I first heard late on Tuesday about the call from the European Movement (EM), for their members and local groups to come to the ‘London stands with Ukraine’ rally and march on Saturday 26 March. They had joined with London mayor Sadiq Khan, who’d asked Londoners to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Could I attend at such short notice? I needed time to think about it and see whether anyone else from Dorset would go. Maybe a car-share would be possible? That soon, it seemed unlikely – but as I thought about it, I realised that catching an early coach would give me a chance to visit the National Gallery before the march. I’d missed that so much – before the pandemic, I had visited regularly.
In the end, one other person said he’d attend, too, but he was travelling by train. There was a bit of a kerfuffle about the banner – could I carry it (once it had been located and delivered to my house!)? Yes, on the coach, but not in the National Gallery. Brian kindly came early enough to meet me at the entrance and hold on to it, whilst I got my ‘art fix’!
I enjoyed seeing many of my favourite works again after staying away so long due to the pandemic: the vast scale of Veronese’s The Family of Darius before Alexander; the medieval mystery of Fra Angelico’s Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece; the softness of Titian’s Noli me Tangere; the vivacious sitter in Lotto’s Portait of a Lady inspired by Lucretia; of course, that unforgettable sunset in Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, and the striking green-blue hues of Monet’s Irises. Old friends … Not to mention a new acquaintance: my first view of the gallery’s new acquisition: Sorolla’s The Drunkard, Zarauz (El Borracho, Zarauz), an earthy tavern scene by the Spanish ‘master of light’.
Brian and I met up in Trafalgar Square, where preparations were well under way for the rally and speeches and the end of the march.
We started to make our way to the meeting point outside the Dorchester Hotel. We went for the bus and waited for some time, before realising that they’d stopped the services due to the march! We got the Tube instead. It felt like a mile and a half of walking just to get to the recommended Northern line – I knew I should have chosen the Bakerloo!
We got to where we thought we should be but couldn’t find the EM contingent. Eventually, after numerous phone calls by Brian and briefly saying ‘Hi’ to Mike Galsworthy, we caught up with them. Posed for photos holding the banner – it’s designed for two to carry!
Then we lined up to start the march. Sun beating down. Glorious blue sky and a sea of blue and yellow flags: I didn’t know at that time, that the estimated attendance was 150,000. Not bad, for four days’ notice!
Lots of Ukrainian voices around me and amusing placards: ‘Put Putin in the Bin’ is one that sticks! I saw a few Russians carrying placards saying they stand with Ukraine, some showing the blue and white sign for the Russian flag without the red of war. I had a chat with a lovely Russian chap who has been here for many years and was carrying a hand-made version of such a sign. I made a point of speaking to him as he was on his own, and I feel very sad for Russians who have been caught up in Putin’s war.
The march ended in Trafalgar Square and we heard from lots of speakers, including Anna Bird from EM, David Lammy MP, several European city mayors and the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK. Emma Thompson read a poem by a famous Ukrainian poet/artist. They tried a live feed to the mayor of Kyiv but the line was bad. In the end we did hear him and, apparently, he could see us. Sadiq Khan ended the speeches, calling on the government to improve their response to the Ukraine refugee crisis.
We carried the banner proudly, but then began the long trek home. The coach seemed to take forever but eventually reached Bournemouth. Quick call into Asda – so glad they still have flowers for Mother’s Day the next day! Oh no, 29 minutes’ wait for a bus the rest of the way … it’s what I’m used to: they’re so often cancelled, long waits happen.
Home at last: don’t disturb me ’til I wake!