No austerity at Parliament Square

Earlier this evening, up to a hundred people gathered at Parliament Square for the start of a weekend of workshops, conversations, talks, music, entertainment and planning. The ‘occupy’ movement found that Boris’s GLA fences have been extended even further, so the whole square is now out of bounds to the public.

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Despite the announcement that 12% of police jobs are under threat due to austerity cuts, it seemed no expense was spared to protect the grass from spontaneous democracy tonight, with around 60 police spread out a few feet apart entirely encircling the perimeter fences, as well as the “heritage wardens” keeping guard inside, and police photographers and their intelligent-gathering ‘police liaison officers’ mingling with the crowd and journalists on the thin strip of pavement at the front.

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Despite threats of arrest, there is still no law against gathering or even protesting, only a set of restrictions that make it very difficult, so the occupation goes on, and after some marching , the group later found a safer space with more room behind the square in front of the Supreme Court.

One person was arrested near the Nelson Mandela statue after a good-natured attempt to break through one of the fences.

There’s some great coverage with live video feeds, but check out the programme of events and join in if you can.  occupydemocracy.org.uk

Students’ national march against fees and cuts – report and pics

On November 10th 2010, the Tory HQ at Millbank was left virtually unprotected by police, despite a passing march by thousands of students angry over government plans to massively raise tuition fees.

Most readers will no doubt know that as a result, a mass occupation and serious damage took place that afternoon. Whether the lack of police was a plan or a cock-up, it led to later student marches being met with a series of police traps, mass kettles, extreme provocation and violence, and severe injuries, in what appeared to be large scale indiscriminate extra-judicial punishment against any students daring to raise their democratic voices. This was backed up with a mainstream media campaign of lies and demonisation. (Links to my reports at the time N24/1, N24/2, N24/3, N30/1, N30/2).

Four years on, a similar scenario unfolded yesterday afternoon over hours rather than weeks – the inexplicably hands-off policing at Parliament Square and the new Tory HQ in Matthew Parker Street turned later into arbitrary violence and arrests as riot police chased, attacked and dispersed a large breakaway group of students around Westminster and Victoria.

The protest began in Malet Street, where, despite the National Union of Students officially pulling out due to “safety concerns”, several thousand student activists still gathered for the march to Parliament which was co-organised and now promoted by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

There were Forward Intelligence Officers as well as many ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (who also feedback intelligence), among the crowd, and given that there were dozens of ‘Blac Bloc’ overtly carrying a large banner that read “Millbank Everything”, it would take a high degree of stupidity, or some ulterior motive, for police commanders not to protect the new Tory HQ if nowhere else.

The main march was largely uneventful apart from a couple of stops at anti-capitalist targets such as Topshop and Starbucks, entrances briefly blocked by students chanting “Pay Your Taxes”.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Given the ridiculous fencing around Parliament Square (which was guarded by a hundred or more police on the recent Million Mask March), it was odd that fewer than a dozen officers were deployed there yesterday. And when the march arrived at the Square, those officers first looked on as people climbed over the double barriers, and then they briefly fought some masked protesters who were staring to dismantle the inner fences.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Meanwhile, behind the scuffling cops, other students easily pulled down the fences, and soon hundreds streamed on to the square, re-enacting the occupation that took place last time students challenged Boris’s democracy-bashing enclosure of the publicly-funded privately-owned grass of Parliament Square. The handful of police withdrew, one of them muttering “this was a fuck-up”.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

And while more students ensured the double-barriers were also opened up for free access, and others danced and drummed on the grass in front of Parliament, the only police presence was distant and mainly comprised of surveillance.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Many students carried on to the rally point and listened to various speakers, but several hundred formed the breakaway group around the Square, who after a while decided to move off towards Victoria Street.

As I ran ahead to the Tory HQ, their obvious target, I was surprised to find fewer than a dozen police there, who seemed oblivious to the impending crowd of hundreds of angry activists. Despite the students’ anger and their numerical advantage there was actually only one half-hearted attempt to breach the thin blue line when a handful of students ran forward pushing a wheelie bin. As police raised batons and tried to grab the rammers, two people were arrested.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

There were no serious attempts at de-arrest and the crowd moved on rather aimlessly into Green Park, and then in a circle via Parliament Square, to the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills, where again, just a handful of officers stood between the crowd and the entrance, with some mild pushing and noisy chants, and two paint bombs made from sucked and refilled eggs.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

