London, UK

London, UK

I went with three friends to the London march. We were picked up at around 6am by coaches going from Sunderland, North East England. I remember I wrote in a journal that day because I found it recently having forgotten about it, I will dig it out then come back and post more detail.

So, I got around to copying up my diary entry from Feb 2003:

Stayed night at Tanya and Alan’s, up at 5am, cups of tea, drive to motorway for 6.15, there’s a group of about 20 people waiting. Been feeling quite excited, can’t remember feeling like this about a demo in the past. Sleep a lot of the way. At services, there are 4 STW Sunderland coaches and lots of others, see one from Spennymoor. Lots of coaches on the motorway with signs/posters in window. Notice a people carrier with people pointing and gesticulating wildly at us, smiling. ‘They’re going,’ I say to Tanya and she smiles and nods, ‘I was just thinking that.’ Our coach seems very sober in comparison to some others we see, some signs in windows: ‘No Axis of Oil’, ‘Make Cakes not War’… We see buses from York, Birmingham, Leeds. Sometimes we wave across at each other.

We get into London at about 12.30 and it’s soon apparent we would be quicker walking than waiting to see if the coach can reach anywhere near the march start point. Coaches offload (not sure where) but it’s about 2 miles from Gower Street (Bloomsbury), which is where the march was meant to start. The coaches couldn’t get any closer, too many people. The streets are packed with people leaving coaches. We don’t have a banner, despite thinking up various slogans, we never got around to making one. Some we see today include: Make tea not war, Not in My Name, something about Bush eating a pretzel, a few more dubious plays on the word Bush, Wanted for Murder: Bush Blair, Free Palestine, Victory to the Intifada, Give our world a Chance, and the Father Ted classic – Down with This Sort of Thing, No Blood for Oil, Bye-Bye Blair, Don’t Attack Iraq, Give peas a chance – eat less beans…

There are all sorts of people. A family near us who I assume to be muslims include a very frail old man helped by his wife, he’s hobbling, but obviously really determined to make his voice heard, it chokes me up how many people there are and the strength of feeling. We’re crossing roads en masse, the traffic doesn’t stand a chance. At one point there’s shouting and some Asian lads are banging on a taxi, Tanya’s laughing at the taxi driver and shaking her head, I ask what’s funny as I don’t like it but she says he drove into them. We can’t get to the start point, too many people trying to get there. Someone tells us it isn’t moving, so along with thousands, we head off down other streets to join up with the march where we can. When we finally get into the main march we can barely move. It’s a shuffle. There’s not much chanting or singing going on. There are so many people, chants seem confined to small pockets. For a while however there is a sort of Mexican sound wave going on. It starts from the back and works it’s way forward, good fun. I buy a hooter for £2 sold by someone selling world cup stuff, he was selling whistles for £1 too, bet he made a few quid today.

At different times people from offices or buildings en route join in – office workers shower us with shredded paper and cheer, others wave banners from windows. Near the British Museum ‘All You Need is Love’ is being played from a window and I try to accompany the trumpet bit of the chorus with my hooter, to laughter. A naked man appears at one window, a child in a floppy hat is at another with a sign that says ‘We Want Peace’. We stop at one point for a rest outside a pub, I sit on the camping stool Al brought and he gets brandy out and we have each have a nip. We see John Peel and his family.

Eventually we reach Hyde Park. I can hear someone on stage in the distance but I don’t know who, he leaves to applause and Miss Dynamite comes on, I think she’s the last act. It’s between 4 and 5 and getting pretty cold. Some guy tells us he’s just seen Dev from Corrie, I see (I think) Diane Abbott, Al-P has seen an old mate from 6th form, Tanya’s seen a couple of people she knows, we bump into Doug (soundbath guy) who now lives in Leytonstowe and offers us a place to stay if we get stuck. I hear a radio report that estimates 2 million people have marched. Some people are lighting fires, we go and stand by one, a huge George Bush face gets thrown on it and everyone cheers. Some guy starts to recite an anti-war poem, he gets enthusiastic applause, (although not from Al). More brandy gets drunk and we start for the coach.

We split into pairs. There are over 1000 coaches on both sides of the park and down all surrounding streets. Chaos. An old woman asks if we could help her find hers. Luckily her mobile is working and she discovers it, (ours have all been without a signal all day). She tells us she thinks we’re doing a really good job, she says she lived through the second world war having escaped Hitler’s Germany. She said it’s about time British people stood up for themselves and that today had been bloody marvellous. We agree. It takes us an hour and a half to find our coach, they’re still waiting for around 10 others.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It was an amazing experience. Having been on a few small demos there was absolutely nothing to compare to this. Al had never bothered to go on a demo before, thought of it as pointless, but this really angered him. So obvious Blair going to go ahead whatever, but at least we made our voices heard. We play poker, drink brandy ‘n fall asleep on way home. Back about 1am. Klaus has left beers on the table, Tanya had left him a note with ‘say no to war’ on the bottom, he’d left a reply; ‘welcome home peace marchers, say yes to beer.’ We watched News 24. It took a few days to come down.