CRASHING THE SHARD

I’m really excited to bring this tale of mischief from seasoned Ragwort Collector and one of the Invaders Of Burn The Shard.

@exedore_de exists solely in the Twittersphere and made a special journey to London in the hope of joining in with the shenanigans. You can see the photographic record of his trip on his Flickr dump. @exedore_de has also submitted an early contribution to Together.

Here is his story.

A video appears with a message: Burn the Shard. 23.11.2017. Details to follow.

After the events of Welcome to the Dark Ages, I know what needs to be done. Word is on the Outernet. It says “People, Stand by the JAMs.” It’s easy enough to coordinate logistics: return to London with a visiting friend on the 22nd, shift my time off from work a day, pay way too much to fly the tangerine nightmare (triple-checking the flight dates and having said friend confirm them to make sure they’re right), and figure everything else will work itself out.

A week later (Was it a week? Time is its own form of chaos these days…), the ticket lottery is announced. Own the book, check. Have read the book, check. Bring the book, can do. The usual notes about volunteers and signing up and whatnot. I throw my name in, figuring my accommodations host or a fellow member of The 400 will use the second ticket if I score.

But I don’t. Most of the 400 don’t. Theories go around, disappointment steams like a fog in a farm lagoon, and I debate saying to hell with it. A trip to London is never a cheap proposition, and it may be better to just write off the flight than run up the credit card on a second or third choice. But no, there are friends to see – some after a couple years – and a schedule begins to fall into place. Being outside FaceLife, I rely on information passed along the BlueBird to stay up to date on who has spare tickets (nobody I can reach) and for any alternative plans. Finally, the day before departure, an alternative is announced: Meet at the Three Crowns in Stoke Newington after 1700.

The flight passes. The morning and afternoon are a whirlwind of trains and meetings and too much coffee and roti. 1700 rolls around, and I leave my meeting and hop on the Overground. The Three Crowns isn’t at the easy-to-reach-by-Overground-alone bit of Stoke Newington, but the bit which requires a bus or a different line entirely. As Andy Gell would likely say, Whatever. At the pub, four blokes are sitting at a communal table in the back. An actual Jura resident from the Burning Era sits along the other end, happily keeping to himself (I missed the conversation), head buried in his iPhone23. I head to the bar and another late entry arrives. We order our round, sit down, and have a moan about missing out and what might be happening and it won’t really be as good as Liverpool, you know?

And then it appears on FaceLife: a frantic message from a member of The 400 who missed the ticket pull email. She gives her name and a postcode and suggests someone can claim it in her absence.

And then the next message: “That is not where we are.”

And the first message vanishes.

It’s a funny thing, that. We shift from being disappointed to curious. What’s near that postcode? What could set it off? It’s not far from L-13, and there are galleries and bars nearby and well this is interesting.

Another post, this time a pair of job cards. Flyposting x 99 and handing out Tangerines at Henry Pedders’ apartment. This would prove useful, but we didn’t know it yet.

And then FaceLife goes off again: Someone is arriving late and needs a +1. Anyone with a copy of 2023 to hand and within 30 minutes of the location should send a message. Two of the six have books with them. I left mine at home… but more importantly, the private message confirms the now-deleted postcode. We discuss briefly – maybe we bookless attendees should take a walk and see what we can see. After all, it’s not gate crashing to be on the street. It’s four blokes enjoying the sights of Stoke Newington and if we see something from outside, so be it. So why not?

The six of us leave the pub and head out. The two bookholders speed up a clip at one point and ultimately (I think) grab a bus to speed their way along. The four remainers stop at McDonalds – two need dinner, two need the loo, and I can never say no to a seasonal McFlurry. I get collection ticket 99 – a good sign – but nobody orders a Big Mac With Fries.

We continue walking with our capitalist consumables and chat along the way, the Shard looming over us in the distance. As we change from one main road to another to a side road, the Ice Kream Van drives by. Jimmy is behind the wheel, three or four people are in the back, and… is that a skull-painted passenger?

At this point, we do what any sensible Londoners would do when faced with such a spectacle and follow its path. After two or three turns, we see it approaching the Queensbridge Road -and give chase – Henry Pedders’ flat is at hand. There are plumes of smoke and a procession of 99 yellow-hooded figures. We instantly recognize Tony Thorpe and a significantly larger number of The 400 than we were led to believe would be attending. Curious and curiouser. Two of our numbers head on up to join in, the other two of us stay towards the back. This is a private party and we’re not quite ready to smash the doors or barge in. We stay a street or so behind, wondering if the smoke is from the event or someone’s kids setting off fireworks, and a rental van pulls up at the crossing. Bill is driving and a young woman (who we later learn to be Yoko) jumps in. She’s just put up a 2023 poster in the bus shelter across from Henry’s tower block, and as we take a look at the poster, a figure wearing a saffron robe trundles past – this is clearly Chodak. But why are those two taking a picture inside the corner shop—oh. It’s a member of Badger Kull in full regalia. Fair enough.

We recognize more people, and see one of The Four laying out a rope with Gimpo. We join him at the far end, away from where Daisy and Oliver are reading from the book. The rope is pulled forward by the organisers and we hang back as they depart, still not wanting to get too close and anger Daisy, Oliver, or the JAMs. After all, few blokes out for a walk seeing something going on, that’s all. That said, we’ve already entered the uncanny valley, and I’ve gone into semi-journo mode, pulling out my phone and snapping pictures. In Liverpool, I avoided filming anything or taking snapshots because I wanted to be inside the moment and get carried away by the art. This time, I’m not part of the event, and follow an alternative rulebook of engagement.

