Sunday, January 30, 1983

Not down on my agenda

Woke up cold. We had to be out of the Church Hall by eight as it was being used, so we trudged back to our minibus and drove to a Community Centre for a breakfast of coffee, cakes and a workshop on the Loyalist working class.

Left-wing factionalism again surfaced to the full. Revolutionary Communist Group hecklers were attacked by Revolutionary Communist Party “stewards” and I saw one man being grabbed viciously by the hair before a brief scuffle erupted. Ten or twenty people rolled around on the floor thumping and shouting. There were disgusted comments, one non-aligned member of the audience leaping up and angrily yelling “what the fucking hell is going on here?” For an instant, the small unsmiling chairwoman looked put out, but within minutes everything was back in line and the darkened consciences had been soothed.

I felt like any leanings I'd had in the RCP direction had now disappeared.

We passed the hours until the 1 p.m.march as best we could. Lindsey and I sat around looking glum while the band tapped out rhythms on the chairs with drum-sticks. We got another little lecture (at least that’s how it seemed), from a woman who made me feel like a child talked down to by an adult. I have nothing to say for myself: maybe this is why I’m so scathing about these people?

As the crowd assembled for the march, there was a growing sense of anticipation. It was alternately bright and clear or blowing a blizzard and as we huddled at the playing fields assembly point, thick snow flakes swirled around us. It was bitterly cold and it took hours to assemble, but at last we were off in lines of four (me in one with Barry, Derek, and Lindsey), a forest of banners, the air filled with ragged shouts. We trailed up through rundown suburbs, passersby watched us anxiosuly, the green arm-banded RCP stewards egging us on, leading the chants. I saw two film crews.

By the time we'd got to the main shopping street into Whincliffe city centre we had stopped the traffic. It was interesting to watch the expressions on the faces of the people trapped in cars and buses as we passed by, mild impatience from the odd one or two but mostly just blank stares. Someone on the top deck of one bus repeatedly stuck two fingers up at us as we trailed past.

We approached the city centre and started to attract more and more attention. High above us, leaning over the parapet of a multistorey car park was a gang of skinheads who watched us silently as we went by. Some of the RCP hard men pumped the air with their fists as they chanted: they were much in evidence throughout the weekend, and most of them wore the RCP uniform of Doc Marten boots/shoes, crew cuts, round NHS specs (I lost count of the number of pairs of these I saw over the two days). I got the impression these were the people who dealt with any trouble—men like Ken, another London RCPer, whose job was to run up to the police film crews and stand inches away from the camera, blocking their shot..

Finally at the Town Hall. I thought of the storming of the Winter Palace or something as we reached the steps and all flooded upwards, some of us running, others turning to stand with banners, defiantly. chanting. “Get ‘em inside,” the police shouted at the stewards and we surged through the narrow doors into the ornate Town Hall, milling chaotically in the entrance way, three policemen watching us from behind a glass door. There was a powerful and spontaneous, almost explosive feeling filling the packed hall, militancy in the air.

Tom McKee from Sinn Fein was one of the speakers. He's an ex-British Army soldier and now in the RCP. “This is crap!” he shouted and hurled his medals from the stage. He got two standing ovations. Another speaker ranted on repetitively for a long time, and finally causing someone behind me half-shouted “alright, you’ve proved your pointI”

Lindsey and I stayed seated during the first speaker but during the second sheer conspicuousness finally forced us to stand. Sinn Fein's Finbar Doyle was due to speak but someone said he'd been arrested on charges of violating the Prevention of Terrorism Act and was being held overnight.

Confusion now towards the end, a woman speaker was introducing the absent Doyle. There was scattered applause and yelling and the chairman was mumbling protestingly that “this speaker is not down on my agenda.” The hall was emptying quickly, everything chaotic, disorganized.

We waited for ages in the bitter cold out on the town hall steps. Finally we left around teatime and got back into London late in the evening and caught the last train back to Watermouth.

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