Like A Spearhead from Space?
I only decided late on Saturday night to go into Manchester the following day when I purchased the last on-line ticket for an event which I had known about for months. Talk about last minute decisions, but what can I say? It’s the skin of the teeth, seat of the pants, way I seem to roll.
A visiting TV producer was set to visit, at an intimate science fiction-themed basement bar called the Fab Café, but even with the best will of the fans his arrival in Manchester was going to be upstaged as the Prime Minister David Cameron was also in town for the Conservative party conference which was being held down the road within the security measures that the Police termed “the ring of steel”. I had heard that there was set to be some protests that Sunday, so maybe town would be a bit hairy, but what was the worst that could happen?
I have been to witness the circus of protestors outside party conferences before, and found stolid policemen standing around whilst costumed characters danced about serenaded by amplified false preachers, although I clearly hadn’t appreciated the scale of what was set to go down in Manchester that day as on my way to the Fab Café I was confused to discover that the streets of Manchester were lined with a wall of Police.
A sea of luminous yellow.
And this was whilst walking away from the direction of where the party conference was being held.
As I passed one Policeman I saw him raise his eyes at someone in a costume going the other way, whilst another stared at the camera around my neck suspiciously, but by the time I got to the hundredth officer I stopped to ask her what was going on and she told me that within the hour they were expecting eighty thousand people to come through.
I was not expecting that.
I left the wall of Police behind and went around the corner to queue for my event, which was upstream on the route of the anti-austerity match that was apparently about to appear, and I saw people zipping about in scuttling vans to hastily fence off some roads, to shepherd the protesters the right way like sheep, which with all the rushing seemed a bit last minute; although maybe they’re now so adept at such a role that they’re ready and able to fence off the city at the drop of a hat.
As Manchester braced itself for the braying hoards of the great unwashed the Police helicopter buzzed us noisily, just hovering away above our heads as if we were the problem; there were reportedly snipers on the roofs with long-barrelled Hollywood sniper rifles ready to pick off who knows what; and some Policemen eyed us up before coming over to see what we were doing, genuinely curious, and at the notion of people queuing for a science fiction event they weren’t dismissive but whilst puzzled admitted that everybody had their own thing.
Someone helpfully suggested to them that we would all be off the street before the riot occurred to which he replied: “Oh, don’t say that. Don’t escalate it up to a riot already.”
The Policemen left us and there was a lull whilst we all waited. And then they came. Not quite the eighty thousand that was predicted. There were about forty of them. I checked. Twice. And they went past, singing, one wearing a pig mask, and that it seemed was that.
The person in front of me in the queue said “is that it?” so I told him about the eighty thousand and how they must’ve just been the opening vanguard.
If there’s one thing you can’t knock about children growing up watching and reading science fiction then it’s that it expands your vocabulary to use words like capacious and corporeal, maelstrom and canonical, bushwhacked and renegade, or spearhead and vanguard.
When I got back from Manchester later on the first thing my parents asked was whether I’d been protesting. Really, as if I wouldn’t have mentioned it beforehand1. In reality whilst tens of thousands of hardy campaigners had marched past, just meters away from me, I couldn’t even be bothered to vote for my favourite episode of the visiting TV producer’s. Not so much voter apathy; more that I didn’t want to lose the seat I’d grabbed at the front by getting up and handing the form in at the bar. The perils of travelling alone.
I missed the eighty thousand marchers, every single one, and emerged afterwards back into a quiet Manchester seemingly as if nothing had happened, but the weirdest remnant of events I found was when I went back around the corner to find no Police this time but a raised sign with the austere message with the words spelled out for the protestors out in bright bulbs: PLEASE LOWER BANNERS & BALLOONS.
With my science fiction upbringing I’ve read my fair share of disparate bands of individuals making their stand against corrupt corporations and controlling governments and I was thus primed to be offended at how I obviously appeared to live in a country where “the man” told people how far they could protest which seemed to be as long as they got nowhere near to the politicians that they were protesting against.
I was left with this thought and it was only a day later that I finally realised that what the tens of thousands of anti-austerity protestors were actually approaching at this point wasn’t the centre of corruption, the seat of all power, but the tram’s overhead electric power lines. Maybe I’ll give the man a pass on this one after all.
1 – I probably wouldn’t have.