Western Sahara

Of all the campaigns and issues I have been involved with over the years the Western Sahara Campaign has been one that has always dogged my activist heart, hanging around, sometimes slipping from memory but always popping back unheeded to prod away at me.

Western Sahara is one of the great forgotten causes of the world and for that fact alone it nips the heels of my conscience.

Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco from 1975 and for a short while became a cause celebre amongst the left but faded from favour as the struggle wore on to a stalemate.

There was a guerilla war to try to reclaim their land which was partially successful, Mauritania occupied the lower part of Western Sahara but were driven out – in part by Sahara fighters- only to be replaced by Morocco.

Between 1975-1976 some 250,000 Sahrawis fled to the Algerian desert where they have been living in exile for over 40 years in refugee camps, there remains approximately 165,000 refugees still there.

The more mathematical minded amongst you might well conclude that refugee camps should never be that old but they are.

A while ago I visited the camps, towns really in the middle of the desert, made of tents for the winter and mud brick huts for the summer. As is often the case it is the poor who are most hospitable and the care and kindness refugees showed to me was quite overwhelming.

So I am relieved to announce that this Monday’s show- Mayday- at the Tricycle is to be a benefit for the Western Sahara Campaign. The money will help the court case WSC are bringing, here are the details.


See you there.

Jess Thom and Backstage in Biscuit Land

Five years ago I meet a remarkable woman called Jess Thom. She got in touch saying she had Tourettes and would she be OK to come along to see my show Walking the Wall at the Tricycle Theatre. Instinctively and to be honest with little thought I said she would be welcome.

How wrong I was.

Jess does have pronounced tics and verbal outbursts, which are often funny, creative and beautifully absurd. However, some people in the audience objected to her ‘outbursts’ and complained to the theatre staff in the interval.

All of us were somewhat taken aback by this and Jess ended up in the lighting box, segregated from the rest of the audience for the second half. It was frankly awful. Here was I doing a show about separation and occupation and Jess was segregated from the rest of the community, shut away in a tech box.

Her response was as brilliant and inventive as her utterances. She wrote a show called Backstage in Biscuit Land, celebrating her condition and how people react to it. The show is imaginative, beautiful and different every time. I can not recommend it enough.

Backstage in Biscuit Land is on at the Battersea Arts Centre

19 – 23 Jul

It’s wonderful – don’t miss it!

Find out more about Jess and the show here: http://www.touretteshero.com


My response has been less creative and frankly less useful but I hope is valid nonetheless.

Where possible I try and organise relaxed performances of my shows. The relaxed performances encourage people to come to the show who may have learning difficulties,behavioural issues and syndromes such as Tourettes. There is a short speech at the start of the show to explain that the performance takes a relaxed attitude to noises, interruptions and fidgets, in fact we welcome it. Lighting plans and sound cues are changed to lessen any sudden or shocking change, there is an area set aside for people to leave the auditorium but stay inside the theatre and if they want to return they are welcome to do so.

There are many things we do to try and make the show accessible and welcoming for everyone.

I was delighted that Jess came along to my last show at the Tricycle theatre and the first half became a memorable and surreal double act with her. The show was one of my favourites of that year.

I am also delighted that Trespass returns to the Tricycle with a relaxed performance on the 4th of May.

There is a surtitled performance on the 27th April for those who are hard of hearing.

Last chance to catch “Trespass” – time for “Red Shed”

Mark’s current tour is coming to a close (boo!) but a new show is starting soon (hurrah!).

The last few touring dates of the “Trespass” tour are selling out quickly as are the final season of performances at the Tricycle Theatre in London which runs from 25th April to the 7th May.

Time for “Red Shed”!


The new show “Red Shed” has work-in-progress dates booked (mainly in the southern half of the UK plus one wayward one in Selby) and further dates will be announced later in the year to hopefully cover your part of the country.

Have you been fined for Swearing in Salford?

We’ll pay your fine!

Fuck the council have a swear on us!

For the background on yet another stupid council idea check the Guardian article here.

When Mark performed at the Lowry earlier this year he organised a swear box and collected £400. Enough to pay off the first 4 fines! So if you’ve been fined for swearing drop us a line and we’ll pay it off!

We also have these badges in the merch store (stocks arriving 6th April) – yes more badges for fuck’s sake!


Oxford Beggar Traps Update

This Monday morning saw the installation of ‘beggar traps’ outside Oxford City Council offices. These boxes big enough for a human, have metal grills propped open with sticks, string is attached to the stick ready to pull away the support and shut the trap. Inside is a cup of tea to lure beggars. Two young women walk past with their children and loudly proclaim,

“That is disgusting.”

“That is outrageous,” says the other, “they shouldn’t be doing that!”


As it turned out they were the first of quite a few who believed the traps to be real, with passers-by tutting,


“Haven’t they got better things to do!” and


That so many thought the traps real either speaks volumes of human credulity or council belligerence, quite possibly both.

The traps were made by local artist Lois Muddiman – with whom I concocted the idea after a show – and were made to highlight Oxford City Council’s plans to entrap beggars. Here is how they will do it:

The council intends to vote through a Public Space Protection Order this Thursday (15th Oct) which will make “aggressive begging” – by which they mean begging near a cash point machine  – in the designated area of the city centre an offence liable to a fine, a Fixed Penalty Notice, of £100.


When I posted about this last week Oxford City Council went on the offensive.

Writing on the Change.Org website in response the council claimed, “The redrafted PSPO now only targets those begging aggressively, such as those begging next to cash points, and categorically will not require them to pay a fine.”

