Tottenham Court Road, home of the London Scientology Org, is a one-way racetrack of a road, taking traffic from Trafalgar Square to points north. At 10am on a Wednesday, most of that traffic is black cabs and dispatch riders' bikes, all contributing their bit to the hydrocarbon haze that we Londoners like to call "air".
68, Tottenham Court Road, home to the clams, is a narrow shopfront in between a Japanese restaurant and an amusement arcade. 50 feet up the road is a pornographic video shop of the type that Tottenham Court Road and in particular Soho are famous for. The clam building is showing signs of being in need of external maintenance except for the fairly recently-painted shopfront which rejoices in a huge "Church of Scientology" in that weird slightly curly writing the clams seem to like so much. Standing outs ide were two boards, one advertising "Computerised (!) Personality Tests" and the other ranting about aptitude and IQ improvement.
Due to some, er, logistical difficulties (the tape recorder with my orders on had self-destructed as per policy, and I'd eaten the piece of microfilm with the address of the meeting place without memorising it properly), I ended up making my way direct ly to Clam Palace, while my co-supporters met at the Secret Location. Accordingly, I found myself hanging around the place at 10.30am, giving me plenty of time to case the joint and see what was doing. My first thoughts were that we must be making a terrible mistake.There I was, standing over the road from an innocuous looking "shop",inside which sat a woman on the telephone and a guy in a tie who bustled around looking important (he's actually one of the placard holders in the photo on Martin Poulter's web site). It hardly felt like I was going to be demonstrating in front of the office of the kind of cult we'd heard about here on the 'net. But that was all to change...
In the time that I was standing there (by this time, somewhat over an hour), they had given no sign of anticipating that anything was going to occur. Occasionally, someone would come out to the doorway of the shop, peer around and go back in. I didn't see one potential customer go in - rice'n'beans all round there! It wasn't until an hour later, while I was still alone awaiting my Suppressive Compadres, that the activity began to pick up. I saw a number of people rushing in and out of the building, who obviously weren't walk-ins, judging by the sense of purpose they displayed, and I crossed the road to watch from a more convenient distance.
The Clams were getting Enturbulated.
The next arrivals were three policemen, evidently forewarned that something was due to happen. They hung around, moving on any cars that stopped outside the org, and looked to be waiting for something to happen. By now, it was 12pm and there was no still sign of the FUSS supporters I was waiting for.
Then, at about half past midday, nine or ten clams came out of the shop, armed with placards. I grew more interested, and went closer. "The Big Story [crossed out and replaced by] Lie" (a reference to the name of the documentary programme broadcast on the 14th July). "Carlton [the TV company broadcasting the documentary] Endorses Theft", and various others in that vein. I was intrigued, to say the least. The gaggle of Scienos milled around outside their building, while one of their number tried to coach them in some "What do we want?"-type chants. Eight self-conscious Scienos muttering "Responsible Journalism" had more than a small element of the surreal about it.
Immediately this began, the police moved in: the clams had by this time moved forward to block about half the pavement (sidewalk) and were quickly moved back to within the boundary of their building. We now had the spectacle of these clams, by now about a dozen, crammed into a 15 foot by 3 foot space in front of their shop, tripping over their "Free Personality Test" boards, and self-consciously holding their placards.
Then two more clams emerged, clutching piles of leaflets entitled "Freedom". Despite the fact that I thought I must have been spotted, as by this time I was barely ten feet from Clam City, I did my best Joe Punter act and went over to get one. It turned out to be a 4-side essay on the evils of a Carlton reporter who, while engaged on a scurrilous and deceitful mission at St. Hill, armed with an outsize pair of glasses containing (I'm not making this up) video cameras, was caught on the hidden video camera which "just happened" to be in the room she was in "stealing Scientology property" while her Scieno contact was out of the room. More on this in a separate post.
Also under attack was the new UK anti-clam organisation FUSS (Families Under Scientology Stress), as well as Richard and Bonnie Woods, and Jon Atack. As I watched, and as the chanting got a bit more confident, I began to wonder whether we really needed to demonstrate at all: here was this bunch of rather sad-looking individuals chanting about something that none of the passers-by had a clue about, and, given who was doing the chanting, didn't give a damn about either. I had to remind myself that this is the organisation whose PR people think that having Woody on alt.religion.scientology. is a good idea. And hardly anyone was taking their leaflets either: I learned later that the denizens of that particular part of Tottenham Court Road are well used to having leaflets shoved under their noses by the clams, and are generally heartily sick of it. Then the enturbulation of the clams increased, and I looked in the direction of their stares...assembling, just outside the naughty vid shop were the massed ranks of the FUSS supporters
It was time to join my people.
There were 27 of us to start with. It was immediately obvious that we were going to have problems all fitting on the pavement outside the org - nice problem to have! - and the police were politely firm about spreading us out so as not to cause an obstruction. This definitely worked to our advantage, as the demo ended up on both sides of Tottenham Court Road, and spread over a distance of about a hundred feet - nobody was going to get past us without getting a copy of our leaflet.
