On Leap Day, people in Newcastle [UK] decided to have a day for something different. A day that challenged the cynicism, resignation and isolation that supports the status quo. A day for acting out the world we wanted to live in, not the one that suits those in power.
It was an open idea, left to people to interpret in their own way. This means that I don’t know about everything that happened, and it also means that people got involved who don’t normally come along to standard protest-y things.
We advertised the idea in ‘Act Locally’, the radical newsletter that serves the North East (subscribe by sending stamps to PO Box 1TA, NE99 1TA UK). Then we agreed that all of us would design leaflets and flyposters – a whole diversity of styles, from the political to the personal to the just plain weird. After one meeting we split into three groups (East Newcastle, West Newcastle, and random travelers), and covered as much of the city as we could.
One group designed a full-scale billboard and pasted it up on one of the main routes into Newcastle. It stayed for several days, right where the buses stop at the traffic lights.
We declared the 29th of February ‘Chat to Someone at a Bus-stop Day!’ and somebody put up phony stagecoach signs saying that bus travel was free if you could prove you’d been chatting at the bus stop.
We decided to do a free paper, which we printed on a silkscreen press. Everyone was invited to submit things, and in the end these included: – poems – a map of Newcastle with labels saying where riots, squats, victories and defeats had taken place through history – a dyslexics crossword to express what it feels like to read stuff as a dyslexic – another, politically tilted crossword – an introduction to the idea of ‘yo mango’ – plus artwork and examples of all the little ways we can take more control over our life.
We distributed these on the day, with a ‘paper-seller’ shouting ‘Free Paper’ above a big sign. They all went pretty quickly!
We also did a Free Shop at Haymarket, watched suspiciously by a scientologist swing-band.
The first thing to go was a homer simpson clock, to 2 likely lads. Then 32 spider plants, scones, posters, bath stuff, scales. It was just junk to the people who gave it away, but the shop was really popular. The sign said ‘NOT FOR SALE – NO PRICES – NO PROMOTION – NO MAILING LISTS – NO RELIGIOUSNESS – NO WASTES INTO LANDFILL’ When we were packing up the tables and the final few bits, some youngsters came along and cleared us out of everything that was left! We had great responses, with people telling us it had made their day. One Scottish fella came along, put a fiver on the table and said ‘there, have a free fiver!’ and walked merrily along!
Individually people also went round town putting arrows directing people to where CCTV cameras were. We put stickers on various subjects including ones on the metro system, which is full of signs saying ‘only LOSERS don’t buy a ticket’ — the leapday stickers therefore saying ‘You’re not a loser, you’re ace. Don’t let them put you down.’ We made chalk drawings and put up bits of tape covering up words or letters to change the meaning of signs.
Two cinema buffs restored the old billboard of a derelict cinema with a stencil design. In the Arthurs Hill area of town, somebody flyposted signs with positive messages, saying ‘This area is ace. Why not take the day to celebrate it, and celebrate yourselves.’ etc.
Then in the afternoon we met up again for a ‘mass leapfrog’. We met at the chlorine-soaked ‘pond’ in Eldon square shopping centre. A place dedicated to buying things, and where the security guards told us nothing else was allowed. We started leapfrogging, and got several chains of people hopping around the place. When we got out a parachute for a ‘parachute game’, however, the bamboozled security guards turned up and we had something of a chat about the nature of public-private space. Enjoying yourself without spending money is certainly not allowed. When we left, a little boy of maybe 4 years old was left hopping around on his own, imitating our leapfrog.
It’s hard to sum up the day in a report, but here’s some of the things said around leapday:
A young lad said to people putting up a billboard: “here mister, are you sure you’re meant to be doing that. You’re not doing a very good job of it!” They said “Well we told the boss it wouldn’t go up in this blizzard but he said it had to go up in time for leapday.”
Two people from “Stop the War” said “We saw posters about leapfrogging, is that anything to do with you?” They had got up at 6 in the morning to go to a meeting in London but saw the snow outside and gave it up to go sledging.
Two old ladies at a bus stop were overheard saying “Ooh, free travel, it says free travel on the bus tomorrow.”
As we came out of a gig a young lad said “Are you the ones who are doing leapday, I’m going to bake a cake for it!”