Thursday, 2 July 2009

Icing of free speech; if we can't get democracy, let us eat cake

At some point, I don't yet know when, I and at least one other person are planning to go to Parliament Square to eat cakes with "peace" iced upon them. We will need police permission to do this, which is why we're going.

Confused? Let me, or better still Mark Thomas, explain.

Over two years ago, someone on my course sent round a wonderful BBC radio show about a comedian and political activist about the SOCPA law. This is entitled "The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act", but in fact it's only about political demonstrations!

By law, now, you have to apply to the police 6 days in advance if you're going to hold a demonstration within large zone around Parliament Square. This was originally intended to get rid of Brian Haw, but, for hilarious reasons, it failed to work. Meanwhile, everybody else must get special permission to so much as wear a tiny badge or a red nose. If they don't, they can be arrested. This is why Maya Evans (whose book is very good, by the way) was arrested for reading out the names of soldiers who died.

The story and comments on the BBC Radio 4 site are excellent. One person wrote in that they oughtn't to put a warning about strong language; they ought to put one about danger of crashing your car because you're laughing too much to drive properly whilst listening! Others asked the serious question of whether it's a waste of police time, which Mark answered very well, and begged for a podcast, which never was made. However, somebody put it on youtube and broke down the show into 3 episodes. I am not sure I ever laughed as much as when I listened to it! Find out exactly what happened about the cake, and how it and Winston Churchill returned to haunt the poor police, and much, much more . . .

Mark Thomas: My Life in Serious Organised Crime
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I went to see Mark Thomas once, at the Tricycle Theatre in London. The first part of the show was about SOCPA, and the second about the arms trade. The second I was riveted with attention and often anger but hope too. The first, since I knew the story, I could concentrate on the jokes - and I had tears of laughter pouring down my face for about 20 minutes. My tissue was a soggy shred in 30 seconds or so. I had never and have never since cried so much, let alone with laughter! I can't resist a few additions that didn't appear on the radio show. For instance, the blessed PC Paul MacInally, who you just have to admire for his forbearace (even if he was the chap who arrested Maya Evans), listened to the radio show with his superior in case there was anything they had to refute. According to Mark Thomas that night, there was nothing, though he did get told off by his boss for the "one man's shit is another man's crap is another man's poo" bit. Apparently his young children thought he was extremely cool! Best of all, we got some of the reactions during the 21 demonstrations. For instance, a woman ran out of the BBC to beg them not to demonstrate about Big Brother, telling them how popular it was. And an aged gentleman was huffing and puffing at a bus stop, grumbling about how disruptive young people are these days, always raising havoc and making a lot of noise - then saw their Patricia Hewitt placard. "Oh, I quite agree. She's ghastly!"

(NB the above will be much funnier once you've listened to the show!)

A month or so later, I met Mark Thomas at a demonstration in Brighton. It was to save the local A&E departments; evidently the government wanted only one for a very large area, even though the three operating were already bursting at the seams. I later tried (unsuccessfully) to get the local campaign group to join hands, or at least trade useful information, with Pembrokeshire's local hospital campaign, SWAT, because I didn't think local campaigns would get anywhere if they all tried to save their own services at the expense of their neighbours'; this would have to be a national campaign, not subjected to divide and rule. Anyway, I wouldn't have known Mark Thomas if the leader hadn't pointed him out, but being an impressionable 24-year-old I couldn't resist sidling up to him and making some asinine comment he'd probably heard before. He was surprisingly quiet and seemed rather sad. I gather that's typical of many comedians; I myself tell more jokes than usual when I'm depressed or unwell. He was ever such a friendly person, quiet but talkative and full of information, and an excellent listener too. Just as we parted company I asked, "How's PC Paul MacInally?" Mark laughed, and another companion said, "Where did that come from?" so incredulously that I felt embarrassed and wondered if it really had been Mark Thomas I was talking to all this time. I think it was . . .

Anyway, back to the cakes! Once we've decided when to do it (i.e. when I'm in London and have time and preparation time to fill out a form and ice the cakes!), we have two options. Will we take the cakes to Parliament Square and see what the police do? Or shall we request permission to eat them? We decided to go for the latter. Let me know if you'd be interested in taking part, not to mention if you have better cake-icing skills than I do. I did have a few minutes' training on it working for Thorntons a few years ago, but I haven't done much since then . . .

1 comment:

Sakib said...

I love Mark Thomas, such zeal he has for his cause. I was lucky enough to catch one of his performances and it was an eclectic blend of comic genius and stark reality. His talk was about the time he infiltrated an arms deal fair and exposed how easy it was to obtain illegal weapons. There definitely needs to be more people like him, so many quit doing something because it takes a long time. Is it me or has modern society become incredibly impatient?