Friday, 25 September 2015

Anarchy in Maidstone

It was 1986 or maybe 1987, a date left unrecorded in diaries which I usually managed to keep going up until about June, at which point I would tire of writing the same introspective crap every fucking evening and take six months off. I was a student at Maidstone College of Art and lived in an old farmhouse with four others in the village of Otham in Kent. It was seven in the morning, which was an unusual time for someone's fist to be hammering quite so hard at the door, and none of us really knew anyone with fists that size. The fist was hammering at the door of the middle room, adjacent to my bedroom on the ground floor, specifically the door which opened onto Otham Street. This suggested that the owner of the fist was either a stranger, or someone who had never before visited any of us at our student accommodation because the door which opened onto Otham Street actually didn't open at all, serving instead as an oversized frame to our letterbox. I rolled across the bed to the window side and peered through dusty glass into strong morning sunlight of the kind seen on the covers of early seventies folk albums. I could see a cop at the door, and it was his fist which had woken me. He had a few friends with him and a police car was parked on the grass verge a little further down the road. I waved an uneasy wave and then jabbed a finger, pointing towards the side of the house, the universal sign language for use the other door.

I pulled on my dressing gown and went through a mental Rolodex of possible reasons as to why the forces of law and order could be at my home at seven on a Sunday morning. The most obvious possibility was that they had the wrong place. I went through to the kitchen and opened the door to ID badges, search warrants and all the stuff you see on the telly, at least I think I did. It's difficult to be sure of the sequence of events, to separate what happened from that which I've since seen in cop shows. Had there been no search warrant - which is also a possibility - I probably would have invited them in regardless on the grounds of it making me appear less suspicious, and less likely to have committed crimes.

Holy shit, I thought, wondering if I could have murdered anyone and then found the incident so traumatic as to have completely blanked it from memory. I'd been raised to feel guilty about any number of indeterminate crimes and I let them in, understanding that whatever I had done wrong, slamming the door and telling them to piss off probably wasn't going to help the situation even had I been capable of such a demonstration. I recall the senior officer as having resembled Warren Clarke in the role of Detective Superintendent Dalziel from Dalziel and Pascoe, a television series which wouldn't be made until 1996, and which I would never watch because I find it irritating when the spelling and the pronunciation of a proper noun have no letters in common. His resemblance to Warren Clarke should accordingly be taken as indicative of the accuracy of my memory, or not as the case may be.

'We're investigating an act of vandalism,' Mr. Dalziel probably said. 'Mind if we take a look around?'

'Of course not,' I responded with a huge smile, a huge and casual smile, the smile of somebody with nothing to hide.

They came into the house, these four massive cops, or at least I remember the count as having been four. I returned to my bedroom. It was Sunday morning and only Gill and myself were at home. Gill had heard me answer the door and some of the subsequent conversation. Our three housemates were away and this was a problem because this visit was apparently something to do with Yellow Hair Woman, or at least the police saw it as a problem. They really wanted to speak to her. They were reluctant to explain quite why, but this being seven on a Sunday morning suggested that it probably wasn't a fine on an overdue library book.

Yellow Hair Woman worked at some pizza place in town on Saturday evenings and usually stayed in Maidstone at her boyfriend's place; so I said no, I had no idea where she was.

Would Gill or I mind if they had a look around Yellow Hair Woman's room in her absence?

I didn't really get this, having already seen a search warrant, or at least seeming to recall having seen a search warrant; but there obviously wasn't much to be gained from suggesting they go fuck themselves. Gill and myself felt we knew Yellow Hair Woman well enough to know she probably wouldn't have either a gun or a Sainsbury's carrier bag full of heroin stuffed behind her bookshelf, and she'd never been particularly keen on the old space fags. On the other hand, Yellow Hair Woman had spent some time at the women's peace camp at Greenham Common protesting the presence of cruise missiles at the RAF base, which somewhat placed her political sympathies in opposition to certain aspects of government policy; and while it wasn't that I didn't believe in that sinister knock on the door at seven in the morning or secretive government agencies who might resort to Orwellian tactics, I genuinely didn't see how they could be interested in us. Yellow Hair Woman hadn't said much about Greenham, but I was fairly sure that she hadn't blown anyone up or anything.

Tap tap tap.

The knock was on my bedroom door, just a knuckle rather than the entire fist. 'Mind if I come in and take a look around?' Warren Clarke asked, coming in and taking a look around.

My room was fairly tidy for a room in an old house occupied by someone with a heavy comic book and record album habit. Warren Clarke's eyes widened a little, doubtless impressed by my record collection, and his eyes scanned the posters I'd blutacked to the wall. They came to rest on one which had been sent to me by Andy Martin of the Apostles, a non-anarchist and not especially punky band associated with certain London counter-cultural types. The poster showed a stylised police officer handing money to a female figure whose profession is identified by the slogun Social Workers: Paid to Grass. The design satirised the sort of information leaflets handed out at dole offices and medical centres. The implication, for anyone missing the reference, was that government workers assigned to assist the unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged will happily relay your supposedly confidential information to the forces of law and order for money. It wasn't that I felt strongly about social workers or their allegedly flapping mouths - although I liked the general message of  distrust for authority - but mainly I had it on my wall because I thought it was funny.

I found it less funny as Warren Clarke glared at the image and gruffly observed, 'well, I'm not sure what I think about that.'

