We Didn’t Evict a Millionaire


Going down the escalator at King’s Cross

Lord Freud’s house – in a pleasant a leafy estate in Highgate – was perhaps a little disappointing for a millionaire. It reminded me of the house in a rather less salubrious outer London suburb that my family had until my father retired to the south coast the 1970s. Though location is important and it would probably sell for around 5 times as much.  But property prices in parts at least of London are now so silly that almost anyone who owns a house there is a millionaire.

Lord Freud is, I suspect, very much richer than that. And the gap between those like him and the kind of people who will be hit harshly by his Bedroom Tax is now so immense that it is hardly surprising that he has no conception at all of what it is actually like to live on low pay or on benefits. Only a person with no idea of what it is like to be poor could have come up with an idea like this. Or some of the other attacks on the poor from the coalition.

I’m not rich, and there are many things I can’t afford, but fortunately seldom have to think much about money now. But I can remember when I had to count every penny. I remember my mother writing down every small amount she spent into a red covered notebook, adding up the bills every week, hoping that there might be a few pence to go into the Post Office towards the next pair of shoes I’d soon need when my feet outgrew the ones I was wearing. I remember too when my total wealth in the world amounted to £4-14s7d and a few pennies in my pocket, but I was lucky and was about to get a job -and in those days almost a fiver was worth a great deal more than it is today. I’ve always had enough to pay the rent and to eat and -apart from buying cameras – have never developed expensive tastes. So I completely lack the qualifications to be a member of the cabinet, even apart from not having been to Eton and Oxford.

And of course, Lord Freud was not in (I imagine he has several other homes to go to), and this house was surrounded by police, who despite all the ‘secrecy’ from UK Uncut had obviously put together ‘Bedroom Tax’ and ‘Millionaire’ and come up with the names of those whose homes you could reach easily from Kings Cross on a Travelcard. The only people who were in the dark were most of the protesters, and I suspect a few got lost on the way.


Platform at Kings Cross -A woman proudly wearing the t-shirt she still had from the Poll Tax protests

Photographically the most interesting part of the event was the tube journey, and fortunately the Nikons give great results in the relatively low light of tube stations. The escalator and platforms were fairly dim, but I was still able to work at 1/125 at f5.6 at ISO3200. Flash isn’t allowed in the underground, but I didn’t need it.

I’d been photographing the man with the ‘Tories Against the Tax’ placard on the platform, and when the train came in rather than follow him through the same door took a gamble and went through the next, hoping he would then turn and be facing me in the middle of the carriage. He did, and I got what I thought was my best picture (the five photographers visible behind him blended in well with the other passengers and don’t really spoil it) and was also in a good position for a further image when he got a seat.

Although the quantity of light was fine, the colour isn’t, with some bad fluorescent tubes. Flash might have given a better result but only if I could have used enough to completely light the scene with it. I didn’t think I could or I might have tried it at least inside the carriage. I think it still isn’t allowed, but I don’t think would present a safety hazard, which is the case on platforms, where it can temporarily blind the drivers.

There were a few other pictures, both at Kings Cross and at our destination that I was quite pleased with, and you can see in Who wants to evict a Millionaire?

I spent several hours covering the event and produced what I thought were some good pictures but I don’t think any of them have been used outside of Demotix and My London Diary (and now these on >Re:PHOTO.) It isn’t always the good pictures that make the news, and of course there were many other photographers at the UK Uncut protest, and mine were not available until perhaps four hours after the first images of it arrived. There were few if any arrests, no real ‘celebrities’ present and no violence – so nothing that would make it an important story for most of the mass media.

From the bus on my way home I saw a few people with placards just before it stopped at Kentish Town station, and decided to go and see who they were and what they were protesting about. I spent about ten minutes talking with the group, and wasn’t at all happy with the few pictures that I was able to make (the steadily falling rain didn’t help) but I thought there was enough interest in the story that despite the rather ordinary pictures it was worth putting on line – and you can see the longer version as Release Palestinian Prisoners. To my surprise one of the images was used by a national newspaper a few days later.

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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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