You’d think that activism was easy, that it just comes to you like a lightning bolt in a storm. But it’s not. What they don’t tell you, when you see the witty, urbane, digs at Boris Johnson in a crowd of protestors, is that a lot of faff and annoying shit goes into making those signs behind the scenes. Especially for someone like me, with very little creative or political motivation to fuel my fire, I found that in the end, putting up a sign calling Prince Andrew a paedophile was almost more trouble than it was worth. But it was worth it. And I would encourage anyone reading this who has a local official, figurehead, politician, or friend who’s a rampant paedophile, to do the same. Below is the story of how I did it, to encourage the next generation of nonce-bashers to give it their all, I myself am proof that you can stand up to the establishment and live to tell the tale.
I had the germ of an idea over a year ago now. Long before moving to London, I was sat at my desk, not doing work, and, as usual, contemplating the banal office humour, that manifests in signs and coffee mugs nationwide. “Life’s a beach”, a classic of the genre. “Gone fishin’”, another favourite. “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps”… now that’s a piece of office memorabilia that I’ve not heard in a long time. Now that I start to think about it, there’s nothing really funny about it, honestly I’m not even sure I get it. Most offices don’t even have that many crazy people in them, if you want an office of crazy people you should go to congress! — And that’s it. That’s the golden nugget, the holy grail of comedy. What if “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps” was applied to those crazier than anyone, politicians. This was political satire at its finest, a perfect distillation of everything that’s majorly effed up about our current society. How funny would it be to put up a sign saying that outside the centre of government? And how much would the person who put that sign be showered with glory and respect? He, or she, (he) would be a martyr for the people, somewhere between Guy Fawkes (executed for trying to blow up the king) and Ricky Gervais (tells dark jokes and offends people).
As I planned with my friends to move to London, looking at flats and discussing move-in dates, this idea was always in the back of my mind. I kept it right at the top of my List of Things To Do in London, above ‘listening to London Boy by Taylor Swift’ and ‘pointing at things like a tourist’. Move-in date came and the hectic non-stop London goings-on superseded my comedic plans, I was too busy, believe it or not, having a life. Going out with friends, going on dates, going to museums and parks. But through all this I never lost sight of the real reason I moved to London, every reminder of society’s ills, every asinine smirk from a member of the cabinet prodded at me, I couldn’t escape the opportunity I was foregoing, and the responsibility. It wasn’t long before I realised that my sights should aim higher than the lowlifes of the political world and I should be sniping at the real elite: The paedophile royal family. Prince Andrew had resurfaced in the news as a result of Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction and the fact that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II was paying her nonce son’s legal bills rankled with every member of the British public, I assume. At least those who overheard me occasionally going into a diatribe about the paedo royals to my tolerating friends on the underground agreed. Silently nodding just out of my periphery, as if to say, “We know what you’re planning. Please, do it for us.” And so I resolved to develop on the idea with a second sign. A more serious one, to make the establishment sit up and take notice. “You don’t have to be a paedophile to work here… but it helps.”
My weekends at the beginning of 2022 were filling up fast and knowing that with each week that ticked by the relevance and power of my statement would wane, I marked my calendar. 22nd/23rd January: “Do the sign thing”. As it came closer, I started scoping out potential signposts to put my message on. That is one thing they don’t tell you about activism, sourcing your materials is an absolute pain in the arse, all I could do was keep my eyes out for a suitable piece of wood, combing the unruly tangles of London’s streets for discarded fence posts or For Sale signs. With just a few weeks to go I found it, we think it was a bit of a door frame, but it worked. It was a green line of wood, with a bit of weird angle that made it hard to attach a sign to it, and it was flat at the bottom so I would have to carve it into a spike to get it into the ground, but it worked.
The bit of wood and the Shreddies boxes I had saved for the actual sign were stored outside the flat and above the fridge respectively. They couldn’t help but attract questions from friends and visitors. People would ask “What’s the deal with that wood?” or “What’s the deal with that Shreddies box?” and I would awkwardly reply that it was for this thing I was doing but don’t worry about it, it’s not that cool, I don’t even really care about it anyway. When the day of the activity came about, I made sure to wake up early in the morning so that I could go the hardware shop and purchase a saw. We had plenty of blunt kitchen knives but to get a suitable signpost spike, it would need specialist equipment. Unfortunately, specialist equipment is not what I got. I picked up the cheapest saw I could find (£5) assuming that would do the job as it was only a small bit of wood I had to get through. I got home after 10 minutes of trying to determine the least threatening way to carry a saw while walking down the street and took to the post with the saw, it broke immediately. Even this extremely soft wood was too strong and pulled the teeth away from the frame of the saw. I wasn’t gonna go back and get a new saw so I valiantly struggled through for another 30 minutes until I had something resembling a spike, luckily the ground was quite soft, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed by a floppy sign falling over repeatedly.
