A Week in Britain                                                                                                                                                                        back to front


Friday 1st July, 2005


Paul & I arrive home, and we discuss the march taking place in the Meadows tomorrow.  It’s the makepovertyhistory march, at which an unspecified number of people will be in attendance. Intended to focus political attention on the will of the people in the light of the forthcoming G8 summit at Gleneagles, it has been trumpeted as a magnet for rioters.  I for one am very scared about the events of the whole week to come, and I have a picture in my head which looks a bit like this – a “We Are Here!!” invitation to every nutter, anarchist and terrorist on the planet.  Still, we decide that we should go.  We want to register our apolitical disgust at the fact that 30,000 people are dying in Africa every day, because of poverty.  Whether this has been brought about by corrupt political regimes, climate change, or just basic east-west, north-south inequality, it is wrong.  

I phone my friend Jill and arrange to meet her and her son Al (2) at Haymarket station. We have some wine and beer to bolster our nerve.

 Saturday 2nd

 Paul and I climb out of bed, a bit wearied, and catch the 08:49 to town.  There are a few others at the Bay station, dressed in various shades of white, the chosen colour of the march. Age ranges in this microcosm are from very wee to very old.  I feel encouraged. 

 At Haymarket there are many groups of protesters. Protesters? That’s a pejorative term, according to the media, and I realise it includes us.  I am feeling scared (nothing new there then), and text Jill five or six times to find out where she is. 09:45 I meet Jill and Al at the turnstiles.   Jill will not let Al out of his buggy whilst on the streets, and throughout the day he is very good about this, for a wee chap.  We walk up to the flat of Paul’s colleague Nigel.  Nigel was obviously out the night before; he has the devil’s eye…  Released from the buggy for a short while, Al immediately decks himself on the skirting board.  Much WAAAAAA!!! and cuddling ensues.  Paul and Nigel dig down deep into a conversation about something very technical.   I kick Paul’s foot after ten minutes, to remind him why we’re here.  We then set off for the Meadows, and find a huge crowd, growing even huger by the minute.  Parked in front of the big screen, we watch Sharleen Spiteri, the guy from Motorcycle Diaries, Elaine C Smith, Jonathan Porrit, Cardinal O’Brien, and Al’s dad, amongst others (that’s Eddie Izzard, since you ask). The magic of text allows us to meet Fiona and Leigh, but not Emma. E assures me she has met up with pals. I tell her she better have, or face the wrath of mum’s sister. Eventually we join the queue for the march at 12:30.

 At 15:00, having listened to the guys behind us for far too long, me freaking at their Clockwork Orange outfits (all white with black bowlers), we set off on the march proper.  By this time I have sent texts to just about everyone I know, and a few I don’t.  Down the Mound, we pass the Carwash pub, which, appropriately, is awash with the sort of extraordinary people I used to meet at Fringe time.  We march on, past McDonalds, ironically open, and selling burgers when half the other shops in town have boarded up and gone home.  Up along Castle Terrace, and my legs start to hurt with the tension of the day.  The route is lined with police and security men, and the ‘copters are overhead constantly.  The boys try to make out what brand of ten tonne ordnance is hovering directly above us.  I just hope it knows how to stay up there.  How Jill has managed to push the buggy all day is beyond me – I guess you have to be a mum.  Al is sleeping through the best bits!  

 The sheer noise has to be heard – but not by me, I have my fingers stuffed in my ears. (Only one of them works and I ain’t about to lose the other one.)  Bloody Action Aid has handed out whistles to all and sundry – one guy gets my full nuclear glare when he blasts off beside me and it must have been a full-on one, cos he apologises.   Maybe I’m not so different from my sisters after all.   Klaxons and professional shouters pepper the line.  Eventually we make it back to the Meadows by the circular route of the march. 

 OMG, we did it!!!  Nelson and Bono and Bob asked us to, and we did.  My hip joints hurt, but it’s a good hurt ;-) My pal Jac didn’t manage to get on the march with her daughter, but she tried three times.  My pal Maggy took her chum’s mum to hospital to see her dad, who was ill.  It’s all about trying, and about helping others where you can. They rock.

 Paul, Nigel and fellow marcher Liz head off to the pub.  I go home with Jill and Al, and we have fun on the train, which is nowhere near as crowded as we had thought it would be.  I am oh so glad to get back to the Bay, and Paul is home not long after.  Meanwhile I drink one of his beers and text him to tell him he’s missing Greenday.  Can’t really settle to watch Live8, and I must have conked out in front of the TV cos I wake up in bed.  Bloody Sky + was too full of Star Trek to tape the rest of the gig, but we did catch the Floyd. 

