FEB 15th 2003
Well, I dunno, I think to myself, as
I shuffle along the Embankment and Whitehall in the bone-freezing cold,
in the company of about a million and a half other English, Welsh and
he wasn't actually elected and he has a very dodgy record, but... Maybe,
a clean surgical strike, if they could go in there, topple Saddam, reconstruct
the country... After all, they put the bastard in charge, maybe it is
their duty to take him out. Maybe 1991 was just a glitch, and they know
how to do it this time. Shuffle shuffle... On the other hand, the whole
idea is pretty illegal. Up there with annexing Poland, all those years
ago. Up there with Greater Serbia. Yes, it has to be admitted (and I
know this would make no sense to a pacifist, but I'm not one, tho' sometimes
I feel ought to be), what Bush and Blair are planning to do is worse
than 'unjust', it's really dangerous. Unprecedented in modern history.
Unless you count the plans of, well, sort of fairly well-accredited
out and out bad guys... But shuffle shuffle, what about those suffering
in Baghdad? The Iraqi Women's League to my left, a bunch of singing,
drumming, laughing multiefnic teenagers from south of the River coming
up on the outside (we LEAD THE WORLD for mixed race relationships, which
is about the only statistic I'm proud of at the moment. oh, that and
Nasser Hussain, sort of); and a whole lot of black, green, crimson and
white flags. A sizeable minority of the folks near me can't seem to
get their heads around the concept that bombing the living daylights
out of one brutal recalcitrant regime that won't listen to the UN is
totally different from...er, not bombing the living daylights out of
another brutal recalcitrant regime that won't listen to the UN... We
have Falangists, we have Mujahuddin, we have the very friendly and cheerful
Communist Party of the Sudan here with us. Aaaah... All these homeless
Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and what have yous, coming to roost in Kilburn
and Hackney. What year is this? I wonders, distractedly. 2003 or 1903???
And of course (Sigh) the Socialist Worker Party. We have the IRA for
peace (!) I'm in very mixed company, shuffle shuffle. But you always
are, on these things. If you get involved in politics as a career option,
I suppose you lie to yourself. If you get into the dirty business as
a volunteer you can't. Forget about purity and cleanliness. No, don't
forget. Regard anybody who uses those terms with fear
and horror, and you will not be far wrong... Where was I? Shuffle shuffle...
Oh yeah, are peace demos misguided? Well, maybe. But then I think, take
a look at Afghanistan, post-surgery. Hm. The invincible US armed forces
are getting their asses kicked on the ground. No one wants the job of
president. It's barely marginally more fun to be a woman. A real lot
of suffering children... Funny thing, Afghanistan looks just the way
I thought it would look, post-surgery... And excuse me, where is Osama
Bin Laden? You know, I think the dumb humanitarian issue is huge, but
there's another reason we're all out here & it's personal. We're
tired of the blatant lies, we're tired of being treated like idiots.
There's a word for the way this country's been governed recently, and
it is not democracy.
It's very cold. The police are friendly. The sacred holy grass in Hyde Park does indeed get stomped to grey mud. (Get a grip, it's only a bit of grass). We go for a cup of hot chocolate in one of the excellent Lebanese cafes on the Edgeware Road. We listen to the speakers. Jesse Jackson tries to lead a revivalist meeting, but we don't get it (Cornish contingent being way back in the distance). Miss Dynamite, a nice middle-class kid with a sweet smile, masquerading as a teen rap queen, yells at us, and we get it. We shout for her. Two million on the streets of Rome. Our competitive hackles rise, well, in that case maybe we should join the sit-in? But it's awfully cold, and my sinusitis is playing up. Time to go home. On the way out of the park, we meet a huge surge of people coming towards us. What's up? Are the gates locked? No... this is the march, still arriving, five hours later. Wow. Now we're impressed.
Public transport? You're kidding. Public transport in this city has gone beyond moribund. Four miles back to the station, in the freezing cold. As we walk through the maze of coaches waiting in the dark behind Buckingham Palace we phone our parents, like a couple of nineteen year old goody-goodys. Good on yer, they say. Glad you're there. Shout for me.
