Brighton’s Protest Stickers: Coronavirus

It is not uncommon in Brighton to find junction boxes painted by street artists and for advertising. This one is a recent addition to the Brighton streetscape (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Street, 03/08/20).

Disease is not political, but how we cope with it most definitely is. The Coronavirus epidemic has sparked a whole range of political debates, from the effectiveness of the government’s handling of the crisis, to the necessity of facemasks, to the questionable link between the virus and 5G. I have written before about how people interacted with urban streets differently during lockdown in Brighton and Hull, but as the lockdown eased coronavirus has started to crop up in the protest stickers I have spotted as I move around Brighton (in a safe and socially distanced manner, of course!)

People engaged with their surroundings in new ways during the lockdown. Homemade signs in windows quickly spilled out onto streets and footpaths (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Dyke Railway Trail, 25/04/20).
My instinct is that this isn’t a genuine product of the Brighton and Hove City Council, but I suppose it’s a possibility! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Providence Place, 18/06/20).
The pandemic has sparked a lot of conspiracy theories. The Shropshire Corona Resilience Network is a Facebook Group which posts various conspiracies about coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock, London Road, 18/06/20).
Other conspiracy theories question the origins of coronavirus. These stickers are advertising a Youtube documentary about the origins of what it calls the ‘Chinese Communist Party Virus’, which suggests that the virus did not really originate in a food market (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/05/20, Brighton seafront).
The Corbett Report claims to be an independent news sources and has been promoting conspiracy theories since 2007. It is no surprise that he has something to say about coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
Not all of the protest stickers and posters I’ve found are promoting conspiracy theories. This poster is demanded PPE and testing to protect NHS workers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, East Street, 18/06/20).
There isn’t much of this poster left, but it is mimicking the aesthetic used by the government in the “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” posters. I think this poster is suggesting people “Stay Home. Boo for Boris. Sack Cummings.” (Although it “Sack” could be something more rude”!) (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
This sticker has also been partially removed, but I think it says something along the lines of “Anti Social Distance Resistance”, which could be pro-social distancing, but I suspect is actually against it. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
Before the virus, if a person was wearing a face mask in a protest sticker or piece of street art, it meant they were an anarchist, or radical activists. Nowadays they are just as likely to be a conscientious individual doing their civic duty. I think this sticker is pre-virus, but it an interesting example of how the meanings of symbols can shift and change (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
I think that this sticker is also pre-virus, but again its meaning has shifted because of the current situation we find ourselves in. I hope it is correct! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, North Street, 03/08/20).
I think we have all had this thought once or twice over the last few months! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Marine Parade, 03/08/20).

Book Review: Mudlarking- Lost and Found on the river Thames

Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

Lara Maiklem. Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. RRP £9.99 paperback.

I have always been curious about Mudlarks. Once a way of scraping together a living for some of London’s poorest residents, modern Mudlarks are more likely to be hobbyists and amateur archaeologists. They search the Thames foreshore at low tide, searching for historical objects revealed or washed up by the river. So when Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was published, I was keen to give it a read. I was not disappointed; Mudlarking is a fascinating book, and a joy to read.

For just a few hours each day, the river gives us access to its contents, which shift and change as the water ebbs and flows, to reveal the story of a city, its people, and their relationship with a natural force…As I have discovered, it is often the tiniest of objects that tell the greatest stories.

Maiklem, 2019; p. 5.

Mudlarking is not easy to categorise. It’s not a history book, a memoir, or a travel book, but it has elements of all 3. Lara describes the process and experience of mudlarking; explores what mudlarking, and the Thames more generally, means to her; and investigates and speculates on the origins and history of a huge range of objects that she has found over the years, from the mundane to the extraordinary.

The book is structured geographically, beginning at Teddington, where the tidal Thames begins, and finishing in the Estuary. The narrative winds and curves however, much like the river itself. Sometimes it jumps back Lara’s childhood, pauses on a particularly memorable trip to the river, or stops to reflect on a different types of object such as pins, buttons, or clay pipes. Mudlarking always comes back to the river however, and its relationship to London.

Lara Maiklem on the foreshore of the Thames, with Battersea power station in the background (Source: NPR/Lara Maiklem).

London is a city where the past is never far from the surface; simply turning a corner can catapult you back hundreds of years. There is just so much history there, so many lives and stories, most of which are irrevocably lost to us. The objects Lara finds on the Thames foreshore are a way for her to connect with those lost stories, to imagine Londoners long gone and conjure the city as it used to be in her mind. This struck a chord with me; I also find myself daydreaming about past people and places when presented with an archival document or running my hand along the walls of an ancient church.

Not only is Mudlarking well written, it is also well put together. It is full of special touches, from the illustrations on the inside cover, lovingly drawn by one of Lara’s fellow mudlarkers, to the font used for the front cover and chapter epigraphs, the type of which was consigned to the river by its’ creator in the early twentieth century. There are also two lovely maps of the river (there are few books that couldn’t be improved without the inclusion of a map or two, in my opinion!), and images of many of the finds Lara discusses.

Thanks to the Coronavirus lockdown, I haven’t been to London in five months. Reading Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was a wonderful way for me to reconnect with a city that I miss. There are so many books about London, it isn’t easy to find a fresh angle. In Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem has done this, and then some.