"Are there any brass band around? I loathe brass bands," exclaimed George loudly to a ripple of general amusement.
"I'm not too keen on them myself," smiled the random stranger."I like everything from Vivaldi to rhythm and blues to listen to at home. On demonstrations, I like reggae best of all as it makes for a really good street party atmosphere, believe me. I go to May Day rallies so I put up with brass bands as they're traditional but that's as far as it goes."
"An interesting example. You strike me as having individual tastes," George said approvingly as her arm linked with Alice's."So long as we have some fun, that's all I ask for."
"Come on, we've got to form up," Helen broke in sternly, a trace of her Wing Governor persona still within her mental compass. Jo threw her a military salute with her spare arm as Jane grinned broadly as their friend but she moved into line. She knew someone had to say it.
"Not bad for a civilian," observed Mr Wade cheerily, Both John and Nikki's first instincts were to roll up their eyes signifying typical father till they saw what a time of his life he was having and how quietly happy their mother was in herself and to be surrounded by all the family who were getting on so well. The gradual forming up of the multitudes into a determined column made Cassie and Roisin's spirits soar with exaltation- they'd never seen anything like this before in their lives. Their children were having a whale of a time, happily blowing whistles along with everyone around them who were doing the same and blowing hooters in a carnival atmosphere. All this added a magical edge to the striking visual display. As the loosely spread out crowd came together to signify that this demonstration really meant it caused Trisha and Sally-Anne to go wide-eyed in wonder as it really took them out of themselves. The way that smiling faces surrounded them all and brave banners fluttered in the wind moved them all.
"Oughtn't we walk behind our banner?"enquired John Wade of his sister as her shiny bright eyes and warm smile revealed her feelings of completion. Her brother was quickly picking up on this street theatre, she felt, regretting that she couldn't link arms with him as she did with Helen on her other side who carried her placard and managed to push a fast asleep Rose in her pushchair
The column of marching people revealed a mass of people ahead of the gang with the back of heads and an assortment of placards and banners in front of them and, in particular, the brown Stop the War Banner that all of the group adopted as their emblem. To the side of them, they stole glimpses of the timeless greenery in the park, even on a cold November day such as this. Only John Deed could get a sense of the length of the column as it bore down on the entrance as his natural curiosity prompted him to veer outside to the left of the demarcation line. The feeling of forward propulsion of the demonstration inspired him as much as the sight and sounds greatly impressed him. Beth could see this as she was nearest to him.
"You're not too cold John?" she asked of him as he strode along with hands thrust into his trouser pockets while his daughter walked comfortably along in her jeans and buttoned up black jacket.
"No more than you are. I've always been built hardy," John boasted with his larger than life voice and looking in turn at his friend's thin lime coloured jacket.
"So we're both fashion victims," she retorted, hoping that their rapid walking would keep her warm and envying Karen's more practical choice of clothes. There is some point to the universal uniform of all demonstrators, she thought to herself.
"There really is such a colossal number of people on the move Beth. You'll see when we come out of the park and turn sharp right," he replied with a quick grin and an adroit change of conversation topic that both Jo and George spotted immediately and smiled under their breath at, having known him the longest.
Finally, a black ornamental gatepost announced the park exit and suddenly, the gang saw the row of heads in front of them wheel round sharply to the right across the pavement and onto the broad dual carriageway, much to Claire's amazement. She'd battled through bumper to bumper traffic, rubber tyres gripping the road and tension constrained by her metal box. Here, the freedom to breathe was noticed by others more experienced as freshness and innocence in people of various ages and experiences.
When John Deed looked round as the rear end of the column making its way to the park gates, his mouth opened wide in incredulous joy. This was bigger league than the demonstration he'd help organise along with the man with the megaphone, man of the world though he always thought he'd been. He drew the attention of the others to it and only Mr Wade had seen the two million strong march in London earlier that year when both front and back of that march was out of sight.
