I had to go to Bath for an event on Saturday, so I thought I'd drop in and see Occupy Bath. Occupy Bath are camped in Queen Square, which is a big grassy square, with some lovely trees, in the posh(er) end of town. When I dropped in they'd just finished a day of workshopping, and had a General Assembly later, so a lot of people had sneaked off for a break. I did sit down and have a chat with the people who were there, though.
The first thing they asked me to say is that they need more people, especially during the day. This is, ironically, because most people supporting the camp in Bath are either working, or students. So they asked me pass on the message that if you don't fancy camping, but do fancy holding the fort during daytime hours, you'd be very welcome!
I have been up to Occupy Bristol quite a few times and its hard to deny that there is a certain edginess to the camp. By contrast, the Bath camp felt much more relaxed and mellow.
I sat around the camp fire, had a cup of tea, and soon we were having an interesting conversation about economics. There was me, a chap who said he worked for an environmental charity ('please don't take my photo: there may be redundancies'), a traveller who did fire-juggling, and a guy called Nick, who said he'd studied economics. Environmental man asked the others if they were planning on staying the night. Nick said he couldn't, because he was in a homeless shelter, and would lose his place if he stayed away.
This surprised me, because if you'd asked me to describe Nick, the words that would have come to mind would have been 'officer training corps' rather than 'homeless'. He said that he'd had some family problems, hadn't finished his degree, and 'fucked-up, basically'. And then he made out that the smoke from the fire was getting in his eyes.
"This is the perfect place for this protest," he told me.
"Why?" I said.
"Because this is where the 1% are. This square is surrounded by estate agents, selling houses for millions of pounds. Most of the properties around here are empty. They are just investments."
I asked him to show me, and he took me over the road, to the estate agent's window. He wasn't lying. There were properties for £1.1m, £2.5m, £1.8m, £3.3m. They weren't priced in thousands, just raw millions. Some weren't even that nice, or that big. They were just houses. Lots of Christmas shoppers were window-shopping the million pound houses.
"You can't do this during the day." Nick said. "The staff stare at you. It's intimidating." And then he said that this wasn't the real deal, which was another agent's, around the corner.
We perused some more million pound properties. "That's nice," said Nick, wistfully, pointing at a picture of what was clearly the converted stable block of some English Country house. I mean, not even the actual English Country House. It was £1.1m. And then he showed me what he'd really meant, a window full of properties in the Caribbean. There was one for $23m, and the most expensive was $28m. It looked like an eighteenth-century plantation house, with massive classical columns. I don't think it was a fake. It was a real slave-owners mansion. The rest, the cheap reproduction stuff, the $10 and $12 million places, were all in gated communities.
It was starting to get cold, and Nick didn't have a coat. I thanked him for the tour, and he shook my hand, then left.
I went off to the story-telling night my friends had organised, which was why I'd gone to Bath in the first place. I'd helped do the funding application, and we'd sweated for hours to raise £2000 for a community literature project. Incidentally, $28m would buy 8,893 community literature projects, or run Bath's main homeless shelter, Julian House, for 36.5 years. But please don't worry about your neighbourhood being overrun by community literature projects or homeless shelters. I'm sure the guy who has $28m to waste on a slave-mansion, isn't going to spend it that way.
Occupy Bath are organising a 'People's Assembly' tonight (Friday 2nd Dec) at the Friends Meeting House, 7.30pm. All welcome.