The Wikileaks boss’s mum is worried about how he’s getting on holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy. We decided to drop round with a few goodies for him
Laura Barton outside the Ecuadorian embassy with our hamper of treats. Photograph: Martin Godwin
On a rain-speckled street just behind Harrods stands a line of low metal barriers. Tethered to their frame are numerous homemade placards supporting freedom of speech, felt-tipped tributes to democracy, and several pictures of Julian Assange.
The reason for this impressive craft display is that the building opposite is the Ecuadorian embassy – the bolthole for the past seven weeks of Wikileaks founder Assange since he sought political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about sexual assault.
This week Assange’s mother, Christine, expressed concern for her son’s welfare. “He’s under a lot of stress,” she told the Washington Post. While she was heartened to learn that he has access to a treadmill, and that his friends “turn the music on and encourage him to dance with them” she was dismayed by her son’s lack of access to natural light, and expressed her intention to send him “things like a sunlamp”.
Poor Julian. It can’t be easy to be confined to one building, no matter how prestigious the postcode. This is no slight to Ecuadorian culture – this is, after all, the great nation that gave us sanjuanito dancing, ceviche and Christina Aguilera, but every once in a while a person might crave a little variety.
And so we decided to assemble a collection of items that Assange might be missing, and deliver them.
There is surprisingly little in the public domain that illustrates Assange’s private tastes and passions – beyond, of course, that famous OKCupid profile, in which he spoke of his desire to find a “spirited, erotic, non-conformist” woman with “innate perceptiveness and spunk” – and really there are limits to my dedication to investigative journalism.
So instead we packed our hamper with a selection of edible items not native to Ecuador – Kellogg’s cornflakes fortified with vitamin D to compensate for the lack of sunlight in Assange’s life, a jar of Vegemite (as an antipodean, Julian was likely to spurn Marmite), a packet of chocolate-chip cookies, and a punnet of clementines.
Recalling that Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, once remarked upon Assange’s questionable hygiene and the fact he wore “filthy white socks” we added three pairs of crisp, white sports socks and a shower gel in the “feelgood fragrance of eucalyptus and citrus oils” that promised to be both “revitalizing” and “refreshing.” And for those times when Assange tires of the hurly-burly of activism, the Penguin Pocket Sudoku, and the Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador, and a copy of the Guardian.
Last but not least, a chocolate Olympic gold medal, to help him join in the fun.
“No you can’t see him,” the police officer on the steps of the embassy says flatly as I stand in the rain with our magnificent hamper. I look crestfallen. “But you can hand that over at the reception,” he relents, and so I trot up the steps and through the broad glass doors, to where a second police officer and two men in grey suits stand looking faintly baffled.
“Hallo!” I say cheerfully. “We’ve heard that Mr Assange is missing the outside world, and so we’ve brought him this special hamper!” The sterner of the two suits – picture an Ecuadorian Danny DeVito – looks me up and down and then frowns. He rings a bell to a side door and while we wait for someone to answer he stares fixedly at the hamper. Though his face suggests suspicion and perhaps derision, it may mask a secret awe at the dazzling array of socks and sudoku.
The woman who answers the door is a little more enthusiastic. “We will have to check this,” she says. She takes the hamper and assesses each item in turn — the cornflakes, the cookies, the chocolate gold medal. “OK,” she nods finally. “We will pass it on.” I beam at her. “Thank you!” I say. “We hope he enjoys it. And that the socks fit.”