The 99 march forward, crossing the streets with a grip on their kindergarten rope as we stay behind or move off to better angles for taking pictures, but as we get increasingly recognized by DPM, we’re all but invited to join in at the back and have a catch-up. As we follow along, we find the opportunity to properly greet Gimpo and Tony and offer a few brief moments of pity and laughter for the working folk of Stoke Newington as a chicken takeaway is flooded with smoke (now obviously from the event… especially with the visible boxes in the wheelbarrow carried by another invader) and The 99 march through the McDonalds we ordered at earlier in the evening. People on the street start to inevitably ask what’s happening. Since we’re remaining on the go through all of this, I give my eternal get-out-of-jail-free card: it’s an art project. No one ever pries too deeply when you say it’s an art project, and it’s easy to make something (usually a simplified version of the truth) up on the rare occasion someone does follow through with further questioning. What has us asking questions, though, is the rumour of a return performance by Badger Kull. Weren’t we promised their one-and-only gig at the Dark Ages? Curious and curiouser, indeed.

The procession moves on through the pub across the street from McDonalds, interrupting the house band and becoming the mid-point loo break of choice for many. It’s obvious that nobody from The 99 has greatly minded the presence of invaders and hangers-on, as Gimpo and DPM are all too happy to tell those leaving the pub exactly how to get to the Arcola as quickly as possible for the next stop, with or without a Kagool. Chaos smiles on our daring, and I am rewarded with probably my best and favourite photographs from the night. We move on to Gillett Square, making our third loop past McDonalds – this time they have their security guards outside waiting. By this point, the jig is absolutely up and none of us are even trying to pretend we haven’t butted our way in. I pass on a mince pie, leaving them for those who are supposed to be there, and notice the other three by the rental van with Bill. I join them, and as he hands us buckets to distribute for the flyposting, it becomes clear that if he’s aware of what’s going on, he doesn’t care. There’s work to do, and that means getting buckets to pairs as soon as possible. I return for more buckets and get handed a tube of posters to pass out instead. Someone looks like they’re taking one without being in the group, but technically I’m not in the group either, so fuuk it if that’s the case. We find out that our Badger friend from the corner shop didn’t get a ticket either – none of the original band did – so who’s performing back at the Bargehouse?

This does not seem right, as if Badger Management are toying with our emotions. I summon our good and wrong-side-of-the-pond-based friend Yoko Mu’s energies and as chants begin for Badger Kull, shout against the patriarchal manipulation of art and call instead for the reunion of Badger Kunt. Yoko and Winnie give a quick demonstration on how to flypost, and we move on. Those with multiple posters leave a few gifts behind for the most egregious practitioners of exploitative labour on the high street. The 99 queue up along a wall and hang their posters in as close to a unified set of movements as possible without a rehearsal. Those of us who aren’t an official part of the proceedings have been conversing along the way with those who have and those who gawk in an odd intersection between being in on what’s happening from knowledge of 2023 and the Dark Ages, yet also being part of the wider public.

After the fliers are hung – a full wall asking What the Fuuk is going on – we all return to the Bargehouse. Sophie and the L-13 crew are setting up Dead Perch Merch, preparing for the grand release. I grab a bottle of Dead Perch Ale for the mate I crashed with and gave in to buying the audiobook. No, I don’t need it, no, I shouldn’t have spent the money, no, I might not ever find time to listen to it, but yes, I did just ruthlessly abuse the event so should do something in return. The Four are mostly hanging around outside, wondering if we’ll be stamp checked for Badger Kull. I offer Gimpo the contents of my beer. The Four take up a perch and see Bill, Jimmy, Daisy, and Oliver happy at a job well done. Daisy joins another member of The 99 who says he’s worked out how to make an upside-down gyroscope for Tangerine Nightmare. Jimmy goes off to load the Ice Kream Van, and Bill and Oliver vanish as they are wont to do. Since Gimpo got my souvenir bottle of ale, I head inside to retrieve the evidence just in time for him to tell a fellow and independent invader (the wheelbarrow pusher from earlier) and myself to stay exactly where we are. The two of us get chatting for a bit and Gimpo (who really is the best drinking buddy anybody can have) tells us to get our cameras out.

Oliver appears at the top of the stairs to issue congratulations and introduce Badger Kull Mk 2 – a group of shanty singers. They lead the crowd in a singalong, and the book stamping begins. I present my vinyl but Jimmy says they’re only stamping books. I argue that technically, it is an audio book. The semantics are enough, both sides get a stamp. Since I don’t have a record player to begin with, I grab the vinyl by the grooves and shake it dry, grateful that FUUK-UP still allows mp3 downloads to occur.

We mill about and socialise. My new comrade and I plan an outing beneath London for the next afternoon, and our pool of six invaders congratulate each other on mischief managed. Henry Pedders and Ronald McDonald lead the crowd in a chorus of Jerusalem, and it almost feels like Christmas. As 23:23 rolls around and we’re wished a safe journey home, we can almost see a lucky glass sculpture in the distance, knowing how close it came to its deserved end. But that will have to wait for Part Two.

It’s almost a week later at this point, and I remain confused about if we did the right thing. On the one hand, if you hold a giant event on the streets of London and back it with stacks of Discordian mythology and practice, disruptions should be expected – if not encouraged – especially with a dedicated group like The 400. On the other hand, I’ve felt unwelcomed at enough things in my life to know it’s uncomfortable on all sides, the tonal difference between “What brought you here” and “What are you doing here,” a seemingly small distinction separated by a connotative chasm which in this case tipped ever so slightly towards the former. However, were we to be sixty instead of six, it would have been impossible to run the event. Even now, the question of whether writing about the experience will have a negative impact on future events – will they be more controlled, more restricted and selective in terms of access, less magical? It’s hard to tell at this point, as though tipping things like this article from 2323 words to 2424.

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