05/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dispatch from London: Day 1 of the G-20 Summit

President Obama and his wife Michelle arrived in London on a sunny, but tense 'financial fools day'. They're staying just across the road from my apartment -- at Winfield House, the Ambassador's home in Regent's Park. Built for heiress Barbara Hutton, it "oozes English country-house charm as seen through the eyes of a Hollywood set designer" according to those snooty types at the Guardian.

My regular morning -- and always peaceful -- constitutional through London's verdant greenery is now disrupted by blockaded footpaths, machine-gun-toting policemen, and buzzing helicopters. But I am not grumbling. Indeed it gives me, and millions of Londoners, a thrill to bask in the glow cast by this glamorous couple.

In the City this morning the police blocked roads, stopped any passers-by with a backpack, and clogged up side-streets with van-loads of crouching policemen. Financiers obeyed management instructions and 'dressed down'. Gucci jeans, pink open-neck shirts and patent leather shoes made bankers as conspicuous as flamingos in a crowd of protesting wildebeest. Some were defiant. At UBS bank they plotted to photocopy 50 pound notes and shower them on demonstrators, while others were determined to drive past protesters in their shiny red Ferraris.

The police were in costume too. Darth Vader suits. Similar to those that terrorized me as I walked the peaceful streets of Seattle in November, 1999.

Later a more cheerful crowd descended on the European Climate Exchange, blocked the street and within minutes had assembled hundreds of colourful tents, and a huge banner: 'Nature doesn't do Bail-outs'.


And just as in Seattle, a small group of trouble makers smashed four windows at a RBS bank -- just opposite the Bank of England -- and newspaper headlines screamed 'Riots rock City of London'.

But while the protesters are more or less united, G-20 leaders are squabbling like parents fighting over how to constrain their petulant teenagers.

"You're letting them spend too much" says Mummy (Merkel/Sarkozy), to indulgent Daddy (Brown/Obama).

"And anyway' says Mummy tearfully 'It's all your fault. You've always indulged them. Spared the rod and spoiled the child. Now they've wrecked the house, and you're letting them get away with murder. We have to regulate them much more tightly'.

'No', says Daddy, trying to sound calm, and masterful. 'They're doing fine. Let's just get back to the way things were before. And if we want them to be creative and get jobs, we have to back them up with more pocket money.'

'That'll ruin them' screams Mummy Merkel. 'You never listen to me.'

'But I do. Why do you think I am here? I have come to listen' says Daddy Obama, softening his tone.

'I am not fooled by your soft-soaping' says Mummy Sarkozy. 'Don't touch me! You have no respect for my opinions. I am sick of you and your liberal ideas. I am walking out'.

Like children pretending they can't hear, Londoners plug in their Ipods, snuggle deeper down into bed, and haul the covers over their heads...