Swamp Things-Glastonbury 1997

As pointed out in my last blog about Glastonbury, 1996 was a fallow year which meant no Glastonbury, but I still went to T in the Park, Phoenix Festival, the dreadful V Festival and Reading, More of this another time, but the festival scene had changed in 1996 from a lively underground culture to something becoming more mainstream, and the truly awful V Festival being testimony to the corporate nature of this new world. It does have to be pointed out that the televised coverage by Channel 4 of Glastonbury played a huge part in this, but the idea that the festival was becoming more mainstream had been slowly growing throughout the 90’s so the blame can’t be slapped on the door of television but the warm, dry years of 1994 and 1995 had sold Glastonbury as a holiday destination like Ibiza so for hundreds of thousands of people it became somewhere not to go because of the lifestyle, but because it was suddenly fashionable with a section of society who’d never seen festivals as an option before.

Also, Britain was changing in 1997 with the long serving Tory government slowly dying waiting to be replaced by the younger more energetic Labour Party under Tony Blair. We all hadn’t seen through Blair or Labour yet so there was a sense of wonderful optimism and celebration going into 1997 as an election was coming and we knew the country was changing.

For 1997’s festival I decided to buy a ticket. This was to be the first year I’d done so, and this meant phoning a ticketline to buy my ticket. This I thought would be dead easy. It wasn’t. In fact it took me most of the night as tickets went on sale at I think 10pm on a Thursday night, so I got on the phone line with my mate’s credit card in hand and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited…………..

The problem was that Glastonbury had become so popular that demand had outstripped supply & this clogged up phonelines and with the organisation not used to this demand, it simply collapsed. Luckily though I got a ticket at around 2am and promptly went to grab a few hours kip before getting up for work four hours later.

That was at the start of the year. No bands were announced but Radiohead were rumoured, and OK Computer had just come out so the band were huge, but Glastonbury was never about the lineup. It was all about the experience.

Winter turned eventually into spring, and that slowly turned into summer which meant FESTIVAL TIME!!! A group of my friends had also got tickets and as we all drank or worked for the Pump & Tap, one of Leicester’s finest pubs which is no longer there sadly.


Anyhow, what was going to be a number of people boiled down to four of us. There was myself obviously, Alex who was assistant manager of the Pump and also from just down the road from Worthy Farm where his parents still lived, Anka who was German and one of the barstaff, and Zeb who was a hippy but he had the transport which was to be a four wheel drive bright red sports car. Just the sort of wildly conspicuous thing you take to a festival!

We’d formulated a plan which was to go down on the Wednesday as none of us apart from Alex had done so before, and for Zeb it was his first one while Anka and myself were grizzled veterans.

Now this is where I point out that none of us apart from Zeb had bothered to take note of the weather forecasts which were looking fairly wet, but it’d rained in previous years when I was there and had dried out very quickly but I packed a bright yellow raincoat which I used at work and my best walking boots.

The plan was to meet at the Pump early on Wednesday afternoon, so I packed my bag and walked to the Pump carrying my bag, rucksack and sleeping bag to the carpark of the pub to wake up Alex, who lived in the Pump. There we sat drinking a few beers waiting for Anka and Zeb to turn up.

And waited.

And waited.

By now, the weather was grim. It was cold and rainy for the middle of June, but there were patches of blue sky and sun which was enough to be going on. Zeb eventually turned up around 1ish. He’d had a problem with his bright red sports car so had to take another even more extravagant bright red sports car. Shortly afterwards Anka turned up and decided to spring upon us the fact she’d bought a case of Hobec, which was a Dutch beer like Grolsch and just as heavy when there’s 16 bottles in a case.  The plan had been to buy beer at the Sainsbury’s on the way down to keep weight down in the car.

Anyhow, we eventually got going mid to late afternoon after spending a few hours quietly getting drunk in the Pump and hit the road out of Leicester. Only to be stopped by a motorcycle policeman warning us about speeding. The bright red sports car stood out, but as it was left-hand drive the copper pulled up to where I was sitting in what he thought was the drivers side, but was the passenger seat. That probably saved us from being nicked as the copper looked in the car, and realised he had four crusty hippies going to Glastonbury and didn’t want the hassle.

