the cause and result of the Poll Tax Riot, check out this entry on Wikipedia.

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