It was here though, that things began to change as first TSG officers moved in pushing people aggressively, and then vans of police in full riot gear turned up.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts
The students quickly moved on up Victoria Street away from the police, and then there was a stand-off as dozens of TSG officers rushed to guard a Starbucks outlet which then became the target of another couple of paint-bombs.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

It all started to get quite messy as police tactics seemed to turn to aggression, random lines across the road, and then some running chases. During one of these, I was pushed from behind, Tomlinson style, without warning, despite doing nothing other than photographing all afternoon, and I saw one running protester have his legs kicked out from under him by a thug in uniform. Unsurprisingly, some further scuffles ensued, and there were some seemingly arbitrary arrests.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

As more TSG started chasing groups of students anxious to avoid violence, kettling, or arrest, the march dispersed widely.

From the ludicrously unprepared policing of earlier afternoon, to the widespread intimidation and violence of later, took just 90 minutes resulting in 11 arrests, including affray and assaulting police, as well as several injuries.

A few students and a small samba band reconvened in Parliament Square, but when, after around 20 minutes, six riot vans turned up, people dispersed quietly. Then a group of a hundred or so arrived who had ended up marching via Buckingham Palace earlier, but dozens of police lined the precious grass, and protest was safely prohibited once more.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

NCAFC have claimed today that all arrestees were later released without a single charge, but the Met haven’t confirmed this yet, and some may have been bailed of course.

Quite how long the GLA intend to keep up the eyesore of fences around our “national heritage” site is anyone’s guess, but they face their next challenge tomorrow when ‘Occupy’ are planning another weekend of events in the Square starting 6pm.

National funeral for the unknown victims of traffic violence in London.

A year ago, there was a spate of six cyclist deaths in London over a period of a few days, sparking the ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ campaign, which staged a huge die-in outside the Transport for London offices.

Since that event, and despite one PR release after another from Boris Johnson, the reality is that not a single penny extra has been spent on improving cycling infrastructure, and in fact, in the interests of “traffic flow”, the Mayor has cut the times on pedestrian crossings, making pensioners and disabled people even more vulnerable to traffic violence.

So the campaign has broadened, becoming Stop The Killing, and yesterday’s funeral and die-in was a public call for ten demands to stop the cull – 2.4 million people have been killed or injured in road accidents in the past decade.

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Several hundred people gathered in Bedford Square and followed a horse-drawn hearse in a slow protest march along Oxford Street, handing out hundreds of flyers to passers-by.

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At Marble Arch, the crowd listened to some poetry and singing, including ‘Ode to Freedom’ and ‘Ave Maria’, before flowers were laid on the coffin and a powerful ten-minute die-in took place.

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A wide variety of speakers then addressed the packed area. Tom Kearney (Safer Oxford Street Campaign) spoke of his near-death experience after being struck by a bus on the UK’s most polluted and London’s most dangerous street.

Professor Brendan Delaney spoke about how Dutch style cycle facilities could transform our city and lessen the 4000 deaths per year caused by particulate pollution, as well as reducing diabetes and obesity rates, with huge savings to the NHS.

Bart Chan also thanked the NHS for saving his own life after he was hit by an HGV while cycling in the City of London, where the authorities maintain a ban on segregated cycle lanes.

Andrew Smith, a professional actuary, told us that among 20-40 year old women, the biggest cause of death was road collisions, while among men in the same age range it was only second to suicide. Traffic pollution accounts for 1 in 5 cancer deaths, and obesity, which is partly due to car culture, inactivity, and lack of exercise, is linked to more than half the death rate in our society.

Dominique Vesco, the mother of a French student living in London who was killed, aged 19, while cycling with friends to Brighton, spoke of the fact that the driver was never prosecuted, and gave her support for the need for a “Liability Law”.

Terry Hurlstone took the stage and described how he helped organise a sit-down by around 150 protesters in Oxford Street 42 years ago, bringing traffic to a stop with a huge chain between lamp-posts across the road. He was arrested and given a large fine, but with the help of Peter Hain (one of the demonstrators), an appeal was launched, the police withdrew, and he was left without a blemish on his name.

terry hurlstone

terry hurlstone

Islington Green Party councillor, Caroline Russell, made the link with climate change. Around a fifth of carbon emissions are from transport, and it continues to expand. She said we need a huge shift in culture and transport systems in cities, pointing out that we have the means, but not the political will.