So with a warning under our belt we drove safely out of Leicester and on our way to Glastonbury. In the rain. In the torrential rain. Spirits were still high though as we’d heard on the radio that although the site itself was wet, it wasn’t that bad, so we drove down having the sort of fun and banter one does on the way to festivals until we hit the big Sainbury’s in Glastonbury itself and stocked up on beer.

Now from there to the festival site it’s only ten minutes drive, but during festival time it’s any amount of time so we decided to take a detour to Alex’s parents to get a cup of tea, some sandwiches and the last proper crap in a proper toilet for nearly a week. We spent some time here as they live in a lovely house, and the sun was out so we sat and chilled before deciding ‘right, better get going’. By this time it was early evening and we were all hyped and we wanted set up before dark. We left Alex at his parents as he didn’t have a ticket but as his parents lived in the catchment area for free tickets they’d arranged for one to head his way but not til the morning, but we’d agreed to set his tent up and carry his stuff to where we were camping after meeting him at a set time at the Stone Circle the next day. These were the days before mobiles so we had to use brains and trust back then…..

On the way into the carpark we decided to camp in front of the main stage as it really is quiet an impressive place to camp for a newbie as you see the main throng of the festival, plus lots of bands we wanted to see were playing there. The problem was that the carparks are a nightmare to get through, plus you end up miles from the front then  you have a hike as you can see…


This is where we realised we had all of Alex’s stuff, our own and Anka’s case of Hobec. On a dry day the walk would have been a pain, but it was a bit muddy plus it was starting to get dark, so we trooped on and found a  good spot in front of the main stage, setting up the tents and going back for the beer. By the time we were finished it was dark, and both Zeb and myself were knackered as we had to carry that bloody crate…

But we were at Glastonbury. Ok, it was nearly dark, a bit colder than you’d want for the end of June and bit muddy in places but it was otherwise fine. Nothing a jumper, a good pair of boots and a few beers wouldn’t solve and with that attitude the three of us went off for a wander into the site as it got dark.

I think we must have spent a few hours just taking everything in, before deciding around 3am to go back to our tents and get some sleep as we wanted to spend the Thursday having a good look around the site before everyone turned up on the Thursday evening and the festival kicked into full gear. Just after 3 I remember nodding off  with the sound of a few raindrops hitting my tent..

I woke up around dawn as I felt the river that was now flowing under my tent. At some point in the last three hours a storm had started and the rain was now so heavy that it was starting to come through into my tent so I got as dressed as I could, and started trying to mop up the water and plug the gaps in my tent which I somehow managed to do but it was now very, very cold and very, very wet. Around 7am I stuck my head out of the tent to see a very dismal looking Anka sitting in her tent looking grim and we sat there looking at the rain falling and falling while the lovely green of the site was quickly turning into brown.

Eventually Zeb emerged and it turned out that he’d also struggled with the rain overnight but it’d stopped raining which gave us time to patch up tents and get dressed in an attempt to stay warm and to get ready to walk up to the Stone Circle to meet Alex later that morning. With the attitude of ‘fuck it, it’s Glastonbury’ we walked into the heart of the site to quickly discover it was now a brown running sludge…..


Also, the soil of Worthy Farm is clay based, so it’s also amazingly sticky, so it was also a sucking mud which meant you had to quickly develop a walk where you spent as little time with your full foot on the ground as possible which meant trying to glide as quickly as possible. This mainly meant falling on your arse.

It started raining again by the time we got to the Green Fields. Very heavy rain. Thankfully we found a large tea/food tent and took shelter in there along with a number of other souls who also looked equally pissed off but we were warm, and had tea and were having a good chat with people which was fun. Then around 11ish, someone came in the tent and said ‘it’s snowing!!’. This got everyone off their chairs to look outside not to see snow, but a light sleet. In June. It was sleeting in June at Glastonbury. It was bloody grim, no matter how much of a optimistic edge we were putting on things.

By this time though we had to meet Alex, so that meant going out in the mud , sleet and rain. We got up the Stone Circle, in the rain and thankfully met Alex pretty much straight away though unfortunately this meant struggling all the way back to where we’d camped.

