Things I thought

Thursday 22 September 2011

Whose farm? Their farm!

Do you like having somewhere to live? I know I do. In fact, I like living somewhere so much I think that everyone should do it. If you feel the same, you might like to come down to Dale Farm and help stop several hundred people from being kicked out of their homes. I did, and can tell you that as well as being the right thing to do, it’s also amazing, life-affirming and (I probably shouldn’t tell you this bit) fun.

My girlfriend and I arrived at Dale Farm late on Sunday night. As we walked down the road to the site we were flanked by friend and foe on either side. To our right, gypsies from the legally occupied part of Dale Farm greeted us warmly with smiles and thank yous. To our left, a mist was rising through the floodlit field occupied by the bailiffs who have, ironically, built themselves a shiny new compound without any planning permission.

Despite the friendly welcomes from residents I felt uncomfortable and awkward as I walked through the gate. I remembered that, despite proudly declaring my anti-racist sentiments at 16, I made an exception for gypsies, whose lifestyles I felt were selfish and destructive. In the last few weeks I’ve discovered one in three people still hold the same views as I did as a child, probably for the same reason I did – because they’ve never actually met any. I like to think I’m much less ignorant and intolerant now, but my trip into Dale Farm still represented a kind of first contact. As such, I was surprised by how normal it all was. Dale Farm is a community like any other – houses, streets, families. My discomfort at the implicit racism my own sense of surprise revealed was mixed with shock and rage at what was planned for the next day – a full on £18m assault on this place, paid for with taxpayers money.

Only a few things stand out as different about Dale Farm. The first is the shrines dotted here and there – most of the residents are devoutly Catholic, but despite my own agnostic fundamentalism debating the reality of transubstantiation felt like an argument for another day. The second is that Dale Farm is a real community – everyone knows everyone else, the kids run around freely, their parents safe in the knowledge that they will be looked after by their friends who are also their neighbours. In fact, seeing how the gypsies live made me a jealous - I live as part of a community, but I don’t live in a community. Once you see the difference it’s easy to understand why they resisted the council’s offer of limited, scattered council housing. If someone wanted to move you away from everyone and everything you knew and loved, you’d resist too.

Enough about cultural differences – what’s really exciting on Dale Farm is how thoroughly they’re overcome. The activists are spread throughout the campsite, but their main HQ, nicknamed camp constant, has a lovely kitchen and campfire around which activists and gypsies gather together to chat, eat and get a little tipsy in the evening. When we arrived there people were sorting themselves into groups and finding roles. My role was that of a medic. I was not entirely happy about this. I’ve done action medic training but, as a wimp, I’ve conspicuously avoided using it before. I got together with a few more experienced action medics and brushed up on the finer points of keeping people alive until I felt a bit more relaxed about the whole thing.

Many of the gypsies opened their homes to the activists but some of us slept in tents dotted round the site ready for the big day. We were expecting the eviction to begin as early as 8 AM so the morning was filled with activity – building barricades, scouting the perimeter, playing up to or avoiding cameras. I was surprised that, despite the fact they were under siege, I saw the gypsy children being sent off to school like it was any other day.

As I was helping construct one of the barricades one of the women came up to us asking us to help her clear some rubbish from her plot. It was a surreal experience – here she was with the hammer of eviction hanging over her head and she was busily making sure the place was clean and tidy. She was obviously distressed. As we piled the rubbish up she told us that she couldn’t read and write – her three children were the first in her family to be able to do so. Why had the council given them an education only to take it away again? I hadn’t got an answer. “People hate you” isn’t something you want to tell a woman on the verge of tears.

Just after lunchtime a shout went up that the bailiffs were coming. We rushed down to the front gate ready for the worst. Barricades, lock-ons and a massive concrete-filled car called “the beast” were in place ready to deter any potential onslaught. Things were tense but it was a good kind of tension, spirits were high and the scaffolding was filled with activists and gypsies singing, chanting slogans and ready to resist.

The bailiffs, flanked by cops (who are, of course, neutral and only there to keep the peace), arrived at the gate. Despite the council’s £18m budget they appeared to have bought themselves a megaphone from Toys R Us. They warbled something vague about health and safety then asked us if we’d like to fuck off quietly so that it didn’t cost them too much more money. We politely declined their offer.

To everyone’s surprise the bailiffs then wandered dejectedly back to their own compound. The firm, Constant & Co, has a reputation for nasty, violent evictions, and they specialize in providing solutions to what they terrifyingly refer to as “the gypsy problem”. Constant & Co even designed their website so it’s one of the first to come up when you type the word “pikey” into Google. They are, without doubt, an unalloyed armada of cunts.