"Get the troops out now...get the troops out now," the man started to chant in the near silence except for the sounds of marching feet. John Deed looked at Mr Wade who nodded approvingly at the sentiments and they started to give verbal backup. Karen looked around at Beth and Jane who were momentarily hesitating so she lent her naturally carrying voice to the chant. The other two women looked around and though what the hell and joined in, soon followed by Jo Mills who felt extraordinarily relaxed about herself. Meanwhile George was now innocently preoccupied with blowing her whistle in approximate tempo with the other blasts of sounds while Alice hugged her spare arm affectionately. Unusually, Helen and Nikki were very cautious about joining in although Claire and Peter felt that the true path of moderation was to join in with the others and this was only because of their concern for their daughter Rose
Suddenly the man with the megaphone decided to switch chants and suddenly there came the cryptic repetitive chant that puzzled George on first hearing. John remembered back to the judge's strike he'd organised and knew what was coming. Then the chant was directed at his personal enemy in the battles for justice against all the apparatchiks who were attempting to strangle the impulse for freedom. Now this antiwar march was addressing the bigger picture, the source of all lies and distortions. He could see from George's frown that his old friend and mother of their child was puzzled.
"Tony Blair is a right
Is a right, is a right...
"Tony Blair is a right
Is a right, is a right...".
"Wait for it George," John whispered under his breath and George looked questioningly back at him. How on earth was this annoying man so omniscient about such matters?
"Tony Blair is a right
Mr Wade and his friend roared with laughter, which Paul Armstrong and Peter Williams joined in with. Their diverse outlooks on life were amused by this shaft of with and blunt speaking. The women in the gang quickly joined in and were the first to snap into action to join in when this verbal riff was repeated. All of them strode happily along the untrammelled width of the dual carriageway without any sense of restraint in this carnival atmosphere of defiance and celebration. The street was theirs and so was the world as the winter sunlight shone in their eyes. Meanwhile, Rose remained peaceful and content in the depths of her pushchair and Michael and Niamh walked alongside her, as good as gold..
"What's the difference between Jim Fenner and Tony Blair?" Karen called to Helen over the street sounds as the two women temporarily came to be walking together. The carved shape of Marble Arch was moving further away and they noticed that some groups with their banners moved ahead of them and some overtook from behind as relative positions shifted around.
"I don't know. What is the difference? They're both con artists," called back Helen.
"Exactly. One tried to fool a nation. The other restricted himself to Larkhall Prison. They even look the same for Christ's sake. Blair isn't known to be a rapist, that's all," retorted Karen in pithy tones. It made both women grin and was the one and only occasion they discussed the man who was now dead and buried.
As the demonstration veered right and turned down along Park Lane, George emitted a cry of protest.
"Why aren't we should be going down Oxford Street? It is my spiritual home after all."
"Even you can't shop and protest at the same time. Female multitasking has its limits," grinned Jo Mills at her friend, feeling happy at everyone close to her being around her.
"Spoilsport," retorted George, knowing full well that Jo was speaking the truth but that didn't stop George from wanting her cake and eating it too.
Suddenly, a loud percussive rhythm started up out of nowhere. George wrinkled up her expression in momentary distaste until a faraway look floated into her eyes as she realised that this primitive rhythms were strangely compelling. It all flowed into the dramatic sights and sounds of a day along with the whistles blowing like no other and she smiled with pleasure. Charlie grinned under her breath as she'd remembered how her mother had bent her ear about rave music in the past, expressing her cordial dislike of her taste in music and going on to denounce her animal liberation politics.
The column now swung into Park Lane and many interesting buildings swung into view. It made Trisha and Sally-Anne aware that their nights when they were getting the party going at Chix precluded them from sightseeing in their adopted town and this was as good an opportunity that they'd get of seeing another side of life. Mr Wade retained a keen interest in this, passed by the slightly faded '30's splendour of the Dorchester Hotel and pointed out a smaller building of far greater significance to him a little further down.
"Hey, there's the Navy Club," he shouted cheerily above the hubbub of the samba band in the direction of his friends."Of course, our place is far more distinguished eh, Stuart."
"I remember you taking me when I was younger and Nicola came once or twice as she was smaller then," John Wade said with obvious warmth and affection, tactfully ensuring her sister's inclusion.