The clams were snapping feverishly by now - several of them were deputed to cross the road and protest "with" us. The number of leaflet distributors multiplied, but we were still outnumbering them two-to- one: enough to flank each Scieno leafletter with at least one FUSS supporter each side of him/her to make sure that the passers-by got both sides of the story.
Most of the Scienos were very pleasant. There were plenty of smiles, and a fair bit of chatting between them and members of our number, some of whom as ex-Scienos were very well informed and were clearly causing problems, judging from the "Xenu? Who?" type questions coming from the clams. Less pleasant was the visage of (allegedly) former bimbo hairdresser turned OSA PR Rottweiler Margaret Reese, who came to take her turn leafletting. I have to confess to taking considerable pleasure in trying to piss her off by planting myself directly opposite here as she handed her Freedom flyer to people and looking her in the eye (not pleasant - henry, these are eyesockets you don't want to go <*squick*> in!) as I said "...and here's the TRUTH". I have to also confess to taking considerable pleasure in reporting that it DID piss her off, and she kept trying to escape up the street, only for me to follow her.
Meanwhile, the FUSS supporters had really got into their stride. 1200 leaflets were distributed within less than an hour, and frantic deputations had to be sent to local copy shops to get more photocopied. Every street corner in the immediate vicinity was occupied by at least one FUSS leafletter; every clam was marked by at least one of us as well. One problem we were experiencing was that, as mentioned above, people round that part of the world are thoroughly sick of being hassled by the clams, and we were getting a lot of unpleasantness from people who thought we were just more Scientologists on a leaflet drive. However, once they realised who we were, we got a really positive reception - I spent quite a lot of time talking to people who worked locally who were very supportive indeed of our attempts to expose the cult, and many of whom were expressing opinions along the lines of "what took you so long?".
As time went by, some of our number had to leave, and we consolidated back outside the Scieno org. I inadvertently (honest!) offered a leaflet to one of the clams, a rather stressed-out looking woman in her late 20's. "Why don't you leave us alone" she said in a voice that sounded close to tears: "Why don't you just FUCK OFF!!" she said slightly louder. Then, her face inches from mine, she screamed time and again "FUCK OFF!!!". I smiled (well, you have to, don't you?), said nothing, and thought of RonArtistR, and his little diatribes against Bad Words. The policeman standing behind her eventually asked her to tone it down, as she was committing a breach of the peace. She glared at him, then at me, then returned to her familiar sulk.
Then another character turned up, apparently very interested in what our views on Scientology were. Another chap (a former clam for 4 years) and I spoke to him, and answered his questions on why we were attacking something that "does so much good in the world". Thanks are due to everybody on a.r.s., especially Tony, for the excellent coaching I've been getting which enabled me to handle all the questions he asked. He was everything I'd come to expect of a Scientologist - smarmy, knowall, and pushy. I don't think he was used to dealing with even moderately informed criticism.
The time had come for our strategic withdrawal. Pausing only to thank the police officers for their kind attention, we shot off down the street and round the corner to a nearby pub to review our progress.
We were joined by three or four clams (they DO drink), most of whom just sat nearby and earwigged. A more Woodyesque one insisted in engaging us in conversation, but gave us the usual "Marcabs? Xenu? SP?" line and the making-the-world-a-better-place routine. Still, he actually seemed to want to listen to the answers...I did offer to buy the clams a drink <fx: thinks...3 seawaters on the rocks and a pint of effluent> but they all turned me down <sniff>.
On our way back to the tube station, we had to pass Xenu's House Of Clams once more. Smarmy was there, making sure nobody made off with his collection of Dianetics (and "La Dianetique"?!?!?! Legérèment blessé). He seemed to feel a need to engage us in conversation again, and started to ask us about how stupid we were going to feel when we realised how we were wrong and he was right. I felt that this was something I could live with, and he invited me to pop by when I "dropped my body". Hmmmm. Somehow, the subject got onto OT materials, and he started to lose his air of smug complacency when the guy I was with started talking about OTVII and going to the zoo. It wasn't until afterwards that someone explained that this meant he'd have to file a KR, and go to Ethics to get those nasty SP engrams audited out of him. I do hope he doesn't catch a nasty cold from learning about OTVII too soon...
All in all a thoroughly worthwhile day. Final result: a Big Win to the SP's, lots of friends and connections made (look out for a piece on Bonnie Woods, coming soon to your friendly local ISP), and quite a few v-e-r-y interesting cultie publications. Fair Use will be made good use of over the next few weeks...
Steve (clam basher)
PS: thanks to RonArtistR, whose smarmy and condescending attitude on a.r.s. was the thing which actually fired me up to take an expensive day off and go get the clams.