The rest of Thursday was taken up with staying warm, grabbing some food and diving into the first few bands in the Green Fields but because of the weather the site wasn’t as full as expected as people had either put off coming down til Friday morning, or as we discovered, didn’t come down at all. We even bumped into a few people from Leicester, while I bumped into people from Bristol as we sat watching some punk band on the Thursday night but the rumours were starting to fly that the second stage, The Other Stage as it was now called, was sinking and that the festival itself was under risk of cancellation. With that hanging over our heads we decided to drink more, head back to our tents, drink some more and then get an hour or two of sleep before getting up early for Echo and the Bunnymen and the Seahorses the next day.

The next day came and the site didn’t look much better. It’d stopped raining heavily halfway through Thursday but the temperature was still in the mid teens when it should have been in  the low to mid 20’s for the time of year. It basically felt like early April. It was bleak and the site was now a swamp though the area in front of the main stage wasn’t too bad, the area in front of The Other Stage was virtually impossible though some bands did play early on that Friday, the stage was closed quickly as it was made secure which meant closing the stage from around 11am til late afternoon, so we wandered around most of the afternoon and ended up taking shelter in the comedy tent.

No here’s the thing about Glastonbury; you can always find refuge in the comedy tent but in muddy or sunny years there’s no room. We managed to get a space by the front and stay as dry as possible til the early evening when it was all about getting ready for the Prodigy.

Only problem was the weather was fucking things up still. It wasn’t raining but it was windy and everything was damp so while we were standing in the mud in front of the main stage waiting for them to come on, we were slowly sinking into the mud and  we ended up having to pull a few people around us out of the mud. Thankfully the Prodigy put out an amazing set but as we trudged through the mud back into the site the weekend was taking on the feeling of a Dunkirk retreat but we headed off for the Friday night/Saturday morning of fun and games and ended up eventually sitting in the fairly dry Stone Circle watching the site and noticing the steam slowly rising from the site as we fooled ourselves it was drying out but really it was people drying out.

The next morning saw something akin to a sunny day! the mud had actually started drying out so it was now like walking through glue as it wasn’t warm enough to dry the site out completely. The Saturday is a bit of a blur for me, as by now I was suffering through having not much sleep for three days and drinking far too much so I remember going to see a band who’d played at the Pump & Tap a few weeks earlier and then making an exit back to my tent to get some sleep.

After a few hours sleep, I woke up fresh, well as fresh as you can get at these things and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the now empty Hobec crate (see, it served a use after all) watching the main stage but by no those of us who had stuck the festival so far were hitting a survivalist streak in that it was a case of the elements or the festival winning and we wanted the festival to win.

As the evening started to sink in it was a case of who to see; Primal Scream or Radiohead? Now I remember seeing Primal Scream, but I also have memories of seeing Radiohead. I simply can’t remember but whoever I saw they were great!!!

I think?!?

By the time Sunday rolled round we’d all started feeling, well, a bit healthy. Walking through the mud built up legs and burnt off calories. We’d all eaten pretty well (which is something you can do if you’re willing to walk around at Glastonbury) and we’d hit the last day now so used to dealing with the mud we felt one with the green, or the brown in this case.

Now Sunday’s at festivals are often sad things, but there was a massive element of uncertainty as Stevie Winwood’s truck couldn’t get onsite so dismal Indie chancers Kula Shaker ended up playing twice that weekend proving they were shite twice.

Ash were the last band I wanted to see, but then I remembered to struggle to see Daft Punk who I only heard from a distance as the dance tent was surrounded in a ring of mud.

And that was about that. We all came back together for one last sit round the campfire before grabbing a fairly early night in the hope that getting up early would mean missing the crowds which is a hard thing to do when everyone wants to leave to get changed and clean ASAP.

Monday morning saw a pretty quick packing up, and a pretty quick trek back to the car now there was four of us and we didn’t have to lug a crate of beer back, and the empty crate had been nicked anyhow.

We quickly managed to get loaded up and offsite pretty quickly, and once we were on the motorway we started to feel some part of reality come seeping back in. We stopped at the services but because Zeb didn’t want muddy boots everywhere we were all in stocking or bare feet which proved quite a sight in the services.

The weekend gave us one last sting as on  the last leg home it rained. Torrential heavy rain for an hour all the way home to Leicester. As we dropped Alex back at the Pump, the rain was still falling and as I was dropped home the rain was still coming down. Even as I lay down to get a bit of sleep in bed, the rain still fell and Glastonbury 97 started to pass into something akin to legend.

