We're talking Fish Now,
We're talking Fish Now.

I can't remember how it started.

No, that's not true. I remember exactly how it started. Perhaps it would be fairer to say I don't remember when it started, and that's pretty similar, actually. This is Jerusalem, late 2000. There is a war. Or an intifada. Whatever. There's political turmoil, but that's nothing new. An election may be just around the corner.

And I'm living in my little Anglo-Saxon bubble in Talpiot with nearly sixty other English post-school pre-university utopian dreamers of vastly different dreams.

It was Alex's idea. He'd stolen it from a book; I can't remember its name. But in essence, it was an exercise in memetics.

I'm going to have to explain a few things, or you won't understand. Please bear with me.

Jerusalem is a city of noticeboards. Imagine your school or university or workplace. If you want to advertise a gig, or plug a charity event, or organise a 5-a-side football match, or sell your old PC you'd leave notice up here. In Jerusalem there are noticeboards for the whole city, like free-for-all billboards, with fluorescent posters for club nights, full-colour glossy displays advertising a concert or an exhibition, and the black-on-white, black-bordered announcements of funerals. But mainly, there are political slogan posters, derivations of the bumper sticker. They were short and snappy, little brands for the causes they represent.

In Jerusalem, they were mostly right-wing:




but you still saw the occasional               PEACE NOW!

And it is against this background that Alex thought that an unknown group could muscle in on the meme-space of the fragile city. He mentioned it only to two or three people. We brought in a couple of specialists. A plan was made. We wrote aims and objectives. The group had a name, similar to the Israeli peace movement Shalom Achshav. We called it Dag Achshav, in English ,"Fish Now".

We're talking Fish Now,
We're talking Fish Now.

So it began. Rob put together some logos on Photoshop that could have been his portfolio for a job as a forger. The posters looked exactly like the real thing; fonts, layout, the works. Except the words were different.

We broke into one of the offices at night to use the photocopier. We got that wonderful white glue, the sort that doesn't come off. We dressed in black, and at 2:30am we left to explore the streets of Jerusalem, with a couple of plastic bags full of everything we needed.

Perhaps we were overly cautious at first. Hiding from the late-night people that inhabit all cities, we were more likely to attract attention than just carrying on. But in any case, they ignored us. We found noticeboards, and walls, and bus stops, and all manner of weird pavement furniture that germinates in the fertile streetscape. As long as it had a flat surface, it could wear a slogan for us. Often, it was already covered with someone else's message. The first night, we must have stuck up a hundred posters.

The next morning they were gone

This was a minor setback only. Rob designed a new batch of posters that would really be eyecatching. "This is not a fish, friend" and "The nation with the fish" were his tour de force. Each bore the Fish Now logo at the bottom.

The next time Andre, Stuart and I set off we had learned. We put posters on signposts and in dark corners, in hard-to-reach but visible places. We covered a massive billboard of Ariel Sharon posters with them. When we returned, some had gone but some remained.

A few days later I was sitting on a bus when I heard a kid, he must have been about 13, ask his mother:

"What's that?"

He was pointing to one of our posters. The mother stopped for a second to think.

"I don't know", she answered.

It'd been a week since our last run when we went into town, the three of us. Andre had his guitar, Stuart had a drum, and I had my Nagilla and the bag of tricks. It was a strange evening. We sat in Zion square, busking for fun rather than money. Someone was stabbed in a cafe, and one of the people helping the victim had an epileptic fit. I climbed the steps to the bank overlooking the square and stuck our posters on the floor/wall area, in full view of the crowd.

A few people asked me what I was doing. I told them I was being paid to put them up by an old man in a suit. I said I had no idea who he was or what the posters were for. People accepted this and speculated with me about their meaning.

Andre broke two strings, and Stuart's drum was borrowed by a crazy religious guy. I sang improvised lyrics with the repeating refrain:

We're talking Fish Now,
We're talking Fish Now.

Time was the enemy; it normally is. Rob's final creation was a six-foot plastic banner of the Fish Now logo. On our last night in Jerusalem, we put it in Zion square and renewed all the posters. It's hard to gauge the impact of a thing like that on the city. How many hundreds of thousands saw our posters? How many thought about them? Perhaps the overfull city beat us, and perhaps we succeeded in changing it just a little bit; perhaps we gave people something to reflect on or giggle at in a time or turmoil.

I went to Shlomi and left Jerusalem behind, for a while. But the posters remained for some months. The scratching in the paint of a pub toilet was there for even longer. And somewhere is a stone wall with "Fish Now" carved into it. That, at least, should stand the test of time.

Postscript: In 2003, a Jerusalem hip-hop band called HaDag Nachash (lit: The Fish Snake) released a song called "The Sticker Song", based around Israeli political slogans. You can here it here. This is just a coincidence.

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