For a view from the US Senate, try: common dreams (Look under More Views, for Senator Robert Byrd speaking on Feb 12th)
27th Sept. Troops out! Nah, not really. Technically it ought to be an improvement if the US and British troops get out of Iraq and a UN peacekeeping force takes over, but would the difference be worth the cost of the operation? Would there be any reduction in casualties? When everybody concerned is convinced the UN is a US organisation anyway? Rhetorical questions, we didn't expect any answers. After some discussion of childcare techniques (if you say no once, you have to go on saying no...), we took the train up to London again purely to annoy Tony Blair, and walked from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square in the company of a lot of people (far more than we'd expected) doing the same thing for the same reason. Plus the nutters, of course. But while angry people ranted, apple slices and honey were being served for Rosh Hashanah.
A brave idea.
Dead and Missing. Jools and Vincent did not survive the heatwave, so now we only have the fish that live in the pond. Little Fio (who was Rusty) died of poisoning. Stan (who was Zephyr) went missing in July. Maybe he found another home.
Ginger and Frank survived incarceration (tho I do not reccommend the place in Poynings). One night at the end of August I was woken by the sound of two cats fooling around in the dark, and then by the most appalling thin shrieking, like no noise I've ever heard. I got up, switched on my bedside light, and found in the dimness a dark lump, lying on the floor between two deeply interested cats. When I touched it it was wet, chill and slimy like a newborn kitten lost from the nest. This was just after Fio had been found dead, and it gave me a turn. No, it wasn't a ghost. It was a frog. I didn't know frogs could shriek. The frog was perky and undaunted, I delivered it back to the pond. Ginger (I think Frank is too squeamish) had now perpetrated several frog incidents, two frog fatalities. She has a special frog-noise, a helpless and mournful cry <I've got the frog in again. What'll I do?>I think the shrieker frog is still alive. It is a weird frog, its eyes look different, it has attitude.When I put it back in the pond last time, I swear it deliberately sat up with its body out of the water (instead of swimming away) and stared at Ginger, who was watching from the steps. Hey, maybe this frog is an anguisette!
July21-August 18 We went greek island hopping, a tale which will be recounted elsewhere. Edited highlights: Santorini ace, Naxos lovely until the meltemi kept us pinned there for three extra days, Amorgos beautiful, but v. crowded, Milos in high season 'is a greek island'. Don't go there, you're not wanted. Bemused by unusually hostile and unhelpful tourist offices, and officials, we put it down to the Elgin Marbles, until we came home & found out about oral sex tournaments on the beach in Rhodes. Ah, but did they have amplified music? If they didn't, God bless 'em, says I. What harm were they doing anyone?
July 16th 2003 Gabriel and I reached the point in the crater that neither of us had reached before on 15th July, but foundered through overconfidence and not taking the time to regroup and rearrange our armaments. On the 16th, in the most intense three hour session, my spirit guide and I reached the end of Final Fantasy Seven. This was one of the greatest days of my life so far, and you think I'm joking, but I'm not.
AT THE GATE OF THE YEAR
20th November 2003. I leave my keyboard at noon and head up to London for the anti-Bush protest. Coming up from the Tube at Euston, I couldn't make out what was going on from the demeanour of the badgy and placardy layabouts milling around, so naturally I asked a policeman (plenty of those in evidence). The policeman, obligingly and with a smile, directed me exactly where to find the official start-point. Cross the road, up Gordon Street and on your right. Tell the truth, I could have followed the map thoughtfully provided in The Independent, but always talk to the police. The golden rule for any thoughtful political activist. There followed a long, slow hour, with a huge and colourful crowd packed between Waterstones and the International Quaker Centre; under the dark grey sky, and the near-naked branches of the great plane trees, before we headed off up Malet Street. I shuffled to and fro, for something to do, and spent some time listening to the Women's 8th March International, on the subject of what life is like for women in Afghanistan right now. (Remember Afghanistan?). And the opium harvest. 185 tonnes under the Taliban, a mighty 4600 tonnes this year God knows, I'm not defending the Taliban, plague on them, but this does seem a tad ironic. Off we set at last, crushed close enough to make a dress-parade slow march the only pace possible, through the chaste, art deco canyons of the University. People have obviously been busy. I spent some time under the wings of a rather sinister-looking giant dove. Placards of all kinds, Papier-mache skeletons, a snogging Blair and Bin Laden Down Kingsway to a reggae beat, provided by one of the thoughtful souls who are pushing sound systems in baby-buggies. What a long way it seems, when you're on your own. I didn't strike up many conversations. Slow march, thinking of February. Thinking of how the ugly situation in Iraq now is EXACTLY where we said it would be. All the millions upon millions of us, who came out on the streets around the world. On Southampton Row I called my husband, he says the BBC website is putting the numbers here at 30,000 (I'm glad to say they changed their minds later), but CNN says 150,000. He says, there's been a couple of big bombs at the British Consulate in Istanbul. Maybe thirty dead, hundreds injured.
