Monday, June 13, 2016

On vigils and laughter

A rare good thing is that I haven't been to enough vigils. The Old Compton Street vigil for the shootings in Orlando was everything it should have been - short, sad, and packed.

Soho did itself proud. Half an hour before, Soho was full of gay men roaring into their phones "Where are you? I can't see you!" just as it should be.

Twenty minutes before people were taking selfies and asking each other what the hashtag was.

Ten minutes before, the whole street, and (it felt) most of Soho had turned into one giant crowd. The crowd stepped to one side as a man swept through. "Oh my god," a woman shouted into her phone, "Jeremy Corbyn's standing behind me."
"Yes, yes I am," he said, grinned and moved on.

Just as the silence began I realised the sad truth that there are two bad things about vigils:
1) The utterly horrible events which have led to a vigil.
2) The people standing next to you.

There were two girls stood behind us. It was, perhaps, their first vigil. Maybe that was it. It was lovely that they'd come, but they got a few bits wrong. Most notably, the silence. They weren't alone in this. As the three minutes began, a news anchor was saying "And standing behind me, a crowd of London's gay community stands in respectful silence to mark...". But, I'd like to reassure whichever broadcaster  it was that your reporter was not the worst. It was definitely the two girls behind me.

They started by giggling. Then they filmed some of the silence. I know this because they stopped and replayed their recording after a few seconds. "Oh, it's sooo quiet," one of them laughed. Then, shushing each other like they were being thrillingly naughty at the school play, they tried to be silent. Until someone let go of a balloon. "OH MY GOD BALLOON!" they both shouted.

A crowd can be many things. It can be angry. It can be righteous. It can be powerful. It can also be all of these things whilst staring very hard at two girls laughing through the silence. The man in front of us managed to glare at them, and he was sobbing helplessly at the same time. But, the thing is, much as I wish those two girls flat phone batteries and no retweets for the rest of their lives, they came.

And then it was over. There was noise. There was applause. There was some singing. And, surprisingly and brilliantly, despite all the Important People who had turned up, there were no speeches. There was just a large group of people being mostly silent and very sad.