(Pics were taken with my little toy-spy camera)
They all gathered. Young and old, Cold War veterans and the new generation of peace protesters—even a contingent of Buddhist monks.
By the time I arrived at our friendly Neighbourhood Atomic Weapons Establishment—late after the previous night’s World Cup final—they were all gathered on a gravelly patch by the side of the road to the main gate. It looked like the blockade—if there had been one—was over. But the crowd was neither silent nor invisible. A woman sat in front of the police cordon, blowing a tuba. A young man accompanied her with a violin. The tiny orchestra was drowned out by the thumping beat from a DIY sound system: a heavy mix of drums and Bush sound bites.
It took me a while to cross the road. Blockade or not, the traffic had slowed right down as commuters gawped at the protesters. AWE has been in the news recently and I think I saw a few new faces in the crowd.
A gentle drizzle fell. Nobody seemed to notice.
I wondered if any of the cops or other protesters felt as rough as I did.
Heavy container trucks rumbled past, carrying mounts of sand and earth into the base; the building work no longer clandestine.
I lit another cigarette and when it was finished stubbed it out on a pebble and put the stub back in the box. This isn’t Germany, but I did not want to give the cops an excuse to steam in and arrest me for littering. Not that they seemed about to. Everything was relaxed.
I day-dreamed and listened to the beat for a while. My reverie was interrupted by one of the police officers jogging past, boots crunching on the gravel. Half-a-dozen others followed him down a grassy path along the fence. I spotted two of the protesters down there, surrounded by their own private cordon of officers. Could it be…?
I walked over to the two official Legal Observers who were chatting to a group of people with their backs turned to us. “I think the cops are about to book someone,” I said. ” You better come.”
It really seemed to be happening. The two protesters had done nothing more than walk down the path, which is a public right of way. People walk their dogs there.
‘Three is a Crowd’
The Legal Observer was detained at the edge of the gravel. She waved over at her colleague and the two of them talked earnestly to the cops, soon joined by their own ‘evidence gathering officer’, as identified by her shoulder patches. Eventually, most of the cops came back, but not all of them. I the distance, I spotted the two protesters being led away. They were being arrested for walking down a public path.
The bustle resumed. A few people were getting ready to leave. I considered going as well; it was ten to ten and I might catch John before he left for work.
“Shall we go?” A guy nearby asked a friend. I did not catch his reply, but he buttoned up his rain jacket and walked across the pebbles to the road. I was about to follow when one of the cops grabbed him by the collar—and not gently.
A minor fraccas ensued.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “The guy just wanted to go home!”
A woman regarded me gravely: “Apparently we have to stay in this ‘prison’ until twelve o’ clock.”
Suddenly the atmosphere changed. The music stopped. People huddled together in small groups. Worried glances were exchanged.
Were we all under arrest?
At least now I had something to write about. I walked up to a patch of grass. Immediately, two of the officers drew close.
“Relax—I just want to sit!”
My hands were trembling when I took out my notebook.
As quickly as the tension had arisen, it was calmed down. While I was scribbling furiously, one of the senior officers made a speech: “…so if any of you want to leave the site, to go home, or go to the loo, that’s fine. But if you start a protest anywhere else—that’s two or more people—you are liable to be arrested…”
He talked on. He did not sound unreasonable: we were free to leave. But I was determined not to walk past one of his more excitable colleagues.
In the end, a few of the women got together. They had been at the peace camp all weekend and were tired after getting up early that morning. The cop nodded at us. “Ladies, if you like to leave, I’ll stop the traffic.”
That’s the police for you—all sweetness and light one minute, and the next…