the peacenik’s last supper

‘But can we still eat the chicken pie, even if you get arrested?’

Easter Monday morning; I’m on my way to Aldermaston for the fiftieth anniversary protest at the nuclear weapons research facility. It might look as though no major triumphs have been scored by CND in that half-century, with nuclear weapons breeding like Primark But that’s not the point. It’s all about personal moral responsibility, isn’t it?

Anyhow, it chimes in nicely with my attempts to remind the children that Easter isn’t technically a celebration of  chocolate and to explain the rather unfathomable story of why Jesus had to die, and how it’s supposed to have helped the rest of us.

‘It’s like – well, think of all the other people who’ve been prepared to die for something else that’s more important than their own life. You know, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, James Dean…’ They’ve never heard of James Dean. I’m so old.

‘Well, those others, though. Would we still be talking about them, if they weren’t dead? No. So in a way, you see, they’re not dead, because we do remember them. It’s a bit like Jesus coming back to life, isn’t it? He’d have looked a bit wimpy, springing a miracle and jumping off the cross at the last minute, just to avoid a bit of pain and suffering. You wouldn’t be scoffing that  Maltesers and Friends giant super-egg in his memory if that had happened, would you?’

‘And plus, the Last Supper wouldn’t have been, would it? The last, I mean.’
‘That’s true! They’d have gone through all those tearful goodbyes, and meaningful exchanges of bread and wine, for nothing. Imagine. Just like newlyweds missing their honeymoon flight and having to come back home after all.’

Supper is never far from Magnus’s mind, so he seems relieved to see the chicken pie all ready before I set off. But there is this outstanding niggle about the eventuality of my non-return to share it.

Then Dolly pitches in. ‘I don’t like chicken pie’ she says. ‘If you’re going to get arrested, you need to leave me something I like to eat, too.’ I have a brief vision of a standoff between the apostles over the menu options for their special meal, before reassuring my two that the chances of the Thames Valley Constabulary banging up a middle-aged woman for hanging around with a bunch of others, for four hours in the sleet, are fairly slim. Besides which, they well know that I’ve been on a useful non-violent resistance training course which has taught me exactly how far I can go without risk of detention.

Coach number 6 has barely pulled away from 162c Holloway Road before the driver gets on the tannoy to inform us of his total lack of political bias, and long years of relevant experience. ‘We did all the police work in the Miners’ Strike,’ he offers, gleefully checking the rear view mirror. ‘Made a fortune. So you’re in safe hands with me.’

The woman next to me is too busy to be riled, swapping demo tips with her companions in booming Hampstead tones. ‘My old man was in the clink at Faslane a few months ago. Actually, they were very nice to him. Brought him a book. Who was that foreigner who had to leave the BBC? Greg Dyke, that was his name. Anyhow, his biography. Could have been worse. But he said, if you do ever get banged up, ask for the vegetarian option. The other stuff is literally  inedible! 

An hour and a bit later we arrive, in a thin, freezing drizzle like St Sebastian’s arrows. The crowd is the usual dolly mixture of cheerful, day-glo students, yarn-dyed  Quakers and angry people waving flyers. And quite a few children, in pink fairy dresses or flowery dungarees and handknits. None of them is having a tantrum or displaying any sign of reluctance to be here. I find myself returning, yet again, to the long-running argument with Mr Fixit over what he calls ‘my propaganda’, and the unsuitability of same for the tender sensibilities of children, which is why I didn’t even try to bring ours along today.

I wander over and ask the question of a friendly man pulling his two small daughters out of the mud. ‘Well, the way I look at it, they’re getting propaganda all the time anyway, aren’t they? I mean, the playground at their school, it’s all broken down and dangerous, they’ve had to fence half of it off. And I know for a fact they’ve had companies round, offering to pay to do it up. But you know there’d be logos and what not. So… it seems to me, seventy-six billion pounds, that’s a lot of playgrounds, isn’t it?’

This seems unanswerable. Especially the £76 billion bit, the cost of replacing Trident which is on banners and placards everywhere. Seventy-six billion pounds, on a weapons system that can never be used, because if it were, it would end us all. What more can you say, except, ‘Why isn’t every parent at your school here today?’

Further round the fence, I come upon the speech wagon. For some reason Vivienne Westwood  has allied herself to the cause, and is shouting into a microphone, looking like a badly wrapped aid parcel, and spouting figures straight from  ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ which don’t seem to have much direct relevance to disarmament. ‘In twenty years, half of London will be under water, and half of Europe will be desert!’ she shrieks. ‘These crazy crazy leaders of the world with their crazy toys!’ The crowd is more impressed by the man from Hiroshima, who has incredibly survived to the age of 77, having lost his mother in the blast, and his sister six months later, half his stomach from cancer after 26 years, and his brother – who had, of course, become a doctor – after 39 years, from liver cancer.

He doesn’t really need to say anything else, beyond reminding us that each one of the 192 warheads on every Trident submarine is eight times as powerful as the one that did this to him, his family, and ninety thousand others.

We get back on the bus with no arrests or other excitements, having left the base charmingly adorned with posters, placards and daffodils. I notice I’m wearing the pink Shetland wool  jumper my mother knitted for me, shortly before she died. The neck’s a bit too high and round, the shoulders wrong, so I never wear it. But I put it on today because I hate being cold, and it’s one of the warmest things I possess. And I think about her, the great campaigner, who took on the Ministry of Defence when they tried to extend the reach of their base at  Fylingdales to the stream where she wanted to teach her granddaughters to make a dam. She wasn’t having it, and sued them, and won.

So that’s her small bit of immortality, right there. But I’m not sure the children would understand. I’ll give them the pretty coloured badges CND has thoughtfully started to produce, Girls Aloud blue for Dolly and Chelsea blue for Magnus, and hope that some day they’ll feel like making their voices heard, too.