Saturday, November 6, 1982

Thickening plots

Last night, after much hassle and several false starts, eight of us set off for Watermouth's bonfire night celebrations. We were shocked at the queue when we reached the station, and when we finally got onto the platform and onto the train got another shock: the carriages were so packed people were crushed up against the windows and almost standing on top of one another. Somehow we all forced our way inside, and Pete spent the entire trip laid length-ways on a luggage rack.

When we got into Watermouth we all flooded out, up the stairs and out onto the streets. Being in such a huge crowd of people was a thrill and as we followed the human tidal wave up towards the coastal road out of town, an aggressive PC directed the flood from a traffic island.

Lots of people carried smoldering torches, many of which lay discarded in the gutter or in the middle of the road, and for a moment it felt medieval with the enthusiastic noisy crowds, the bangs and whistles of fireworks, and the crooked old buildings and streets. Someone passed us carrying an incandescent magnesium torch that burned with a pink flame, illuminating scores of faces in the dark.

Our human river streamed determinedly out of town and eventually paused by makeshift stands along the sides of the road selling hot dogs and baked potatoes: we milled around chaotically buying food. Most of the crowd lingered there, but we joined hordes of others who were climbing over a fence and up a steep embankment. Suddenly the atmosphere turned sour and aggressive, chanting gangs running about and letting off bangers while the older people and couples with families looked on anxiously.

We'd arrived at what looked like a council estate, quite a way out of town, and followed a path up between the houses into a dark clearing surrounded by trees, lit only by the flicker of a roaring pyre of flame and sparks. There were so many people crushed ahead of us that we could only gaze from afar over the sea of orange-lit heads: every so often an agile figure would sprint in silhouette against the flames, Someone kept throwing fireworks into the fire. It felt slightly unsettling, like a strange cultlike rite, fire-worship or something weirder. There was a mindless, lemming-like acquiescence in the air.

It felt pointless standing there and nothing was happening anyway so we left and walked back to town. The roads and gutters were littered with blackened smoking torches and flickering embers of flame, and on the train back three skinheads chucked fireworks about in the next carriage: ours was crammed with frightened passengers, some with fingers in their ears.

When we got back we went to Rousseau for a party that Beverly had organised, with plot toffee, sausages on cocktail sticks, baked potatoes, and lots of alcohol. Guy and I had left a bottle of cider in Catrin’s room, but when we went to get it we found to our disbelief she and her hippy friends smugly swigging from our bottles. Guy was really angry and said blackly that he “wasn’t going to forget this.” Back at the party we sat around on the floor but somehow my enthusiasm had gone. I felt pretty pissed off with the whole thing and left. I went to bed at five.

This afternoon a few of us went to see Watermouth play Burswick Park Avenue. Town was full Burswick fans, loud beery blokes in black and white scarves who chanted and clapped with little thought for where they were. We'd barely got outside the station when Stu was stopped and searched. I suppose he did look suspicious with his leather jacket and spiked orange hair.

Once we got to the ground we joined the huge 'Black and White Army' queue. As they started through their repertoire of songs Stu was searched again. I thought Guy was joking when he whispered to me in a shocked voice that he’d forgotten that he had a five-foot piece of chain in his pocket which he uses to lock up his bicycle. We’d almost reached the turnstile when I glanced back to see Guy’s white bespectacled face as he was led away by the police. He told us later that he’d been standing next to a cop for several minutes, getting increasingly uneasy as he was given the dead-eye treatment, until finally he was asked to take his hands out of coat pockets, was searched, and the chain was victoriously revealed. His truthful explanation was laughed at and, after being photographed, he was locked up and spent the game in the Watermouth police station nick. We thought he was just being kicked out, not arrested, so we carried on into the ground.

The Burswick fans were crammed into a small corner which was now a sea of black and white scarves and the air filled with chanting, clapping and singing. A scuffle broke out over on the Watermouth side of the terracing and a ripple of expectation passed through the crowd as everyone strained to see.

The game was crap. Burswick began well but lost control of the game after half-time and often the football was scrappy and very boring. Pete really got into it, clapping and chanting “Burswick, Burswick” over and over in his London accent. But seventeen minutes from the end Burswick scored and we erupted into wild cheering and celebration while all about us four fifths of the ground stood in stunned silence.

The whistle went, the gates opened, and the crowd poured out stumbling and singing. There was a sour sense of angry expectation detectable now in the air. We reached an open spot in the road and suddenly everyone set off running, thousands of feet clattering on tarmac, wild shouting, policemen riding among us on horses and wielding long batons. We sprinted downhill, between cars and frightened passersby huddled on pavements, and I saw one man run over by a horse. The police looked grim and angry, in a no-nonsense frame of mind. Someone tried to pull a PC down off his horse, grabbing at his yellow fluorescent coat, and as the horse started forward, the cop looked shaken and fended off the clutching hands viciously with his baton. Across the street a policeman was pushed off his motorbike and we streamed downhill towards the train station, horses in among us, the thrill of the chase in us now, adrenaline pumping hard, laughing excitedly as we bumped into one another again after our brief sprint.

At the station the crowd poured inside, angrily squeezing past the ticket inspector and out onto the platforms, and as quickly as started the mood fizzled out.

The station was alive with police guarding all exits into the street. We met Gareth and his mate and found a pub near the seafront where we drank whisky, getting warm, drowsy and content in the plush wood-panelled surroundings and afterwards we played like children on the darkened beach, crunching across the pebbles as if in a D-Day attack, wondering if we should steal a boat. I climbed on a breakwater and got soaked.

Back at the University Guy was sick: his court date is on December 10th, and he's looking at a £100 fine and the possibility of no visa for the year in the US. The more we thought about it the worse it seemed, and what with his girlfriend problems and not settling in I felt really sorry for him.

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