Bath rebel Annette gives her account of a visually stunning action in London (February 2020)
Late on Friday 7th February, BP or not BP dragged their BP branded wooden horse of Troy into a side gate of the British Museum. Next morning, buoyed up by this image of rebellion, a group of 22 Bath XR members boarded fellow member Paul’s magic bus to take us to London. We were to join BP or not BP’s planned day of action against BP’s sponsorship of the Troy: Myth or Reality exhibition at the British Museum.
We all settled into our seats for the anticipated 3 hour trip to London, with professional driver Sean at the wheel. Everyone on the bus had taken part in previous XR actions, including the London Rebellions and, more recently, the action in Bristol against the proposed expansion of Bristol airport. Indeed, our numbers on the BP action would have been much larger if a substantial number of our colleagues hadn’t been digging in at Weston-super-Mare for the North Somerset Council vote on Monday, on the proposed airport expansion.
In addition to supporting BP or not BP with their action at the British Museum, and with their agreement, we’d planned a small action of our own, designed by Anna. In preparation for the action, she’d asked us all to come dressed in black, with splashes of gold for emphasis.
While we were travelling to our first stop, Anna produced her action props bag, commenting: “I was surprised by how small a bag you can create an action from.” She explained the action to us all and handed out the letters that she and Annabelle had printed earlier in the week.
If the Saturday morning shoppers at Reading Sainsbury’s were surprised to see a group of middle-aged people, dressed in black and moving in slow step formation around the carpark, they kept their surprise to themselves. Initially sceptical of the need for this “dress rehearsal” in a supermarket carpark, I was pleased that Anna insisted on it as it proved surprisingly difficult to walk in slow formation. I tried hard to follow the steps of Adrienne in front of me, with my right arm on Adrienne’s left shoulder and with my head down to reflect the sombre nature of the action. Dave, behind me, was too polite to comment on how hard it was trying to follow me, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy.
In addition to our black clothes and gold lamé headbands, we were all to be wearing a letter front and back or, in my case, just on my back as facing front I was to be one of two gaps between the words “BP must fall”. Rehearsing where we were to be in the line of 12 meant we knew who would be in front and behind of us. This proved helpful later and meant we didn’t hesitate when, behind the BP Trojan Horse, we later formed our line in the British Museum Courtyard, ready for our first action.
Sean dropped us off at Hammersmith Tube station and we made our way in small groups to the front of the British Museum. It had been some time since I last visited the Museum and I’d forgotten just how impressive its neo-classical façade is. Especially so with the BP or not BP Trojan Horse parked by the main gates. Large enough to accommodate 10 people in its belly, with a substantial tail to swish and whinnying regularly, it was obvious, to this horse lover’s eye at least, that it had been designed by someone who understood horses and cared enough to get the detail right.
For those of us taking part in the action our mission, when we first arrived at the museum, was to pin on the letters front and back, without coming to the attention of the security guards. It’s surprisingly difficult to pin from the underside and to line up the letters in the correct position. Fortunately, Adrienne was on hand to pin the U on my back.
At 1:45 we all assembled in the agreed place. Anna checked our clothes, removed unwanted jewellery, adjusted our letters and headbands and gave us last minute instructions. Annie S did a quick bit of mindfulness with us all in a circle, so we were properly grounded and at least knew where our feet were! I for one appreciated her help in calming my last-minute nerves. The last time I was involved in anything theatrical was when I was in primary school.
And then suddenly, to a cacophony of camera shutters, we were off. Led with great skill by Annie B, we moved in a slow, sombre line. First around the courtyard, in front of the British Museum entrance, up the steps into the Museum itself and then around the inner courtyard and up the inner steps. Coached by Anna, with one eye on the media photo opportunities, we stopped from time to time and stood in a line, spelling out our message both front and back.
Judging by the response of the many museum visitors who stood and watched us, the simple but powerful performance and strapline were communicating the message we wanted to convey. I even heard a father guiding his young son, as he spelled out the words “BP must fall”. I think the last word must go to him.