Once the unstoppable force of bigotry having met with the immovable object of health and safety legislation, everything calmed down for an hour or two. Then a huge cheer went up. The fog of war being what it is I spent a good five minutes running around like a circus giraffe before I heard the good news – a last minute high court injunction had forestalled the eviction for at least a few more days. The mood was jubilant, the sound system was pumping and gypsy and activist alike were going cheerfully mental.

The next night there was a huge meeting between everyone on site. The solidarity between the gypsies and activists was incredible. The main debate was about whether to open the gate. Many activists thought it was a bad idea, but all agreed that the final decision belonged to the gypsies. “But we don’t want to be forcing you to do anything” opined one gypsy woman “the last thing we want is someone ringing up the Sun and saying we’re keeping you all here as slaves” she continued to the laughter of all. Our side was equally concerned that we might not be wanted there. “Don’t be silly” one of the gypsies responded “ye’re the best comrades we could ever have.”.

The main point I’m trying to make is this: come to Dale Farm. You’ll be doing something amazing and you’ll have an amazing time doing it. It’s about half an hour out of London on the train – Liverpool Street to Wickford. Call 07961 854023 or 07583621312 once you’re on your way to arrange a lift. Piece of piss. If you could bring some spare cups or cutlery that would be nice, but the most important thing to bring is yourself.

The eviction could begin again as early as Friday afternoon, but my educated guess is that it will begin either Saturday or Monday morning. But whenever you come, and however long you come for, it will be awesome. I hope I’ll see you there.

More info: - brilliant blog dispelling many of the myths about Dale Farm.


Late Tuesday night an odd man turned up, on his own, and immediately made us all suspiscious. He spun an almost believable story about being a kayak instructor from Canada. I sat with him for an hour to suss him out and try to work out if we had a situation – these things are very delicate, as you don’t want to go accusing people who might be genuinely be well meaning outsiders of being undercover cunts. He told us he was staying for the next four days, but by morning we were pretty certain he was one of the baddies and we walked him off site. The clincher was when I asked to borrow his phone, with the intention of checking his messages, and he pretended not to have one. Naturally, you can never be sure, and we were all a little concerned we might have done the wrong thing.

Luckily, on this occasion, we can be sure as the twat in question went on to pen this barely readable puddle of bile in The Sun. Naturally, it’s filled with venom and bullshit and conveniently forgets how utterly fucking inept the "journalist" in question was at his job. If you can bare to feel your eyes boil at its acrid prose, you might like to have a read. Or, if you want a real treat, you might prefer to inject fermented rat shit straight into your retinas. It’s your call.

The main thrust of his verbal shit sculpture is that there is a gulf between the activists and the gypsies. This is true - we come from different communities, different backgrounds, different worlds. That is why it is amazing and inspirational to see the two groups working together in respect and solidarity. In the hour I spent talking to Nick I spoke a lot about how intertwined the two communities had become. Shame he did not deign to put that in his shit-rag of a newspaper.

Post-post script: After we rumbled him it was generally agreed he was probably an undercover bailiff as he seemed too thick to be a journalist. Now we know he works for the Sun, everything makes sense.

The prison blogs will return next week. Ta for your patience.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

The kids are all riot

"Morning Splinter" I say as my giant of a cellmate rose from his bunk "there's been trouble in your manor." I've got the lingo down now, you see.

I flip the channel to show him what I mean. It seems you lot have been busy. Rioting across Britain. Police losing control of the streets. Violence, arson, anarchy. Thank Christ I'm safely locked up in here.

The rolling, if Breakfast, news coverage hits on the salient point and Splinter holds his head in his hands.

"They're Rioting in Brixton" he opines "and I'm fucking stuck in here!".

Less than an hour later Splinter gets told he's going to C wing and we say our brief goodbyes. It's odd seeing him go - while I think Splinter would agree we didn't quite qualify as friends, we'd bonded during our four days in a locked room. Worst of all, I never got round to asking him how to rob a bank, which would at least have given me something to fall back on if comedy doesn't work out.
With Splinter gone I use some of my direct action skills to occupy a space, in this case the bottom bunk, thus making me king of E 4-05. Before my new roomie arrives, however, I am spirited away for resettlement, an Orwellian sounding process which actually only involves asking me a few questions ostensibly to make sure I've got somewhere to stay when I leave and won't mug an old lady for her housekeys on my way out of the gate. Towards the end of my friendly interrogation, the screw filling out the form asks

"Is there anything we can do to help prevent you from re-offending?" I think about this for a moment before deciding to answer honestly.

