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'Pantomime' spectacle at St Paul's Cathedral

Protester
Image caption 'Dom' the forager set the tone with his somewhat unconventional world view

The piercing blue sky and soft wintry sunlight showed off St Paul's Cathedral at its most handsome.

But it was not the English Baroque architecture that caught the attention on a Friday lunchtime.

The church was preparing to reopen for the first time since protesters set up camp outside.

And an unholy combination of die-hard protesters, bemused tourists and journalists milled outside the cathedral.

There was also the very occasional worshipper.

One protester cleared his throat and began a speech. "Usually they charge £14 to go inside there," he boomed in an accusatory tone.

"No it's not, it's completely free to go to a service," a middle-aged parishioner shot back, taking the wind from his sails.

Mark Field MP has called the situation "an absolute pantomime".

But what do the protesters themselves think?

"The government is setting us up," confided one demonstrator, who describes himself as a full-time forager.

"They want the camp to be right here in the heart of Babylon - then they can blame it for the financial collapse when it comes."

Image caption There was no denying the splendour of the newly reopened church

The protester initially insisted that he had no name, as names were the "property of the Crown".

But he eventually consented to being called Dom.

"You can't predict the future, and you can't predict the past," Dom added cryptically.

No less passionate was Jenny Bloom, 21, an English literature student.

"I am here because I am fed up with being ignored," she said.

"It's more difficult for them to ignore us if we're in their front garden.

"I've been here since the start and I've only a weekend off, when my mum came."

Did her mother approve?

"Oh, she loved it," laughed Jenny. "She's an old hippy herself."

A commotion begins outside the church as the doors open for the first time in a week.

With the jostling on the steps and the snapping of photographers, the grand old building momentarily resembled an exterior scene from a US courtroom drama.

Yet when the crowd surged inside there was a certain hush.

Even the most hard-nosed of reporters could not disguise a moment of awe at an interior to rival anything in Florence or Rome.

Inside the church, an usher was busy collaring a tourist. "Hello madam," she said with unimpeachable politeness.

Image caption 'Usually they charge to go inside' boomed this protester

"Can I remind you there is no photography allowed?"

A phalanx of telephoto lenses bristled around the pair, clicking and whirring away.

"Look at the people with their big cameras," one little boy told his mother, eyes like saucers and seemingly oblivious to the Whispering Dome above.

The hardy band of genuine worshippers were completely surrounded.

So what did the tourists make of the brouhaha?

'It's just crazy'

"They are protesting about the wrong thing," said Joachim Steiff, a real estate worker from Germany.

"We can't shut down all the banks. It's just crazy."

Those worshippers hoping for a moment of quiet reflection were in for a disappointment.

"I just have one little line to send you," a smartly dressed female journalist yelled into her mobile phone.

Yet the churchgoers carried themselves with dignity and composure.

Image caption 'Truth, justice and well-being' - Bennett Spong outlined the aims of both Church and protest

"I think it's rather wonderful," said Annie Goodenough, 50, from Tufnell Park, north London. "The whole thing is so very British. Good for them."

But a look of steel came into her eyes when the closure of the church was mentioned. "Absolute nonsense," she said. "Totally unnecessary."

Fellow worshipper Bennett Spong, himself an Anglican vicar whose church is in Charlton, agreed.

"I don't see a health and safety risk," he said. "I don't see why the church has shut its doors to these people.

"There is so much common ground between them. They both want truth, justice and well-being.

"The Church should be creating dialogue between them."

Somewhat less impressed, however, was Robert, a Big Issue seller surveying proceedings from his usual patch.

"I think they are these so-called loony lefties," he said. "I'm all for them having free will, but the government does need to pay back all its debts.

"I think they should just get a job."

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