Donnachadh McCarthy, one of the main organisers of the event, finished the afternoon by comparing UK and Dutch expenditure on cycling. In Holland, the government spends £28 per person on cycle infrastructure, whereas in the UK, Labour spent only £1, and the Con-Dem govt, just £2.

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He took us through the ten demands that the campaign is making, finishing on a positive note, thanking the hundreds who had attended the event, and reminding us of the benefits to climate, health, and community, as well as the economic benefits, lessening the strain on the NHS, and changing the quality of life and culture of cities.

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#Anonymous #millionmaskmarch London Nov 5th – pics and report

The battle lines were drawn when the media announced that the Metropolitan Police had imposed a Section 60A around Westminster, giving them the power to forcibly remove masks, and the Met also erected a digital notice board in Parliament Square with a long list of things people mustn’t do, which included lighting fires or setting off fireworks.

So, no masks, fires, or fireworks for the million mask march on bonfire night then!

Oh, and in case you thought you might at least enjoy yourself with some beats, the digital sign, a list of proscribed activities, included amplified music too, before signing off by thanking people for their “coperation”, which might have been a spelling mistake or perhaps just a final insult.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

As the march arrived in Parliament Square at around 7pm, the thousands of activists, masked and unmasked, were met not just by the GLA’s pathetic wire fences and their pompous “Heritage Wardens” ensuring nobody tried to protest on the grass in front of Parliament, but also by hundreds of riot police guarding that fence, themselves ensconsed behind double barriers weighed down by sandbags.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Some of the marchers began immediately dismantling the barriers, and then, despite the ‘anonymous’ call-out not to engage with police, a small minority immediately escalated the tension with some physical engagement, leading to batons drawn, full riot gear, and some flashes of violence.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

However, despite this momentary flashpoint, most of the crowd was peaceful, Russell Brand spoke to the cameras, Vivienne Westwood arrived with her Climate Revolution crew, and one of the main stated aims of the march, to bring gridlock to London, got underway, with all roads into Parliament Square either closed or at a standstill.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Like last year, rather than stand around in the Square watched by hundreds of police, the crowd soon moved off, overturning most of the hundreds of crowd barriers and using them to obstruct roads.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Soon there were a thousand or more people outside Buckingham Palace, and again there were a few skirmishes over the double-barriers, but otherwise, it was a mostly peaceful crowd with a wide range of home-made banners, a few fireworks, and some famous faces.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

On a mini-megaphone, political rapper, Lowkey, received a warm welcome as he performed.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

After a while, and sensing police numbers building up, the march moved off again, heading up through Green Park onto Piccadilly, completely filling the road, and passing the Ritz, which was guarded by police in full riot gear.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Moving quite quickly, via Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street, the next target was the BBC, where an occupation was only just held off by a thin line of baton-wielding police until re-inforcements came.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Like similar large protests at the BBC before, this one, with hundreds of anonymous protestors thronging the courtyard and dozens of cops in full riot gear clearing the area, was hardly reported, getting just one sentence on the local news website and no national coverage from the national broadcaster.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Not waiting for police to catch up, the protesters headed off west along Oxford Street, and then spread out across Park Lane. There, the authorities attempted a blockade which at first looked like a possible kettle, but then seemed to turn into a disruption/splitting tactic, which was partially successful, but at the cost of blocking the major road in both directions with police lines and vans, thus causing more gridlock. Meanwhile, many demonstrators passed the police lines by jumping over the fences into Hyde Park, while others just sat on the banks watching the police blockade the traffic for them.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

While one quite large group marched through Mayfair and back down to Piccadilly, word seemed to spread for all the various splinters to reconvene back at Parliament, and there, by around 10.30, there were hundreds of protesters again blocking the approach roads. Once more, police seemed to be forming lines to potentially kettle people, and there were some skirmishes as people broke through a line of riot police on Bridge Street.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london
They continued on to Westminster Bridge, where a sit-down protest began.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across londonAs police formed new lines, some in full riot gear, and pushed more people on to the bridge, I had memories of the students kettled there for hours in the freezing cold a few years ago, but tonight, there were no police squeezing from the south side. Police were stopping anyone from leaving north over the bridge, and one person who tried ended up getting some unusual treatment from a police medic.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Groups of mouthy cops were forcibly pushing anyone who looked like they might be a protester onto the bridge.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

The Met later announced there were 11 arrests on the night, with one de-arrested later. Most were for obstruction or public order offences, with three alleged police assaults, one fireworks offence, and one more serious ‘attempted GBH’.