"Imprison Rupert Murdoch." There isn't a tick box for this, so she diligently writes my answer down under "other". If I end up back in here, the state has only itself to blame.

As we were waiting to be taken back to our cells, something I've become quite adept at, talk turns to violence inside and outside of jail.

"They use rubber bullets and bean bag guns" offers Mr. Ben, who has set himself up as an expert on riot control.

"Actually, on the mainland..." I interject.

"They do inside High Down." He informs me. I'm out of my depth.

Rugrat, a comrade from E wing, seems undeterred. "There's a lot more of us than there are of them" he points out accurately "we should just bash out at S&Ds and do it."

"They'd lock us up 24/7" interrupts one lag.

"So?" responds Rugrat "We're locked up all day anyway." I laugh nervously. I'm pretty certain this is all just banter, but who knows? Maybe this is how prison riots start.

Before going back to the lodge I'm buttonholed by Bucky, a guy from C wing, who says he's
heard I'm writing about the prison. Clearly walking everywhere with a pen and paper in my hands is not a particularly subtle strategy. He tells me a story of the genuine violence which happens within these walls. A week ago Bucky had said the wrong thing to a couple of screws while he was collecting his dinner and they'd followed him back to his cell. When he realised what was happening he ran for the door and asked another jailer to lock him inside, but it didn't work. The two guards pinned him down in his dwelling and kicked the shit out of him- his face is still puffy and distorted from the beating. He looks at me like I'm crazy when I ask if he's thought of reporting it.

Back in my own stone box, my new cell mate, Rocksteady, has arrived. He's asked me not to write about his circumstances, so I won't. Luckily he didn't say anything about hacking his voicemail, so I still have options if he tells me anything really juicy.

We spend a lot of the evening chatting about riots and getting to know one another. Annoyingly for you, his story is fascinating. It's annoying for me, too, but at least I got to hear it. I mean, seriously. Wow. Prison has its perks.

I spend some time working out what to do if there's a prison riot, interspersing calm strategising with the occasional mindblowing glimpse of vertigo when I realize that, yes, I'm considering this as a real possibility. With a little luck you won't get to read about my plans in the papers before you read this blog. They mostly involve hiding.

There's one other unsettling note to my evening. According to Rocksteady, screws don't take too kindly to people writing about what's going on inside. Considering Bucky's story, I can see why.

So, if you're reading this, ends day 7.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Day 6 - Prisonomics