The reason the 97 festival is important in establishing the myth of Glastonbury is because the television coverage somehow managed to convey the fact that although the festival was muddy, wet and mainly cold, it was still bloody good fun. It showed a different type of fun from the sunny antics of 94 & 95 plus now it was on the BBC it felt more part of an establishment as opposed to the then risky Channel 4.

1997 was the real turning point. People saw the community spirit. People saw the Radiohead set and the experience people were having. They saw all this and they wanted part of it. Only problem was that many only wanted to be voyeurs rather than participants which meant changing the festival, but before we get to that stage we have to go through the last of the pre-millennium festivals.

Next up is Glastonbury 1998 and one of the worst experiences of my life….

More Stupidity and Bigotry From the Ranks of the EDL

What better way to pay tribute to Lee Rigby than to badly stick ”RIP Lee Rigby” on the back of a top with a Union Flag on it and pose like you’re on Page 3.


Oh, and you wear it on an EDL march to show respect to Rigby  while making a vigorously stupid point on your Facebook page, and I quote:

Try and arrest me today for wearing a Union Jack!!

Nobody is going to arrest anyone for wearing a Union Flag. Nobody is going to cancel Christmas. Easter will still be called Easter. You can still have a St. George’s Cross flying from your flagpole.

Why do we know this?

Well, it’s because all of these stories have been shown to be either utter made up bollocks, or blowing up the truth to make a bigoted point in order to play on people’s prejudices (the Winterval story for example) or take a nugget of truth and turn it into a tale of hoe TEH MOOSLEMS are burning flags, etc and etc.

Now the fact that a young woman is using the name of Lee Rigby in a tasteless and crass publicity stunt isn’t in the same league as the EDL stealing from the British Legion…


That’s right. The EDL, the protectors of the British Armed Forces are pocketing the sales of poppies to fund themselves. Think about that the next time someone tells you that the ‘EDL have a point’, or if someone tells you that ‘we should respect our dead’ then just show them the picture of the girl at the top of this post.

See, I’m betting Rigby’s family don’t see his name being slapped above the arse of some girl as being something entirely respectful of someone who was pointlessly murdered. Buy some flowers. Give some money to the Legion. Do something that isn’t focused round you, the EDL or mindless pointless fuckwittery. That’s paying respect to someone, not flashing your arse to the Redtops with Lee Rigby’s name badly stenciled just above it.

Now if this seems harsh, or I’m just picking on a clear daft wee girl, you’d be entirely right, but it’s deserved because this sort of stupidity shouldn’t be tolerated because it’s the little acts of careless, selfish stupidity that builds up to make people to think Christmas is being cancelled, or that marching with a bunch of drunken thugs is respect for a murder victim.

Then just as you think things can get more stupid, something else comes along to show that irony is indeed dead…..

Today’s Events in Woolwich are Not An Excuse to be a Twat.

In a change to what I was going to write about  I’ve got to comment on the  violent and pointless murder of a man (at this point it’s not 100% confirmed if he was a serving soldier or not) in Woolwich in London.

The BBC are running a very good ongoing report on this on their site, while social media like Twitter and Facebook has exploded in a shower of petty ignorance, racism, fear and stupidity.

Here’s the thing; terrorism only works if you become terrorised by these acts. Yes, it’s bloody shocking to have someone run over, then hacked to death and beheaded on a London street in front of dozens of people who were standing around filming the thing and letting the murderers rant into their camera phones. 

Then there’s the frankly remarkable, insane and somewhat darkly comic Twitter feeds…


What sort of world do we live in where someone pops out for fruit and veg and sees the third most fucked up thing they’ve seen when they see this?

But this is all an aside to the bigotry, hate and fear this attack has caused. I’m not saying not to be repulsed, or even angry but take your repulsion and your anger out on the two miserable wee fuckers who did this, Not black people. Not Muslims. Not immigrants (it seems both were actually British anyhow). In fact, anyone who isn’t the people who did this because you make it a successful act of terror but playing it up more and more.

Yes, I’m aware I’m feeding the machine and of the irony but let me tell you a secret; I’ve dodged several terrorist attacks, including the IRA’s bombing of Manchester and the very first blog I wrote here detailed the IRA bombing in Leicester in 1990, and the reaction to it. I don’t think I allowed myself to be scared, which isn’t to say I wasn’t but if you do get scared and show it then terrorists, or lunatics like these pair win. Spreading bigotry and hate is letting them win. I’ve spent my entire adult life living with some form of terrorism and trust me, being scared is letting them win.