This cast a pall. I do not want to be proved right. I don't want the US to be hated, (or the UK to be dragged along). I see the impasse, between those who believe US tactics in Iraq are feeding terrorism, and those who believe the continued terrorist attacks prove the war was just... But the Iraq war was justified by lies, and it has failed in all it promised to deliver. Those two facts are not in dispute, and a lot of people can't get beyond them.
I took the long march. It suited me better than jollifications. Old people, young people, people in wheelchairs, little children, teenagers; nicely dressed lady with a senior civil servant suitish look. Bury St Edmunds, that hotbed of rabid radicalism, had a very elegant, beautifully made red and black banner. Temporary Receptionist against Bush, reads one scrawled placard. Another, totally obscure to me, says, GET BACK BELOW, BUSH. SATAN NEEDS HIS BED BATH. Islamic joke? LIFE IS PRECIOUS, DON'T YOU KNOW THAT? There's a remarkable, touching number of ex-pat Americans. They're calling themselves Yanks Over Waterloo Bridge. It's dark now, and there's St Paul's; the glittering towers of the city, the river flowing under a sombre blue twilight. Here we picked up the pace, and I talked to another policeman. Our policemen are still wonderful (I tell myself). Back across the river at Westminster: and the protest can still be seen crossing Waterloo. Under Big Ben, I talked to a bloke from Florence. It's very old, no? No, says I. Not old at all. The old place got burned down. He looks disappointed. It's not Victorian? Er, yeah. I mean, it's Victorian Gothic, but not regular gothic.Got burned down about 1860 or something. Then the Where Are The Fucking Weapons roarers got started, and they lifted my spirits. Louts, waving lager cans, yelling indignantly and rationally about things that the government thinks none of their business. This will always cheer me. A prim young police officer leans over the barricade, to reprove a fifteeen year old, female lager lout. "Mind your language, young lady-!" Young lady didn't notice him. I cracked up. We had to wait at the Cenotaph, for a drumming-interlude going on, up the line. There's not much we can do about it, says the young steward. The poppies were gone. The soldiers' monument looked very naked and defenceless.
Finally, Trafalgar Square. It was after six, the toppling of the statue long past. Satirical images by yeastproductions.org on the big screen, a pink tank in flames, whiteface, music, fancy dress, drumming and dancing everywhere (also plenty lager cans). A cheeky young woman swinging to the beat, on the head of one of Landseer's lions. I wish I could know, how it feels to be free. Yeah. I felt absolutely, weirdly, as if I'd walked into one of my own books (me, William Gibson seeing Bladerunner). This is the London of Dissolution, this is the place I invented. Shame the plot's so different... Phone home, for a cheering peptalk. Peter says (rockstars and politics note) the BBC stopped only three celebs on the march. One was Damon Albarn, who explained very cogently what it was about and why he was here... As some may know, I backed my home team in that ancient dispute, and local rivalry apart Blur's always been a bit art-collegy for my taste. But now I salute the man. Thank you Mr Albarn. So then I helped a bloke rescue a bedsheet type banner that was about to go up in flames, which would not have made the police happy, and threw a modest placard-stick brand on the bonfire instead. I know what fire means, I know what time of year this is; it seemed the right thing.
Getting back to Victoria was a mission. All the western exits from the Square were cordoned off. Damn. I have to take the Underground, and weather the cattletruck delays on the District and Circle Lines. I heard someone say, this won't play well for him at home Bombs in Istanbul, London out on the streets jeering at him. Well, who knows. The American voter is a curious beast.
But Tony Blair should pay attention, if he cares about his posthumous reputation (the idiot), because this is what gets remembered. And the people who came out, calm, well-behaved, orderly and humourous, in the biggest midweek demonstration London has yet seen: they understand this. They're not hoping to make you listen, Tony (they'd be less dangerous to you, if they were as naïve as that). Or to separate you from your unpleasant patron. They're just full of anger and pity. Full of shame at what you have done in their name, contemptuous of your self-serving lies, and they want you to know it. Somewhere along the way, although I never got into the party mood, I started feeling proud of them.