Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Fawkes you

Guy Fawkes night tonight, whose probably one of the most notable of anarchists.

And where one might expect to enjoy a bonfire and some astounding firework displays on such an evening, having the firewood confiscated and a body of 50 policemen replacing it may of course never occur to you.

It is only when a friend sends me a text message to say the police have interrupted the bonfire that I stop circling the 20-acre public park a third time, in my search for it. One assumes a raging fire is hard to miss, but with one organised by anarchist group Class War, you wonder if anarchists burn theirs a little differently. Perhaps marshmallows and hot cocoa around a burning police station.

The police seem to be the only people not enjoying tonight's bang and whizz. Having locked up the firewood, plus the van it was being delivered in, and arrested the driver, they seem a bit too unrelaxed.

Looking pleased as punch to have cornered a group of us in the backyard of a pub, that is imaginatively named "Pub On The Park", they soon turn to punches and scuffling, jumping on anyone who sets off a firework. Like a pack of manic hyena, ten officers cover the back of any one officer going in. As soon as their target un-lights the firework, they stop jumping and go quiet. It's very strange.

The pub group soon reorganises itself into a larger, but mellow crowd of military green, black and dark blue shapes. A few local people gather on the outskirts, aka the railings that ring the park, wanting to be involved in the growing skirmisch but only as far as the railings would have them.

"Anarchists are always looking for a fight," chuckles one local English guy, leaning over the railings in his bright orange puffer jacket a couple of metres away from the build-up, "that's all anarchists are good for."

"No bonfire then?" a tubbier man trapped in a wild Santa beard enquires, pointing out the, you know, obvious.

This is probably as close to the police as I have ever experienced. No nervousness about it, though. It probably helps to be with friends, all of us shivering in the night cold together, sharing satsumas, beers and light-hearted banter, and all not liking the police very much. Arrestability factor blinking on and off.

"SCUM SCUM SCUM SCUM SCUM" goes the blackgreenblueshapemass.

"COP KILLER COP KILLER" heckles one guy and one guy alone.

Despite these cheery rhymes, the vibe of the crowd is actually quite jolly. Beers here and there, and a chance to see friends, catch up, enjoy the, um, absence of fireworks. Some of the squatting crew are about. Courtgirl assaults me excitedly with keen questions about our electrics. Courthousemate is sporting a moody mohican look. One Dreads rolls his eyeballs when we start discussing Star Trek.

As we freeze away, it occurs to us that the police are quietly forming a "human chain" around us, with the help of a police van (which then becomes four police vans) moving in from behind them. One police guy, who we think is from Northern Ireland, engages our little Trekkie satsuma group and chats with us about the Processions Act, Orangemen and police powers to ban fascist marches.

Though he has a nice sounding voice, he isn't actually talking to us -- instead he is quoting chunks of law, whilst trying to calmly move us along. Fortunately, the human chain collapses when someone tries to light an effigy and the "po po" jump on them.

Before jumping, Northern Ireland clarifies that yes, the role of their human chain is to usher everyone out of the PUBLIC park (aren't we all general public?); and no, local people or families without their own gardens to enjoy Guy Fawkes night cannot take their sparklers and catherine wheels to the local PUBLIC park that's right on their doorstep. Northern Ireland doesn't want to be out on a freezing cold night either, but no they will not be returning the firewood so we can all warm our hands.

The night continues on in this way for a while, with the occasional firework infuriating the police and generating cheers from everyone else. By midnight, three of the police vans vanish without anyone noticing. The cheery rhymes have stopped, and with no chance of retrieving the firewood, the Alaskan-style frost gradually disperses everyone.

As our Trekkie satsuma group heads homewards together, I can't seem to stop seeing police everywhere. Like being told not to think of a yellow elephant, yet there they are -- peering with torches into the backseats of parked cars, cornering black kids and booking cyclists, racing through quiet neighbourhoods as though in the Grand Prix.

Wonder what they will do with the firewood.