Little did I know, the hardest work was yet to come, and what I went through elevated my respect for homeless people to a whole new level. For anyone that thinks that the destitute of London are down on their luck because they are lazy ought to try and make a beggar sign without squashing the letters at the end. In hindsight it astounds me that I have never seen a shoddy sign saying “Spare some change. God bless.” where the last words are half the width of the others, it requires serious planning and mapping. I wrote out my messages with pencil several times and had to correct it several times, before I reached a spacing that was remotely legible. I had previously thought that the hardest part of being homeless would be staying upbeat enough to offer platitudes like “Have a good day.” and “Get home safe.” to every single passer-by outside a tube station, but after writing on a sign for the best part of half an hour, I now understand true adversity.
After getting the signs to a level that I was vaguely satisfied with, I set off to Westminster for the Houses of Parliament with my bag on my back, a wooden piece of doorframe in my hand, that I had avoided accidentally hitting travellers with, and my loyal friend following me to adventure like a dog following his master. Arriving out of the tube station immediately sparked alarm, as we saw we were not alone in standing up to ‘the man’ on this particular Saturday. But if we thought that you had to be crazy to work in the government, that was no match for the craziness one had to be possessed with to spend a Saturday standing outside government building wasting your time by protesting with signs and chants (my joke sign notwithstanding). It was, unsurprisingly, an anti-vaccine protest. Not wanting to be caught confused for someone that actually cares about issue, nor wanting to be in the eyes of the various police officers loitering, we made a move around them to slightly further away from the building and to a good spot of grass, lush, green, and ripe for using satire to affect real social change.
I pulled out the double-sided tape, of which I was only using one side, and assembled a sturdy sign, doing my best to look up disapprovingly at the anti-vaxxers and tut every few seconds, which severely slowed the process. Sign assembled, I strutted forwards, and planted my sign in the ground, smugly looking back at the police behind me, as if to say “What are you gonna do about it? It’s my freedom of speech”. I could tell, even from a distance that they were fuming, getting all hot under the collar, as I stepped back to bask in my work of art. This is it, the middle finger to the establishment, right under their bloody noses. Forget the fact that no one was even looking at it because of the much louder protest going on down the road, they all knew.
After snapping a few pics, I hastily took the sign down before I got into trouble. I didn’t want to get it confiscated before we got to the really spicy one. As I was deconstructing it (read: ripping the tape off), me and my pal were approached by an anti-vaxxer asking us what we were doing today. I explained that I had made a funny sign, unrelated to his cause, and showed it to him. He didn’t seem to care and started talking about how oppressive the vaccine and masks are. Weird that. We exfiltrated carefully from this conversation (“Yeah, absolutely mate, so true. Anyway, we’ve gotta go now bye.”) and walked on 20 minutes to Buckingham Palace, feeling much like a terrorist, not in a violent way, but just knowing that I had something in my bag that would cause major damage to the establishment that only I had the power to unleash.
This time, during the sign construction, my friend made sure to stand a good distance away and go on his phone, so as not be seen conspiring with me beforehand, no reason we both should get arrested. The atmosphere around Buckingham Palace was markedly different from that of parliament. There were no protestors here, just tourists, going about their day, taking in the sights with no agenda, the perfect audience upon whom to hoist my political subterfuge. I was putting the final touches to my sign when a passing woman walked past and said something like “God, why can’t these people just get a life.” presumably thinking I was also one of those people that didn’t want a chip put in my arm. Haha, if only she knew, I don’t have a real point, I’m only pretending. If she had seen my sign, she could never have disagreed, its cold hard fact that Andrew is a paedophile. Of course, she might not get it, as he doesn’t live in Buckingham Palace and had recently been dropped from all royal duties. But to be honest, clarity of purpose wasn’t really something I cared about, as far as I was concerned, if the rest of the Royal Family was caught in the splash of paedo accusations, it was necessary collateral damage, they all probably are anyway. With these thoughts running through my head, I finished up my sign, planted it in the ground with even more pride this time, and stepped back to take it all in. This was the culmination of all those months planning.
After taking a few pictures and having a chuckle, I thought “Well, my work here is done.” and decided to leave the sign. More people would see it then, more of a statement, plus I didn’t want to carry it around anymore, we were going to some pubs in central after. As we left I managed to look back and see a passing family point at it, imagining them all murmuring in agreement. Unfortunately this was the only reaction we could see before scarpering, we spotted some police by the gates looking over at it. They then pointed at it and started to walk towards it so we started to sweat and picked up the pace a bit. Looked back again, fuck, are they coming towards us? Had they seen me? We started to run a bit, cursing the bright orange coat that my friend was wearing. I saw the police finally approaching the sign and plucking it ruthlessly from the ground and took the opportunity to stuff my black jacket into my bag. Hehe, they’ll never catch me now. It has since been pointed out to me that police being on the lookout for someone in a black jacket in London would be like trying to find a needle in a needlestack, but I felt like I had outsmarted them either way, jacket off, blending with the crowd, we were away. Prince Andrew called a paedophile, no repercussions. Another mission accomplished.