 Sunday 3rd

 A quieter day.  I derive a great deal of enjoyment from reviewing the on-line Sunday papers – except for the SOS and the Herald, which I want to see in print. My favourite quote is from the Times – “Happily for the police, most protesters were colour-coded according to how much trouble they might cause.”  The numbers vary wildly from 100,000 to 250,000.  The BBC shows a clip of the 50 –70 Italian protestors being corralled in Buccleugh Street.  From the ‘copter it looks like an exercise in choreography, as the anarchists (code black, Trouble) form a bulging rectangle engirdled by the police (code fluorescent yellow, The Law).  We tootle over the bridge, which has police on either end, to meet Paul’s mum for lunch, stopping to buy papers on the way..  Now I’m sorry, but the reporting is true to the characteristics of each city – the Herald is triumphant (with better pictures) and the SOS is doom and gloom about the week to come.  We are all agreed that yesterday’s march was a huge success in terms of there only having been one arrest, and no violence. 

 However, we’re worried about Monday, and the purported Carnival for Full Enjoyment.  Trumpeted on bus stops and websites, it is a meeting point for anarchists at the West End.  Since I work for an American bank, we are a perceived target.  I am not feeling at all comfortable and the poor service in the Merlin pub in Morningside Road continues to wind me up.  Back at Rosemary’s we watch a dvd of Michaela’s dance class – it’s very professionally put together and M looks like she’s having a total blast. On the way home we call in to Maplin's Electronic shop and chat to James the manager, whom Paul used to work with.  His shop has just been extended with four lovely plate glass windows which he feels is just asking for trouble.  He has tried without success to access various anarchist websites.

 I’m swithering over what to do tomorrow – early train? late train? bus?  We’ve all been told to dress down, and not to enter into any discussions with protestors if they’re outside the office gates. Don’t wear your security pass in the street but don’t expect to get in the door if you forget it.  I remember to make a packed lunch in case Gregg’s the Bakers is a capitalist bourgeois target too.

 Monday 4th

  Decide to go for the usual train on the basis that there will be more people around at that time.  Everyone at the station is dressed down.  I have to give myself a mental talk down because my mind is whirling with images, and quite frankly I have already written both my tabloid and broadsheet obituaries – awash with the sort of bad plot line I have encountered so often, in so many films and books.  If only she hadn’t changed her train!! If only she hadn’t stopped to pick up that piece of litter!!!”  Yeah, yeah, if only I hadn’t been born. 

 Alternately, I can see the picture of me, seriously, but not fatally, wounded, in hospital, being visited by Helen Eadie (local MSP) (whom I actually know) Jack McConnell (whom I knew at Uni) and Gordon Brown (whom we once tried to run down in the Bay Sport Centre car park and who has been told by Helen that it’s a good photo op “One of your constituents, Gordy, and I think she’s a softy lefty, and her train buddy’s slimming club buddy has met your wife..”)  It’s a busy place, my head.

 Arriving at Waverley, I notice that everything movable has indeed been moved, and hidden away.  It had been announced a few weeks previously that there would be only one exit and entrance, but so far all the exits remain open.  I give myself another mental kicking and set off for Blenheim Place.  Two of my colleagues go past and I consider running to catch them up, but no, that’s giving in to it.  “That’s giving in to it” is going to be my mantra for the week, along with “That’s letting them win without lifting a finger.”  I’m beginning to bore myself rigid; God knows what it’s like to have to listen to me.

 I have kept a constant eye out for anyone who looks out of the ordinary, all the way from Calton Road to BP. I notice stickers and posters advertising various protest groups, which I had not heard of before last week.  There is a blakblokatak sticker on the RBS at the corner (closed for the day) and “Big Bother” posters for Dissent. The council has obviously tried to scrape off the Carnival posters from the bus stops, but the naughty anarchists must have used cyano-acrylate glue, cos they ain’t shifting.  The office doors are closed, so I have to wave my security pass through the window.  There are four security guards on the desk, and I really do feel for them, they’re going to have a hell of a week.  Inside, on my bank of desks, one of the younger lads is banging on about the state of Rose Street on Saturday night after the march.  For once I stick my head above the parapet and announce that not everyone who went on the march was intent on trashing the city and that I personally was not involved in setting fire to rubbish bins.   He looks a bit shamefaced and I feel for him instantly – he’s young, he’s a boy, and in that inexplicably male fashion he desperately wants to go outside and watch the aggro from the sidelines.  Even I can remember what it was like to feel things so intensely.  Sadly, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to go on the march.