Don’t let them win. Don’t stand back looking at this looking through a lens at the horror of it all. Don’t let eager politicians use this. Don’t let the EDL use this. Don’t let Islamist groups use this. Make a point not to be scared. Don’t let Sky, or ITV, or the BBC or the Guardian, or The Sun scare you as they drool (the false morality as they warn us of the ‘shocking images’ as they show them over and over and over is depressing) over the sort of story that keeps them in a job for another week. Don’t let bloggers scare you. Don’t be a twat.

Do be shocked, do be repulsed and do put this into perspective as it seems the pair wanted the infamy. They wanted this. Don’t let them have it. Don’t be a twat.

And with that, I’m off to bed, It’s been an odd old day.

Pakis, Poofs and Pimps

I wouldn’t normally work on a blog on a Thursday night as I’ve just done an 11 hour day and I’m knackered but an incident on the way home angered me, which prompted me to do this. Also, excuse the title of this blog and some of the language in it but it has a point…..

On the way home I was walking through Stokes Croft  in Bristol and walking past yet another crowd of cloyingly dull middle class Hipsters hanging around braying loudly at each other in an attempt to be heard and seen. Harmless enough, if somewhat tedious.

Walking in front on me were two chaps in suits walking home from work. How do I know they were coming from work? Because I saw them walk from their office which was near mine, so we walked the same road from the centre of Bristol to Stokes Croft with me ambling away behind them.

Anyhow, as they walked past these Hipsters they started excitedly talking to each other which is where I walk by them to hear this snippet:

”yeah, yeah, two black guys in suits, must be pimps”

This made me snap round and flash them a look of ‘you fucking what??” , and I though the thought of ‘racist cunts’ had stayed in my brain but the look on their faces and the fact I felt my lips move told me I’d said it out loudly and scared the living fuck out of these kids as a large Scotsman is aggressively calling them racist cunts, which of course they were.

Now the point is I wasn’t so much angry at the sort of casual racism you often see, especially from privileged student Hipster types who probably haven’t lived in multicultural working class areas in their lives, but the fact that my calling them ‘kids’ downplays the facts that at 18 or 19 you should bloody well know better, regardless where you’re from or your upbringing because it’s the 21st century.

This is where I make my own confession here that when I was younger I regularly used to use language I’d never imagine coming out my mouth. I used to call the corner shop the ”Paki shop’ as many a Glaswegian used to back in the 70’s. Then I started getting Asian friends and I realised quickly the work ‘Paki’ was being used as a horrible pejorative mainly by racists, but people casually using it was deeply bloody offensive.

I was 12 when I learned that.  I even managed to get my mother to stop using the word (and she was very anti-bigotry) when she realised it was hurting people, as she’d been called a ”Tim” often enough in her life , so she stopped.

I used to throw around the word ‘poof’ like it was going out of business. I was even party to a horrible piece of vile homophobia disguised as a parody of American Flagg! called American Fagg! for a comic fanzine a bunch of us did in Glasgow about 1983 or so. All of us should have known better, and the artist went on to do better things and make a nice career out of comics so I won’t name them, but I know we’ve looked back at that and cringed like fuckity.

Then I started meeting gay people as one of the places people used to go who were a bit punky/goth/alternative in Glasgow in the 80’s was a club called Bennets, which was a very, very, very gay club. It was also astonishingly safe, and you didn’t end up with someone trying to beat you up with a lump of scaffolding because you’re trying to be Christopher Lambert from Subway, and you look a bit weird.


Bennets was a learning curve. The regulars were very nice to us straights who would go in, and when the lads from AKA and SF Bookshop (Edinburgh’s book and comic shop) used to go out we always had a fun night out, and when even Pete Root (part owner of AKA and old married hippy) was propositioned by a young lad he took it as a compliment. In short, I grew the fuck up.

I was 17.

What I’m trying to say is we’ve moved on since then, and people shouldn’t take until they’re 17 to learn that calling people pejoratives or assuming bigoted things about people based upon their race, colour or nationality should really be a thing of the past as my excuse is I probably should have know better and I was a twat, but if you’re smart enough to go to uni, then you should be smart enough to realise that being black and wearing a suit doesn’t make someone a pimp and it’s actually fucking offensive. Especially in Bristol which has done to much to show that multiculturalism works.

