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Home > Politics

Bog off, ape boy

A short account of an afternoon in Whitehall, by Charlie Skelton.

21 November 2003

I have just come back from the march.

This is what happened...

My first thought when I left my house was: my God, London has been completely overrun by the security forces. There was a throng of policemen just yards from my door, leaning into car windows and interviewing people:

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Police state!

But then I realized that there had been an accident, and they were taking statements. So I scurried off to buy some gherkins.

I wanted gherkins because I had decided that a gherkin was an appropriate thing to throw at George Bush. Eggs, in my estimation, are too hard (what if I missed and hit a policewoman in the eye?) and too messy. Gherkins are smaller, neater, and have a nice pungent smell. So I bought a jar of cocktail gherkins from a shop on Strutton Ground:

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The lady in the shop wrapped my gherkins in a paper bag. At the top of Strutton Ground (where it meets Victoria Street) I took a long hard look at my gherkins:

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I nodded determinedly and set off towards Parliament Square. There was a real sense of a excitement in the streets as, like bubbles at the bottom of a heated pan, a throng started to form:

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The other side of Parliament Square I met Mr Upson:

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Mr Upson lives in Upminster. Although now I come to think of it, perhaps he was making up his name and where he lived because he didn't want anyone to know he was there. Was he skivving off work? I didn't ask him this.

I thought that the best thing for me to do, if I was going to get a gherkin to land on or near President Bush would be to position myself outside Number 10 Downing Street - where the President was enjoying lunch. He would be coming out soon, I heard a reporter say, so I went into the special area almost directly opposite the end of Downing Street, and took up position alongside John and Lily. The policeman who searched me when I went into this area wore tight rubber gloves and I found the whole procedure quite sexual. But I was probably just a bit overexcited by my impending act of international terrorism.

Lily had come from Gloucestershire to demonstrate against Bush, and she was feeling peckish, so I went off and bought her a sandwich from the sandwich shop up by McDonald's at the end of Whitehall. "Nothing foreign" she said when I asked her what she wanted, so I got her ham and cheese on white bread, and she seemed to enjoy it:

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John told me that people say he looks like Yasser Arafat, and I had to agree that he does. Lily thought so too. And then we saw the snipers. Up on the rooftops above Downing Street:

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I found the snipers unsettling. Especially seeing as how I was intending to lob a missile at the President. I decided that I would hold the gherkin jar prominently in front of me, with the label pointing out, so that the marksmen would at least have a chance of seeing that my projectile wasn't lethal.

Eggs have this advantage over gherkins: a protester lobbing an egg is probably going to get the benefit of the doubt from a sniper. But a gherkin? Its dark bent shape might easily confuse them. Have they trained for such an eventuality? Certainly they should. If I get out of this alive - I thought to myself - I will write a letter to someone about this.

Perhaps Andy McNab. Or Ross Kemp. They'd probably be able to pass it on to the correct authorities.

My thoughts were interrupted by Lily dropping her sandwich:

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Fortunately she had a bit of it still tucked away in the pocket of her fleece so she wasn't too upset. And anyway, just then, John noticed that the marchers had begun to make their way up Whitehall:

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It was thrilling. Whistles and drums, cheers and claps. People of all shapes and sizes. I noticed in the throng one particularly attractive lady:

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But as I was taking her photo, I saw her partner (husband?) glaring at me from underneath his peace sign. I got the feeling he was the jealous type.

Thousands and thousands of people were spilling past, cheering each other and jeering towards the gates of Downing Street. But then we learned that Bush had already zipped out the back entrance. Curses! And me with a full jar of gherkins. The men on the roof packed up their guns and clambered off for their tea. But still the march went on. And on.

Up leapt this fellow:

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He seemed to be having a whale of a time.

I found it awe-inspiring to see so many thousands of people engaged in this one simple, peaceful act: the act of protest. I think I found the simplicity of it the most powerful thing about it: so many people - so many citizens - holding up homemade signs: communicating their opinions, their grievances, to the world. It was mass communication at its most fundamental. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. And (don't ask me why this particular banner set me off) when the banner of the Bristol Quakers came by I found tears in my eyes:

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That's a terrible photo I know. I think I had my camera on the wrong setting. But it's the one photo from today that means the most to me.

Similarly amazing was the sheer diversity of the marchers. Old women with their dogs, mental men in striped trousers dancing with trumpets, Bristol Quakers, John and Lily, Palestinians, posh folk, priests, students and families:

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And the lunatic lady who stood just behind me, holding this placard and smiling:

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Extraordinary and fun though it was, it was getting dark and my feet were getting cold and I knew that I'd get a better view of the Bush statue being pulled down on Channel 4 News than I would if I squeezed my way into Trafalgar Square, so I picked up my gherkins and said goodbye to Lily and John, just as the banner of the Peterborough Peace Vigil came past:

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I clapped and left.

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