Monday, March 09, 2009
1984 revisited: The Demo
At the time, I was heavily involved in the local CND. Moving to Dunoon and living there with two young children had galvanised a political activity which had been lacking in my complacent youth; my comparatively recent discovery of God had made it even more important and I was heavily involved in the preparations for this demo. Most of the women travelled up from the peace camp at Greenham Common; the rest of us were local.
I feel a burst of dramatic present coming on ...
It is bitterly cold. The gritting lorry has passed along the shore road at the gates to the American pier - and back again - and then back in the other direction: three loads of grit. The base ship, which only sails if there is a threat of war in normal circs, has gone - on an exercise, we are told; we know better. When I arrive, there is already a fire on the pebble beach, and women - in shawls, in bundles of coats and jackets, draped in blankets - are huddled round it like refugees. You can spot the locals, as we tend to wear waterproofs and overtrousers and climbing boots, but we all look like survivors of some nameless holocaust. The only men in sight are in police uniforms, apart from two nattily-dressed gents. I approach the one in the lambskin coat and burberry scarf. He admits that he is a "posh policeman" - we decide Special Branch. It turns out that many of the police have been drafted in - from Dumbarton, we think.
We spend the day doing the crazy things one does on a demo: country dancing in the road, a great deal of singing ("Whose side are you on?", into the ear of a policeman I'm embracing at the time); there is a die-in on the road with appropriate painted outlines (they don't really take, in the grit). Some Greenham women charge the fence and are hauled away; others sit several deep to barricade the entrance and are also dragged off. The grit makes a dreadful mess of backs exposed as clothes are hauled up in the process, and my pal Winnie, in an absurd orange woolly hat, carefully notes names and times and constable numbers in her little book. She is a designated observer for the day, with instructions to avoid arrest.
Later, not having been arrested, I clamber down to paint the rocks holding up the car park. (The photo shows me sitting there, months later: I wasn't so into photography in these days, and I feared for my camera should anyone not like what I did with it). I am interviewed on film, though I'm not sure who's doing the interview, and I speak to someone from The Times - the respectable face of the demo. I marvel at the courage of some of the women - moral and physical courage. The younger ones are magnificent, and I feel middle-aged and staid.
By the time darkness falls - about 4pm on this gloomy day - there have been 27 arrests. My mother (in Glasgow) is sure I will be locked up, and Mr B, seeing my sister alone at the door in the dark, is appalled at the thought that he will have to cook the dinner for the family. By the time I get home, I am frozen and exhausted, but there are 27 women, none of them local, in the local police cells and I know I shall have to go out again.
But that, as they say in all the best tales, is another story.