What a fine idea - the world's first global flash mob. In 81 cities around the world at 2:15pm local time a crowd would gather, address the wider world in some way, and 10 minutes later jump for joy, cheer and disperse. That was the idea anyway. As I say, a fine idea that probably worked really well elsewhere, but alas it all fell a bit flat here in London.
Covent Garden was the chosen target of the London flashmobbers, the idea being for a huge crowd to walk in single file round the market building in the centre of the plaza. We were issued with a list of eight international greetings to use as we passed each corner of the building (bonjour, enchanté de vous rencontré). And that was about it.
If you know Covent Garden, you'll know that it's a magnet for tourists. There are jugglers, acrobats, guitarists trying to sell CDs recorded in their garage, and mime artists spray-painted silver in the hope that people will throw money at them for being complete aerosols. In fact, on a Saturday afternoon the whole of Covent Garden looks like it's already been invaded by a mob of tourists (ciao! Piacere di conoscerti!) and one more mob is going to be very hard to spot. And that was the problem.
At 2:14 you'd have been hard pushed to realise that a mob was assembling at the eastern end of the plaza, save for the bloke with the TV camera pointing his lens towards the cobbles where he hoped something was about to happen. At 2:15, magically coalescing out of the crowd, a surge of mobsters headed off in a clockwise direction. It wasn't so much single file as lots of people all out together for an afternoon stroll, and that made the queue rather on the short side. At each corner we tried out a new international greeting (ni hao! wo jiandao ni hen gaoxing) but it's a big market and we never got through all eight on the list.
We weaved our way slowly through the thronging tourists, completely failing to get noticed. Except by the press that is. A young gentleman from BBC Radio poked his big woolly microphone in my face and asked me if I'd mind telling him why I'd decided to come along today. He looked most hurt when I told him I did mind actually thankyou. At the next corner I was greeted by a beaming warmly-dressed young woman, to whom I would have replied privet, jarad tebja videtj if only she hadn't been standing primed with a TV camera in her face. Sadly de-press-ing.
After ten minutes, and not-quite-two circuits of the market, it was time to jump for joy. Only those members of the public in the north-east corner of the market heard the two hundred cheers that went up, and perhaps wondered whether this was just another piece of performance art. At least nobody threw any coins at us (hola, encantado de conocerte). And then we dissolved back into the crowd, as if we'd never been there, which we might as well not have been.
Nice idea, good try, no impact. It was good to have an audience for a change, but not one that was far bigger than the mob. Next time, if there is a next time, I hope it's all a bit more flash.