I knew I was doomed, and that this was the moment described on all those Crass albums in which the system would reveal its true face unto me. This time tomorrow I would be found dead in a cell, found in possession of something which had been planted in my room, resisting arrest blah blah blah...

Warren Clarke sniffed my ash tray, peered under the bed, and then left. The cops gathered in the kitchen and apologised for the inconvenience, at last deigning to tell us what they had been looking for. A cashpoint at one of the banks in town had been vandalised during the early hours of the morning. Yellow Hair Woman's card had been used to raise the perspex security screen, and then someone had gone at it with emulsion paint, screwdrivers, hammers and the like. We told them it really didn't sound like the sort of thing Yellow Hair Woman would do, because it really didn't.

Days later, the fugitive from justice reappeared. She knew all about the investigation and had already been interviewed and released without charge. She told the police she had lost the card, which was true in so much as she had given it to Revolutionary Mollusc Man. His name wasn't really Revolutionary Mollusc Man any more than her name was Yellow Hair Woman, and she had given him the card because it was expired and he had asked for it. Revolutionary Mollusc Man was an anarchist engaged in a one-cephalopod war against the forces of capitalism.

'So he used your card to smash up the cashpoint?'

'Yes.' Yellow Hair Woman had the sort of brow which leant itself to an impressive frown, not unlike Little My from Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books - small and fierce but inherently likeable. She frowned impressively as we sat in the pub smoking our roll-ups, taking stock. 'It was stupid of me. I wish I hadn't done it now.'

'Well, you didn't really do anything. Not if it was him, I mean.'

'I knew why he wanted the card, but I didn't think about it. I feel pretty rotten about the police searching our house. You and Gill—'

'Oh don't worry. I suppose it was a bit of an adventure, if anything. There was no harm done.'

I'd known Revolutionary Mollusc Man for most of the three years of my course. He'd started an anarchist group at the college and I'd joined, not because I was an anarchist but because I was incredibly lonely. We met every so often around his house to discuss a fanzine he produced on his own personal spirit duplicator, or to plan attendance of marches and protests going on in London or elsewhere. I agreed with the spirit of the enterprise, if not always with its purported aims, whatever they were. I wrote a couple of short, self-involved, and probably barely literate articles for the fanzine, but my heart wasn't really in it. I didn't really know what I thought of anarchy as an ideology but it sounded a little dubious to me, and my distrust of authority was not then so well formed as to be rubbed in people's faces; and whilst I really didn't like to say anything, this seemed to be mainly what Revolutionary Mollusc Man was about, or it looked that way from where I was stood.

He could be generous, funny, and was often great company, but at other times his company became exhausting. To be at his side was to be on trial, inevitably to be found lacking sufficient anger in regard to this political outrage or that fiasco perpetrated by an oppressive capitalist society. He presented himself as a moral beacon, something to which the rest of us might aspire. I never understood how anyone could be quite that angry about matters of which they seemingly had little direct experience, or the need for that anger to be acknowledged as a mark of character.

Either the Revolutionary Mollusc Man fanzine or an issue of Class War he had taken to distributing had featured an article calling for the head of PC Keith Blakelock to be paraded in some undefined capacity upon a spike in general celebration of class anger. Blakelock had been killed during the Broadwater Farm riots on a housing estate in north London following the death of a black woman whose house he had searched. Aside from the fact of Blakelock already being dead, I tend to find calls for heads impaled on spikes uncivilised, unnecessary, and unhelpful regardless of which side of the fence you happen to be stood upon. Revolutionary Mollusc Man was very much with the heads impaled on spikes camp in regard to this issue, which apparently made me either a bleeding heart middle class liberal with no experience of just how tough it can be out on the mean streets, or a Nazi sympathiser. Personally I preferred to see myself as simply someone not actively seeking causes upon which to pin my angry slurping noises in an effort to make everyone else feel bad about themselves.

Revolutionary Mollusc Man turned up on facebook many years later, as everyone does in the end. I'm still causing trouble, he told me, the neutral black and white text on the screen seeming to communicate something like glee. I congratulated him because I suppose that was what he wanted to hear - or rather to read - and I recalled Revolutionary Mollusc Man discovering me stuffing a cheeseburger into my face outside McDonalds one afternoon, and then I recalled my friend Carl catching him eating a sausage in the kitchen of the student house in Terrace Road.

'You can't eat that,' observed Carl. 'I thought you were a vegetarian!'

'No-one tells me what to do,' Revolutionary Mollusc Man explained testily.

After about a week he began setting me straight regarding my facebook posts, pointing out that what I had said was bollocks, as I would surely realise had I been right there on the picket line fighting off hordes of EDL thugs. I wrote piss off, and deleted him from my friends list, which felt good but also a little sad because I genuinely like to think the best of people.

Despite a cashpoint getting knackered thirty years ago, capitalism is still with us, now more voracious than ever and busily transforming the opposition into smaller versions of itself. I don't know if one broken cashpoint achieved anything, whether it made some worthwhile point about the nature of the beast, or even caused anyone to question anything which needed questioning. That act of nocturnal sabotage may well have achieved some of this, but it also dropped one of my housemates in the shit, and probably further galvanised the authoritarian resolve of some men in suits who tend to regard anyone not in a suit as a potentially dangerous anarchist. So whichever way you look at this one, there was never really anything much to look at.

No comments:

Post a Comment