My hope is that my calling these people racists in the street will shake them up in the same way I was, but I’ve got this horrible feeling it won’t and their sense of entitlement will only make them feel like martyrs as really, aren’t all black people wearing suits pimps anyhow?

Next time I really will crack on with the history of Glasgow’s comic shops in the 80’s, but this needed to be dumped off my chest……..

St. George’s Day


I was going to post something different tonight, but all I’ve seen all day is people posting pictures of the St’ George’s Cross on their Facebook page with some half-witted line about how ‘if you don’t like our flag go back where you came from” and in some cases from people who really should know better.

Listen, I’ll tell you a secret as a Scot living in England: the English are perfectly fine to wave their flag, reclaim it from racists and turn it into a positive symbol for what England is which is a wonderfully diverse country of people and opinion, rather than this sneery and depressing ‘yeah, this is my flag!! FUCK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUU!!!!!!”

Muslims, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Pakistanis, Indians, and all the hundreds of different nationalities living across England don’t mind St. George’s Day. Really, we don’t. Yes, the St. George’s Cross still has ties with racism but the English got their flag back after a wonderful display at Euro 96 where it was torn from the likes of the BNP and put back in the hands of the people. For a while, the English got it and they got the power of uniting behind a symbol of a proud and diverse country. Then this ‘you don’t like it, FUCK OFFFFFFFFFFFF” nonsense appeared thanks to wanky articles in the Daily Mail, and the likes of the BNP and UKIP spreading lies.

Though this isn’t to say some people aren’t scared of the flag, but if you’re a first or second generation British-Asian and you remember some thug using it as a symbol of hate then it’s not their fault which is why it needs to be fully reclaimed, and why this ”like it or go home’ stuff just adds to the stigma that’s been created by the far right, politicians, the media and utter fuckwads. I’m also annoyed by the ‘oh, St’ George’s Day is soooooo racist but I don’t care” from pseudo left wing types as if apathy is going to make England a better place.

So I’m glad to see more people going out for St. George’s Day. I’m glad to see the English wear the flag with pride and not use it as a symbol to punish others. I’m glad to see anything that makes England a better and warmer place because I do believe the country is a fantastic one. It’s just got one wanker far too many wanting to make anything positive about it into a weapon for racists and bigots, so please sort it out.

Have a beer tonight and enjoy it, and can you make it a Bank Holiday as well?

Next time, it’s the history of Glasgow’s comic shops, which will lead into the full gory story of Glasgow’s Great Comic Shop Wars. It’s not going to be pretty……..

Crocodile Tears

A brief interruption from what would have either been a long post about my early life, or a bit more on how comics were distributed in the UK during the 70’s, but It was Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today and one last mockery is in order.

I’m meaning this picture especially:


If anything sums up the sheer black horror of today then it’s this picture. You’ve got Cameron’s millionaire wife looking up to make sure she’s on camera, Cameron himself looking like he’s having a deathwank orgasm for Thatcher and Osborn’s pathetic crocodile tears.

I’ve seen Tories refer to Thatcher since she died as their ‘second mother’ which is actually pretty bloody scary when you think of how people like Osborn see her, and how many are trying to pretend she was more than what she was.

Personally I’d have chucked her in a skip and got G4S to take away three weeks later when they got their arse in gear. It’d have been a fitting way to sum up her legacy rather than an utter cunt crying for a myth and the press wanking over Thatcher’s granddaughter.

So as a proper memorial for Thatcher lets have this memory of her posing with her close personal friend and mass-murderer General Pinochet.


Does anyone sane actually shed tears at the funeral of someone who supported, and supplied a murderer and a tyrant?

No, it’s only sociopaths like Osborn and those soulless Tory bastards today.

Next time it’s back to comics, or a bit of biography or maybe some filth.

Ding Dong or How I Got To Be On Margaret Thatcher’s Hitlist and Didn’t Ask?

You normally have an introduction first, but that’s going to be my second post now I seem to have returned to blogging/ranting/moaning and it’s highly topical to write about Thatcher, not to mention this is something very few people have ever found out about me so let’s dive in shall we?