 Around noon we can see people heading towards Princes Street (code black and grey, Big Trouble, or code multicoloured, Fruit Loops).  Outside it’s very quiet, there are very few people around and we jump out of our collective seats every time there’s a siren.   Then it starts.  Most staff have their pc wired to the news website of their choice, and the enterprising ones, who really want to feed the flames of paranoia, have found web cams of Princes St.  We can see the anarchists – and that has now become the collective term for protestors within the office lingua franca – battling the police, lobbing missiles and generally dissolving any good feelings that may have remained from Saturday.  Throughout the day the little battle continues, with the usual all too familiar scenes of pitched hatred.  The police, I have to say, are superb.  They’re coordinated, they are obviously acting as one organic whole, they don’t overreact when they are showered with cobbles and paving slabs or when the eyes of the world, in the form of the press photo hackpack, are waiting for just one wee slip that can be magnified and blared across the world as police brutality. 

The one act of the protestors that sticks in my mind for the whole day is this.  They tried to tear up the benches in Princes Street gardens.  Each and every one of those benches has been placed there for a loved one, or a valued member of the community, and in many cases both.  No matter what cause anyone is espousing, they quite simply have no right to wreck those benches.  Everyone I speak to is of the same opinion. Also, how anyone carrying a club can turn around and say on tv that they did not come looking for trouble defeats me, but then maybe that’s part of the plan.  I think that if I tried to explain the tactics of such groups as the Wombles or Dissent to myself, let alone anyone else, my brain would degauss. 

 Meanwhile, back in the office, no work is getting done, to the tune of the ‘copters drone, and we are all hell bent on terrifying each other. Emails come in from our chums in different city centre offices.  At one point, according to my in-box, George Street is on fire, Jenners’ windows have been stove in and Standard Life security has been breached. The train stations are closed, the buses are off, etc etc. Oh, and we have a visitor at home – MickeyBob2, the Aberdour playgroup hamster has arrived at Camp Chandler for the summer.  My boss Angela and I indulge in a spot of witty anarchist hamster repartee, which does not bear repeating here, but which cheers me up.  Some offices have been closed, and staff sent home.  Those shops in the city centre which did not board up, will be frantically trying to phone a joiner.  An official communiqué tells us that the trains are still running.  Ang offers to drive me to South Gyle station, as I sit dithering over whether to go to Waverley or Haymarket.   I accept gladly, kidding myself that I’m company for her if anything goes wrong on the roads.  Once outside, we pass a group of Japanese tourists.  Walking through them is a tall lad, dressed in (guess what) black from head to toe.  He shoulders a few of them out of the way, and we all turn to stare at him.  Sadly we don’t take him to task, we’re too scared. 

 On the way to the Gyle the roads are very, very quiet – it’s as spooky as an empty film lot.  Radio Forth happily advises us that there is trouble on the streets and not to go near St Andrew Square – oh, no shit, Sherlock.  I get on the first train that comes along and will myself not to think about the Forth Bridge – a blindingly obvious target.  After a totally uneventful journey I disembark at the Bay. Choppers fly back and forth from Gleneagles, the Kirkcaldy police nerve centre, and Edinburgh.  I go home to the news, the hambo and to Paul.  Remember to make packed lunch in case Ya!Basta! take it out on Valvona & Crolla.

 Tuesday 5th

 Lie in bed for a while before getting up.  MB2 still sound asleep, but we noticed last night that he couldn’t drink too well from the bottle.  Inspection reveals very over grown teeth. Hmm, what to do?

 Train people very subdued.  We notice police on the platforms at both ends of the bridge, playing keek..  My train buddy and good chum Gillian and I have a long chat about how nobody knows what is going to happen.  However, it’s a relatively quiet day with, apparently, only three folk hanging from a crane to keep the police busy.  TV is full of shots of the folk who live in Auchterarder, and of the eco-camp in Stirling.  The world leaders will arrive at Gleneagles tomorrow and the on-off-on G8 Alternatives march will take place then.  The route runs within 500 metres of the ring of steel, and the police are worried that it might be broached.

 Waverley station at night is very busy with police.  I just miss seeing Geldof, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.  They all came up from London on one of Branson’s trains.   A brave move – they might have missed the whole thing, given the usual East Coast delays…... 

 Branson came in on one of his jumbo jets, which was spotted by several folk in town as it neared the runway.  The celebs are here for the Live8 gig at Murrayfield.  Yet again I’m filled with anxiety about what will happen next, and whether the summit itself will achieve anything at all.  Whilst it’s naïve in the extreme to expect that eight men in a wee room can wipe out poverty and starvation, on such a massive scale, in the space of three days, it’s imperative that a start is made here and now. It’s also imperative that the start is not lost among the webs of spin.