Here, as far as I can gather, is how the prison economy works.
Every Sunday (today) our captors furnish us with a “canteen sheet”. This is a double sided A4 list of purchasable sundries, ranging from chocolate to tweezers, playing cards to bibles, super noodles to shaving foam. The most important items are phone credit (40p a minute) and tobacco (“burn” in prison parlance), both of which make appearances at the top of the canteen sheet.
Convicted enemies of the state, such as myself, get a maximum canteen spend of £17 a week (to come out of any money we’ve brought in with us or earned inside) whilst prisoners on remand, like Splinter, can spend as much as they like. I invest in some chocolate, paper, stamps and tangfastics then sink the rest of my liquidity into the blue chips: coffee and burn.
Tobacco is the currency of choice here in jail for one simple reason: most people smoke. Even if you don’t, there will always a market for the lethal stuff, so it makes an excellent, if short term, store of value. So far I’ve traded burn for paper, pens, stamps, sexual favours, semtex and coffee.
Coffee acts as the prison’s second currency of note, the Euro to burn’s Dollar, though there is less demand for it and most inmates are looking to trade coffee for burn rather than the other way round. Of course, in our barter based system anything can have value to the right customer, and I’ve made a range of happy trades swapping jam, salt and porridge (yes, I know) for stuff that I actually want.
Another item in seemingly high demand is tin foil and its substitutes – yoghurt lids, polo wrappers etc. I’ve yet to actually be offered drugs here but the shadows of the black economy fall long away from the searching eyes of the screws. I couldn’t tell you exactly how drug deals work inside but I’m guessing that, as the price of skag comes in a fair bit dearer than £17 a week, most money changes hands on the outside – just get your people to talk to theirs. A lot of stuff can be bought this way, though the import tariffs here are steep – a bog standard mobile phone is £250-£300 (still cost effective compared to the payphones) and a gram of skunk will set you back £50, around five times street value.
However, there is one drug that the prison’s awash with, and it’s absolutely free. Methadone maintenance programs are Wandsworth’s quick fix for dealing with junkies: heroin users who don’t opt for detox are shuffled onto D wing, where their “treatment” awaits, along with a whole cornucopia of commercially available chemical delights. Absurdly, the methadone maintenance program stops abruptly when users leave jail: shivering junkies are turfed out onto the street , told sternly not to reoffend and given £47 to start a new life with. NHS waiting lists for methadone can be weeks long – many will be back inside before the wait is up.
Methadone is unpopular even amongst those who take it. Many of my new junky pals describe it as harder to quit than smack and resent the prison for providing them with this chemical cosh. If you’ve been using on the outside you’re often entered onto a programme without consultation, a cruel temptation for those I’ve met who see their periodic visits to jail as rare opportunities to give their bodies a break.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. With the death of EMA, jail is now the only place in Britain that still values education, and you can earn as much as 90 pence per three hour session learning a variety of trades. Inmates can train in anything from plastery to radio production (at our in-house station “radio wanno”). Private companies have seen a chance to make a buck too, and Timpsons (the key/shoe making people) provide a range of courses which then offer you the chance to do some unpaid work for them on the outside, followed by the somewhat dubious promise of a full time position.
There are inside jobs, too, paying similarly princely sums for your time. You can work as a cleaner, cook, orderly, wing rep, or anything else the screws are too lazy, apathetic or incompetent to do themselves. I shouldn’t badmouth these posts too much – they represent one of the few useful ways to spend your time inside, and speaking to an orderly is generally far more pleasant and productive than trying to convince the guards to do their jobs. Yet however helpful they may be, some lags see prisoners who take these positions as no better than collaborators, an image which isn’t helped by the fact that they come with an impressive range of perks, from a break room with a plasma TV in it to all the sly burn you can… er… burn.
The prison economy usually functions fairly well but ran into trouble recently after a group of rogue orderlies began lending large quantities of tobacco to inmates with the promise they’d hit them back a few snouts once they got their canteen through. Demand for these credit-fag swaps was high, so high that orderlies were soon raiding the store cupboard to feed Wandsworth’s appetite for cheap burn. By the time the scale of the problem became clear, it was already too late. The two bed properties many lags had put down as collateral turned out to be worthless as they already belonged to the prison. The Governor has authorized several costly bailouts in an effort to put an end to the crisis, but the prisoners smoked those too. As I write this, A and C wing teeter on the brink of default and, for the first time, E wing risks losing its coveted triple “Aaargh!” status. In just a few short hours, canteen forms are due back at the landing office and the tension on the wings is palpable.
So ends day 6.

For a somewhat less abstract blog about day 7, click here

Day 5 - Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Wandsworth

I’m worried I’m going to end up writing 14 stories where nothing happens. It’s sobering to think that The Shawshank Redemption chronicled 20 years in sing-sing and still only found a few hours of narrative - and Stephen King was allowed to make stuff up.

I’ve rather lost the Shawshank spirit myself over the last 24 hours. Fighting with heart and mind against an unjust system feels a bit silly when you’ve only got 8 days of oppression left. My initial attempt at a blog for today – a withering polemic on the purpose of prison itself – was brusquely abandoned mid-flow when Deal or No Deal came on. It was, in any case, an effort to use the abstract of my situation to conceal the embarrassingly mundane reality of life in here. We’ve spent most of the day waiting for Harry Potter.

Movies are a big deal in prison. With next-to-nothing to look forward to, most of the chatter on the wings naturally gravitates to TV, particularly films, and for the last few days all of the talk has been of Harry Potter. This is particularly weird when you realise that Watchmen is on tonight, and the other night we were treated to Blade, which has a vampire in it and lots of massive guns.

Harry Potter is a kids' film. About a wizard.

I woke at 6 again this morning to another imperial pronouncement from Hubba-Hubba, God-emperor of the Hoobs and future overlord of all mankind. Something about the Hoobs' incessant cheerfulness and utter contempt for humanity seems to unfailingly penetrate my slumber. The TV is always on; Splinter can’t sleep without it, so every day I wake up to its sickly glow. My first few nights inside I didn’t mind, I was exhausted anyway, but there is so little to do in here my body has now caught up on its sleep debt and considers the most minor stimulation to be a clarion call to get up and DO SOMETHING, no matter that, of course, there is fuck all to do. As a result I have developed my first bit of jailtech, using rolled up Rizla as rudimentary earplugs.

Jailtech is amazing. Jailtech (I’m the only one who calls it that) is simply the art of being creative with what you’ve got. Prison toothpaste becomes wall glue for photos from home, old magazines become lampshades, orange peel becomes air freshener, forks and bowls and towels, somehow, become a curtain to shield you from the afternoon sun. One inmate, left without a working kettle, pulls the broken apparatus apart and carefully lowers the exposed wires into a bucket to boil water. Human beings are capable of incredible things, if only you try to stop them.