Back in the Glasgow days I used to do the odd job for a local Glasgow character called Bob Shaw. No, not Bob Shaw the sadly departed SF writer but someone who was instrumental in the early days of Glasgow’s SF fandom in the late 70’s, not to mention being involved with the early days of Glasgow’s comics fandom. However that story is one for another time so back to me doing odd jobs for Bob.

I was around when I was 15 or 16 when I started doing some work for Bob, and this consisted of either making badges or handing out flyers for Scottish CND which would result in Bob giving me pennies for my work but I’d known Bob since I was 12 (another story for another day) and I’d asked him if he’d any work going while picking up some comics in his shop he co-owned in the West End of Glasgow. So it was mainly making badges in his flat not far from his shop on Woodlands Road that made me my cash, but sometimes I’d go round shops in the area handing out CND fliers and posters so it’s this that we need to focus on.

So one day while taking a break from making badges in his flat I was looking out his window and commented that a car parked outside his flat was always there. Bob replied that he knew fine well they were always there as they were Special Branch. He also said they were tapping his phone and he was being followed because he was seen as an ‘extremist’ due to his CND work & that I was probably on the list now too.

I went home that night thinking nothing of it, and it wasn’t til a month or two later that I was coming home from school in my final year of school that I noticed that I was being followed by a car. Now the reason this stood out is new or newish cars stood out a mile in Possilpark in the early 80’s but it didn’t seem threatening and it didn’t follow me all the way home. I noticed it a few more times over the next year, but by this point I’d left school, gotten involved with the Glasgow comics scene very heavily, started going to gigs and generally being a teenager so distractions were everywhere, but I was on a list someone as an activist in Thatcher’s Britain and that gave my little socialist heart some pride.

Fast forward to February 1990, and I’m now living in Leicester working for Neptune Comic Distributors and living in a nice wee flat with a mate, and his girlfriend who was from Derry. I was also kind of ”friendly’ with her sister who lived just round the corner and with a lot of the Irish community who drank at the late and lamented Pump and Tap.

I was dispatched one weekend toLondon so I could chat to some of our customers at Neptune, and see if I could get any new ones, so that meant drinking with the lads at Comic Showcase when it was still based in Neal Street in Covent Garden, and normally these weekends would mean I’d wander round  the old Westminster Comic Marts.when they were based in the Westminster Central Hall near Parliament, but there was a gig at Hammersmith Odeon I wanted to see (Mick Hunter and Mick Ronson if I remember right. Or the Godfathers), so I stayed in London over the weekend and spent a lot of time drinking in Camden and Kilburn.

I came home on Sunday, passed out and went to work on Monday. On Tuesday there was an IRA bomb that was exploded in Leicester which disrupted the city and obviously set my Irish friends teeth on edge as they were expecting a knock on the door as being Irish under Thatcher was a criminal offence it seemed. We joked in our flat that we’d get that knock too.

Then we did.

All three of us were questioned individually, so the officer who interviewed me started reeling off bits of my previous history including my history with CND and the fact I was arranging to go drinking with friends in London in the mainly Irish areas which is the point that I had a file sitting around with my ”extremist’ history on it, but our phone in the flat was tapped and the others also had Special Branch files with their movements.

We were questioned on and off for the next three weeks until it became clear we weren’t IRA terrorists or sympathisers but this basically shat us all up. We were frankly terrified the state not only had files on us all but were monitoring our movements, listening to our calls and still seriously thought we could be blowing people up.

I tried hard to get access to these files, the police records in Leicester and Glasgow, plus the extent of just how closely we were followed but most of the time it was a dead end, or a ”fuck off” or once or twice some very veiled threats.

The reason I mention this and start this blog off with this is that I’d not thought about this for 20 years or so until a conversation this week with someone who said that Thatcher only went after people who ‘were a risk’ and she never targeted people for ‘their politics’. Well I’m hardly the only example but I’m still an example of how she used the police and security forces to target anyone she didn’t like because of their politics, nationality or anything she saw as being something of the ‘enemy’.

She divided people because she wanted to ‘weed’ people out be that a boy making badges for CND or someone who was Irish, or in a union, or gay, or black or anyone who wasn’t for her. She was a Libertarian in name only and was really a hard authoritarian who set the ball rolling for our civil liberties being slowly removed by  Major, then Blair, then Brown and now Cameron and Clegg. That’s part of her legacy.

Now that’s out my system I’ll do a proper introduction to what I intend to do with this blog tomorrow….