Oxford City Council claimed instead they would be helping beggars access services by sending them to a Magistrates Court – making them automatically liable for the mandatory court charge of £150 if they plead guilty (much more if they are foolish enough to plead not guilty). And of course a likely additional fine and a criminal record. Not exactly the help most beggars need.


“We will not be fining homeless people.” The council tweeted at me. “We want to use PSPO to take aggressive beggars to court to require them to get help they need, ie rehab”


When I had the audacity to claim they were being disingenuous the council fired off another missive,


“we will not be fining beggars. Please change your website to reflect this.”

After taking legal advice, they were today forced into admitting the truth:

Chief Exec Peter Sloman wrote, “I understand that a Council posting on Change.org last week stated the Council would not impose a Fixed Penalty Notice for aggressively begging. That is not correct.”

He lists what the council could do: “Report the offense to the police; Issue a fixed penalty notice; Prosecute in the Magistrates Court,” and notes that “Court does charge a court fee and could decide to issue a fine.”

So exactly as I had described. The Council is voting to give itself the powers to issue on the spot fines to people begging or take them to court where more punitive charges and costs will be levied at them and thus entrap beggars in debt and the criminal justice system.

“I am sorry if our statement…was misleading” Sloman went on. On Saturday I asked Oxford City Council whether they were being incompetent or disingenuous. Today’s events suggest they are both.




Oxford City Council are giving themselves new powers to entrap the poor, to criminalise them, put them into debt and into prison.

This Thursday the council vote on a measure to punish people begging near cashpoint machines by making them pay an on the spot £100 fine.

The council know most beggars won’t be able to pay this.

They know beggars will be forced to a Magistrates’ court and will have to pay at least another £150 in court charges.

They know most won’t be able to pay the increasing burden of debt and fines.

They know people will be imprisoned… for the crime of begging near a cashpoint machine.

The council’s defence is as weak as it is absurd. They say:

“…the intention is not to use the fixed penalty approach as the people concerned are unlikely in many cases to have the financial resources to meet a fine.”

So why bother bringing in this measure? They say:

“Instead, the PSPO will be used as a route to the Magistrates’ Court where magistrates have the power to require them to engage with the extensive and effective drugs, alcohol or homelessness services that are available in the city”

But what this means in reality is beggars will be subject to Grayling’s mandatory court charge of at least £150 as well as facing further punishment as is happening now:

Mark Smith, 38, of no fixed address, admitted persistently begging in a public place, Cornmarket Street, Oxford, in May. Also admitted breaching an antisocial behaviour order made on December 12 prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine in Cornmarket Street. Sent to prison for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.

Matthew Dobbs, 26, of Speedwell Street, Oxford, admitted begging in Cornmarket Street, Oxford, on March 28. Also admitted failing to surrender to custody at Oxford Magistrates’ Court without good reason on April 22. Fined £50 and ordered to pay a £20 victims’ surcharge and a £150 criminal courts charge.

Oxford City Council know that as soon as a beggar is sent to a Magistrates’ court they are setting them further on a path of indebtedness and exclusion

This is not about helping people, it is about punishing people for the crime of being poor. Begging prosecutions have increased by nearly 400% in the Thames Valley area and the new powers will only allow more. This has nothing to do with offering people help. All the council care about is socially cleansing the centre of Oxford so it looks nice. Oxford City Council are the Hyacinth Bucket of the Labour movement – they are concerned only with appearances.

Come and join us in taking action against Oxford City Council’s proposed PSPO (Public Space Protection Order) on MONDAY 12 OCTOBER. Meet at 10am at Carfax Tower where we will be installing street art to protest the measure.

Shaun the Sheep – 26th September 2015


Some of you may know I have been banned for life from walking in 6 London streets owned and controlled by the Oxford Properties Group, these streets are in Paternoster Sq.

As we have had a right of way on these streets since Anglo Saxon times it seems a tad excessive, as my crime was walking dressed as a sheep.

So I am organising a Mass Trespass of Shaun the Sheep! The aim is to get as many people as possible on to the Square wearing Shaun the Sheep masks and do a walk.

Place: Meet in front of St Paul’s cathedral (Front steps on the West side)

Date: 26th September 2015

Time: Meet at 2.30 – 2:45 pm – grazing, stroling and enjoying the weather will commence at 3pm (Could last 5 minutes if we are asked to leave – if we are not we shall do a walk – 1 hour)


Bring Shaun the Sheep cardboard mask or any sheep type visage though we will bring some along for you to use.

LET’S get as many as possible out there!


PS This is NOT an official Shaun The Sheep Event. The nice people at Aardman (they came to the show and liked it) have asked if we could remind people.



New Trespass stickers

As sold at the Trespass shows we have two new stickers in the store.  “Trespassers Welcome” in green on white vinyl at 100mm square and “Loitering in Progress” in red on white vinyl is 235mm x 100mm for those official places where such signs are needed.  Buy one or 3 or more at a discounted price.

Mark’s article about “Trespass” – first published in “The Big Issue”

Ever since I was allowed out I have walked through London ; across common to school, late night treks to Chelsea Bridge to stare into the Thames, marching down Park Lane or bustling to Wardour Street to see the Fall at the Marquee. I have always thought the city was a place for us to ramble and enjoy. I have always thought the city belonged to us. All of us. The mass. No matter what “they” did there would always places for us to play.

I am less convinced this is the case now, though more convinced than ever of the need to do so.

Read more Mark’s article about “Trespass” – first published in “The Big Issue”