Back home, Paul looks up the electric interweb to research hambo teeth.  Gleefully he tells me that it’s quite common for the teeth to be misaligned, which allows them to grow unchecked.  And, oh joy, we can clip them ourselves.  I immediately put the Bay news-sheet in my bag for tomorrow so that I can phone the vet.  Because, would you believe it, the one utensil IKEA does not sell is a set of hamster tooth clippers.

 Wednesday 6th July

 Pictures in the news, early doors.  Pictures of people fighting with the police, outside Stirling Station. Kicking in cars at Bannockburn Cross. Pictures of people blockading the motorway outside Cambusbarron.  This is the land of my youth, and a land where nothing happened, quite comfortably, for thirty years. Why try now to bring it to global awareness?  I phone my dad in Stirling and tell him to watch out for crusties.

Later in the day, for the first time the official lines of communication start to malfunction.  It has been noised abroad that the G8 Alternatives (who radically have no colour code!) will not be allowed to march round Gleneagles.  So, in a collective filthy temper at their lack of access to free speech, they decide to march on Princes Street instead.  No danger, say the police, you have to have a permit to march there (didn’t stop the Wombles) so you can all just go home.  Livid G8 Alt representatives appear on TV, with, you have to feel, a point.

 We can see Chinooks, yes, in the plural, at Edinburgh Airport, full of riot police and ready to hit downtown Auchterarder.  AuchT itself has been the victim of the most appalling mispronunciation on various news channels, none of which has improved the mindset of the village.  At work we hear of the arrival of the politicians – Chirac slags off British cooking – cue rant from Nick Nairn and other culinary artistes, which is all very laudable but rather detracts from the main thrust of the conference.  GWB falls off his bicycle but sadly is not seriously hurt.  Outside the ring of steel perimeter fence the police find that the protestors have turned up anyway, and after a lot of head scratching they are allowed to march.  Police in headgear with batons and shields are seen creeping through the countryside, their attempts at stealth somewhat diminished by the presence of the hackpack and the helicopters.  Although there are a few skirmishes, no one breaks through the defences.  Mythical tales circulate of how the fence was breached the night before, by the ubiquitous heroes of such stories – two lads on their way home from the pub.  The Queen flies in so see what all the fuss is in her manor, and they all have a jolly tea party in St. Andrews.   Sonia kindly runs me to South Gyle again since the more confused protestors are still throwing their teddies out of the pram in town.

We take MickeyBob to the vet, who very deftly clips his teeth.  The noise is like rifle fire. How much do I not want to hear that noise again - never is good. Hamster has mega sulk for about two hours then discovers that he can now bite the cage bars, and proceeds to do so all night.  

Thursday 7 July

 With police still very much in evidence all over Edinburgh and Fife, we all trot off to work again, wondering what the next development is going to be.  Sadly, it’s not too long until we find out.  Stories of disruption to the late commuter traffic in London begin to filter through, and with a shocking, cruel swiftness, the world’s eye is re-focused on the latest terrorist atrocity.  Three tube train bombs and one on the icon of London, a Routemaster bus.  In the end, fifty seven people are dead, with, as usual, many more wounded, physically and mentally.  Frantic emails via Luxembourg ascertain that my niece Kerry is not among them.  Tony Blair takes centre stage at Gleneagles, flanked by the world leaders, to deliver the obligatory message of sympathy and outrage.   Once home, out of bleak curiosity, Paul and I watch the various news channels while MickeyBob trundles around the kitchen in his Rollaball.  His teeth are growing already….  Fox News is the worst for paranoia.  USA on Code Orange!!! Major Likelihood of USA being attacked again!!!  Please go out and start panic buying now and if you could organise some looting it would be really cool!!!  Sigh.

 At the end of the week, the bigwigs fly out and the populace shake themselves out of the dwam that enveloped them for one weird, weird week.  For a year that began with the dreadful Tsunami deaths, saw a US city wiped out by natural forces, endured many unjust wars, heralded birth and death on global and family levels, it has been a strange, unnerving and unsettling experience to be on the front pages everyday.  Looking at it from the distance of several months, I am very glad that I decided to write down the events and my feelings – although I will not easily forget walking down Elm Row, scrutinising every other pedestrian for anarchist traits.

 Nor will a chum, who was stopped by police at the road bridge, having just picked up two hitch hikers on his way to Fife.  Asked by the polis to name his passengers, he could not, so it was a case of “Oot the car please sir, and can ye open the boot?”  In the boot was a can of petrol, plus all his glass bottles for recycling…  The police eventually let him go.

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