Thursday, 7 June 2012


Dozens of us had been signed up, all in secret, and all with the hope of a better future. Though it was high summer, there's always a time of day in Britain, isn't there, when it's cold. It was at that very time that we were waiting to catch the coach from the west country to London. We'd been advised to wear old clothes, because things might get rough: not everybody there would have the same idea of "security" that we had. But to make sure they got the message, we'd be wearing a uniform by the time it all kicked off.

But this was nothing to do with the recent sorry tale of the Jubilee, the Olympics and cheating on the pay and conditions of people looking for a job. This was 1993, there were 600 of us converging from all over the country, and we were in London for a protest with a difference. Picking up on the idea that the proposed nuclear reporcessing plant at Sellafield would result in a statistical average of 600 extra deaths in the UK (together with the interesting security issue of shipping temptingly dangerous chunks of nuclear material from all over the world), Greenpeace had mustered 600 ordinary supporters to dress up as dead people, complete with black body-bags and white "skull" masks, and drop dead inconveniently all over Whitehall, blocking the road.

Our particular coachload were dropped off at a church hall to put on the more inconspicuous half of our kit and receive-and-understand instructions (when to lie down, how to be dragged, what to say if we were asked anything, whom to call in the unlikely event of arrest...), after which we set off on foot to Whitehall, trying to look like slightly baggily-dressed tourists. It was probably our crowd that accidentally started the fashion for "grunge" that took off in the 1990s.

Then the signal came and we all pulled up our kit, put on our masks and dropped dead. I didn't see it, but apparently there was chaos (well, a genteel, British sort of chaos) as traffic ground to a halt in the roads around us, tourists (real ones this time) gawped, and such Police as there were on duty nearby were taken completely by surprise ("Blimey there's Andreds of 'em!!").

MPs came out to address us. It took hours before anyone was cleared to start moving us. I was dragged, very professionally ("This one don't weigh much"), to the edge of the road. Once the rate of being dragged off exceeded the rate at which we could go back and lie down, we decided our point had been made and repaired to a pre-arranged venue to catch the early evening news. Which, of course, had our show as top item.

And why, in spite of the fact that the Sellafield plant eventually got built (but never worked, thus hopefully never giving rise to our 600 real-world counterparts), am I reminded of these events of nearly 20 years ago?

Just contrasts, really. We believed in what we were doing. We didn't mess up the logistics. And, though unsuccessful at the time, we were eventually proved right, in our case by the laws of Physics. What will it take to prove that cheating on the pay and conditions of your security staff is a bad idea?

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