Anonymous is a strange beast, able to mobilise quite a large and defiant crowd, with no real aim other than disruption and gridlock. It represents a huge range of political views and motives, loosely linked by disaffection with current systems and the corruption, injustice, inequality and increasing control that characterises them.

Among the crowd were right-wing elements, anarchists, NGOs and professional campaigners, disaffected youths, lefties, celebs, agents provocateur, campaigners for the NHS, and those against corruption and paedophile cover-ups in Westminster, internet freedom groups, 9/11 truthers, privacy activists, and some party animals. There were some fireworks but no large sound systems. There were people tearing down barriers and overturning bins, but there were others clearing up the bins after them. While a small number of people threw objects and fought with police, others tried to engage them in political discourse.

Apart from Westminster and the Palace, the only other notable target for protest was the BBC, and as the cops guarded the Ritz, just a few steps further on the protesters filed past a wide-open Fortnum and Masons, also ignoring all the usual anti-capitalist targets such as mega tax-avoiders Vodafone, MacDonalds, Boots, and Top Man, with just a handful taking part in what was effectively just low-level looting for food and drink at a couple of Sainsbury branches.

Given the scale of disruption and gridlock, and the level of sporadic violence, the arrest numbers were low, the police clearly on orders to defend Parliament and the grass with their sheer weight of numbers (so much for austerity), while de-escalating and disengaging at several points throughout the evening. The press coverage, despite right-wing scaremongering from the usual suspects before the event, was quite muted and sparse after it, even though this was quite an impressive world-wide phenomenon – Anonymous claiming nearly 500 events worldwide on November 5th, with huge rallies in many major cities.

You can’t arrest an idea, especially an idea as nebulous as this one.

5th november 2014 anonymous million mask march across london

Global Day for Kobane – pics and report from London 1st November

Several thousand London Kurds and their supporters gathered in Trafalgar Square as part of a worldwide protest against what is happening to Kobane, an amazing autonomous Kurdish community in Northern Syria, which is under siege and attack by Islamist fighters.

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Kobane has become a rallying issue for many progressive groups, including anarchists, because of their model and refreshing system of democracy and decision-making, which strives for equality and defends women’s rights.

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While Islamic State fighters commit massacres and rapes, the West, and particularly Turkey are giving little or no support to the besieged Kurdish people, who rely on their own ‘People’s Protection Units’, the YPG, and the women fighters of the YPJ, to keep the attack at bay. These soldiers are widely recognised in the region as a democratic people’s army, and they hold internal elections to appoint their leaders.

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The three-hour rally attracted a wide range of support from dozens of speakers, and kicked off with performer/activist Mark Thomas who was unequivocal in his support of the Kurds and the need for action against ISIS.

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He also called for an immediate lift on the ban on the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, (the PKK) who have been conveniently proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the West (including NATO), but whose Turkish-jailed leader has given up the original Marxist-Leninist armed struggle and has helped establish the almost utopian Democratic Confederalist system in place in Syrian Kurdistan while striving for a political solution.

Mark’s calls were echoed by human rights lawyer, Margaret Owen.

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She also described Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) as a utopia of equality, providing support and sanctuary for internally displaced people including Christians, Armenians, Turkmen, Arabs, and others, and she spoke of the extraordinary tenacity and bravery of the women fighters of the YPJ.

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Green MEP, Jean Lambert announced she would be visiting Istanbul next week and pushing hard for the PKK ban to be lifted. She also mentioned Qatar’s role in supporting ISIS and buying black market oil from them, something that Turkey is also accused of.

The huge crowd listened to speaker after speaker throughout the sunny afternoon.  Radha d’Souza from the Indian Association of Lawyers condemned Turkey’s aspirations to a new Ottoman empire, and spoke of solidarity from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

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Roman Catholic Priest Father Joe Ryan, co-ordinator of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission described Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK, as the Nelson Mandela of the Kurdish people, and called for his release (for a decade from 1999, he was the sole prisoner on an island prison in Marmaris, echoing Mandela’s plight).

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell drew ‘just war’ comparisons with the struggle against Spanish fascism, and the war against Nazism. He called for the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants against ISIS leaders, and against Assad, and for Turkey to be suspended from NATO for its support of ISIS despite the massacre of Kurdish people. He also highlighted the immediate need for air dropped supplies of food, medicine and arms to the people of Kobane.

Tamil activist, Karthick, alluded to the French Revolution and other workers’ revolutions, and said that Kobane would go down in history as one of the most important revolutions in the 21st Century.