At once, Nikki recalled a long suppressed memory of pungent tobacco smell, highly polished mahogany furniture, polished silver cups and a model of an ancient man of war in a glass case and, most of all, hearty confident men towering over her. When the rupture took place with her family, this was a memory she wanted to leave behind as this was patriarchy personified. She was little then but she now sensed that her father and her friend were only human, trying to live their lives according to hand me down standards and hadn't she internalised a certain amount of this upbringing? She could chat with her father's generation as equals especially as this street demonstration had this levelling effect that her father and his friends were happy to embrace.
"I remember it well. After all, what reason have I to deny my past?" answered Nikki equably enough.
"So you'll have no objection to you and Helen dropping in for a drink or two the Saturday after next for a do that we're going to with John and Jill?" Mr Wade said with smooth precision.
Nikki and Helen rolled their eyes upwards to the heavens. Hardened street operators as they were were with years of experience of Larkhall Prison under their belts, they'd walked straight intro the trap. The humour of the situation made them laugh at what was a high compliment. After all, they could do anything. Both Claire Walker and Paul Williams grinned openly at their friends' temporary comic discomfiture and this rippled around all their friends from Chix and beyond. They agreed to the deal.
Beth's journalistic instincts zeroed in at all the interesting banners and posters that floated into view as the demonstration moved on down Park Lane and the massive edifice and swinging round into Piccadilly past the grandeur of the Wellington memorial on their right. She spotted various trade union banners with interest before locking onto the poster entitled "Relationship of Mass Destruction" with a picture of Tony Blair and George Bush affectionately close up against each other. The absurd montage of sexual innuendo and political warmongering made her burst out laughing. She reached for her pocket camera that she kept inside her jacket pocket and clicked the photograph. A mixture of sounds rose up from the rest of the gang as they'd been so fixated in getting to the demonstration on time that they'd clean forgotten to take a camera and commemorate the day.
"I'd forgotten about my camera as well. I'll take photographs for you all," she said in reassuring tones..
Meanwhile, Trisha and Sally Anne felt curiously excited by the atmosphere of the march which was celebratory and they were bubbling over with conversation, Karen and Beth suddenly appearing out of nowhere. This felt like a school outing where teacher wasn't looking and they could behave as they pleased, playing with placards and whistles. They could do and say as they pleased like giggling schoolgirls. It was profoundly liberating. They waved gaily at passers by who they pitied for being uncommitted, remaining on the sidelines,being preoccupied by errands that could have taken second place and above all, as party poopers. They glanced at the rows of police in their uniform yellow protective anoraks and blue trousers and suddenly, Ros and Jenny jumped into the frame. Behind their grave expressions, the women felt their friends' supportive presence. Nothing had really changed even if they appeared to be on opposite sides of the barricades. So thought the other women when they spotted their two friends and some of them discreetly waved at them.
As the march progressed, it was curious how the relative positions of the marchers warped and mutated. Not only did different banners and groupings appear out of nowhere and disappear into the throng but Trisha and Sally Anne suddenly found Claire and Peter Williams come into view and Beth and Karen disappeared so that the march consisted of random conversations along the way. A little while later, Nikki's parents engaged them in conversation and the older couple were sincerely interested in knowing more about them as Nicola and Helen had talked about them.
"I bet Nikki's parents have been there," grinned Cassie to Roisin as they walked past the opulent wealth of the Ritz and Fortnum and Masons on their right. Roisin's face was fresh- faced and glowing, her longish brown hair falling onto her shoulders, all the sights and sounds of London being easily available to witness..
It was in this state of dreamy contentedness that the march swept through Piccadilly and finally along the final streets that led into Trafalgar Square. It was towards the end that suddenly the fairly loosely composed procession ground to a halt and was compressed into a tightly packed crowd stretching the full width of the wide street with only Nelson's column as a marker of their goal. As their gang were scattered amongst the crowd, each of them had new neighbours and it seemed perfectly natural to chat to them as if this were Sunday afternoon tea on the terraces.