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He said that the YPG and YPJ gave hope that peace, justice, and women’s rights were all possible, and he condemned Turkey for killing protesters and supporting ISIS.

A speaker from the Spanish Basque Society offered solidarity, as did Islington Labour leader, Richard Watts. Labour activist Norah Mulready spoke about the YPJ and said that an attack on one woman was an attack on all.

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Speaker after speaker condemned Turkey and ISIS and honoured the Kurdish struggle and the democratic society of Rojava. Among them were Steve Hedley from the RMT, who said the PKK were a national liberation army, Trevor Rain (Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism) who said the Kurds and the Palestinians were the two great losers in the Middle Eastern imperialist carve-up, with the UK having a special responsibility, and political writer Sukant Chandan, who described ISIS as NATO death squads, or hitmen for international capital.

The crowd then listened to a live telephone call from Kobane, by Asya Abdullah, a co-chair of the People’s Democratic Union Party.

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She thanked the rally for being part of a historic global day of resistance, and categorised ISIS as the enemies of women, humanity and culture. She described the horrors of 48 days of resistance in Kobane with the deaths of hundreds and thousands of men and women, but called it a global resistance, saluting the international grass roots solidarity.

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With police pressuring organisers to meet a 5pm deadline to finish the rally, there were short messages of support from a whole swathe more speakers, and there was a powerful air of global solidarity as we heard of similar huge rallies around the world, in Rome, Bremen, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Ankara, Istanbul, Bilbao, Orlando, Bombay, Vancouver, Stockholm, Dusseldorf, Honduras, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Rio, Washington, Liverpool, Houston, and dozens more cities.

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Mark Thomas is organising a Kurdish Red Crescent benefit night at the Bloomsbury on 23rdNovember with a fantastic line-up of top comedians and special guests.

Halloween Critical Mass bicycle ride – a few pics

On the last Friday of each month, London cyclists meet from around 6pm under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank, to ride together for a couple of hours around London (normally setting off about 7).

The name perfectly sums up the way the route is chosen, different each month, whereby front runners (there are no “leaders” of the mass) suggest a direction, and if enough people follow it, a critical mass is achieved and everyone follows. Often this happens smoothly, but on occasion a small split will occur at a junction, with the direction achieving critical mass winning.

On what was the warmest UK Halloween on record, the ride was well attended, with several hundred folk meeting at the South Bank, many in costume.

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Among the highlights for me, were the dog on a bike,

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and someone feather-dusting waiting taxis and buses.

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As usual the mass was a colourful, mixed and friendly crowd.

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With so many cyclists ensuring the road was ours and safe for a change, it was great seeing skateboarders and bikes doing racing wheelies on the normally traffic-heavy Park Lane.

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More info on the London critical mass website.

Pocket money loans for kids – could it be real?

Artist Darren Cullen has opened the new Atom gallery in Stroud Green with a controversial work entitled ‘Pocket Money Loans’.

He’s been receiving support and interest from some passers-by and media, but also a fair share of abusive emails from people who believed the art to be real. Social media has been similarly confused, and his fake website, pocketmoneyloans.com has had around 50,000 hits so far.

The gallery opened last week, looking much like a high street payday loan shop, but clearly targeted at kids.

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Darren sits behind the cash counter each day, with a strategically placed trampoline made available so that smaller children can bounce high enough to read the fine print.

Various posters advertise a range of services, including bouncy castle mortgages, up to £100 for your toy car, and special offers from the tooth fairy.

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The gallery is decorated with balloons and also features a handy abacus for totting up interest, and a little table and chairs for signing agreements.

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Among the responses Darren has had, was a trademark infringement warning from US payday loans company, Speedy Cash. They were apparently upset by the use of a photo from their own website, which Darren reproduced by way of comment on the blog page of his site.speedy cash kangaroo

The offending image is reproduced here (under fair usage, news and comment). Although obviously loans are only available to adults, Speedy Cash is not alone among companies that seem to sanitise their murky industry by using family-friendly and particularly child-focussed images.

In fact, taking a look around the Speedy Cash website, I came across this image from their main page, featuring young children blowing out birthday candles. speedy cash webpage

It’s in the context of this sort of advertising and promotion, that Darren decided to create his art installation, and he gives many similar examples on his blog, adding up to a compelling case for regulation and restriction.

The Stroud Green store is open Monday to Saturday 10-6 until next Friday 7th November. Darren’s past work can be seen at his main website.