I spent the morning glazing at the telly, writing up yesterday’s court adventure, and waiting for the exercise yard. At around the time I should have gotten to stretch my legs, a guard came round and informed me I had a surprise visit. It was a surprise because I’d been told I wouldn’t get visitors until I’d filled in the right forms, which I couldn’t fill in until I got my visitors’ addresses, which I couldn’t get until I made a phone call, which I couldn’t make because this prison is run by incompetent twats. So, a very nice surprise indeed.

The visit was glorious, an hour with three of the people I love most on this earth. In truth it’s a little overwhelming. I’m not allowed to take notes – or, indeed, anything – with me, so a list of questions lies unasked on the desk in my cell as I make my first contact with the outside world. With so little time it feels like we should spend all of it talking incessantly at high speed, like coked up chipmunks, but instead odd silences gape awkwardly between bursts of news. It’s all over far too quickly and I’m taken back to my cell, a bittersweet taste in my mouth, wondering if a little of something can be worse than nothing at all.

I spend much of the day considering this, how the poverty of our condition here seems to help us cope, makes us take an almost spiteful pleasure at times in the little we do have. Every ad break my giant gangster of a cell mate and I sing along to the snatches of music in the adverts. We particularly look forward to one trailing the forthcoming “Street” season of programs on channel 4, which has some nice grime beats we can’t get our hands on anywhere else. I have a feeling we wouldn’t appreciate these as much if we, you know, had something good to listen to.
The same goes for friendship. Splinter and I would be unlikely to mix in the same social circles outside of prison, but in here necessity means that we get along (though, if I’m honest, I think Splinter’s embarrassed to be locked up with such a shit criminal).

 Likewise, Wandsworth’s walls can even make friends of potential enemies. Take gadget, who I met today in the exercise yard. He’s just started a 5 month stretch for GBH and, as we lapped the little square of dirt which is our outside, we traded life stories. His world is as different from mine as Splinter’s is, though all three of us have kids. His 9 to 5, a concept I find alien, is spent at the MoD. We joke that, if we met on the outside it would probably be across a police line. Still, gadget and I get on, and even discuss politics. He points out one of the nice things about this place is that, under the glare of the guards, we’re all equals. While I think the gang that I hear runs A wing might disagree on that point, I can see what he’s getting at – there’s a certain camaraderie to being a lag, a sense that we’re all in this together as David Cameron would put it if sweet, sweet justice ever landed him behind bars.

Later, as I sit in my cell, I consider the horrible irony of this. As an anarchist I dream loftily of a world where people are all equals, none above another. Now I discover that the best way to achieve that might be to lock everyone up. Who knows; maybe prison really does work.

At time of signing off, E wing has gone eerily quiet. It's time for Harry Potter.

So ends day 5.

The next prison blog is here.

Friday 19 August 2011

Day 4 - Don't Fear The Jailer

Every day feels like a week in prison, but today was the first where seven days actually came off my sentence. It nearly didn’t happen.
I was woken at 6 by a screw informing me that I had a surprise court appearance. A surprise for me, I mean – the prison must have known for at least a couple of days, but decided to keep it to themselves, presumably because they know how much I ruddy love surprises.
I made myself a rolly and a bowl of coco pops and plonked myself down in front of the Hoobs. The Hoobs, for the uninitiated, are a gang of brightly coloured extra-terrestrial fuckwits whose pre-invasion intelligence gathering operation consists of asking children what a farm is or how to make a kite. I ruminated darkly on how futile my appeal seemed in the face of this inevitable alien onslaught.
I also wondered if it might not be futile in the face of a legal system that seemed determined to fuck me in any available orifice. The past few weeks showed an unmistakable pattern – every time I made a concession, it seemed to make things worse. I was sick of the ragged nuggets of hope held out to me by the state only to be cruelly snatched back at the last second. I wouldn’t take the bait this time, I decided. Why waste a day of my sentence languishing in a custody cell (worse, by far, than prison) just so an old man in a wig could restate how bad I’d been, when I could stay in Wandsworth and write, smoke and listen to Splinter’s stories to my heart’s content?
Then I thought of MiniMarbles and the summer I was missing with him. Despite my noble, pigheaded instincts, if there was just a 1% chance of me going home that day I had to take it. I let the screw stroll me to the van.
No more compromises, though, I thought. I’d not spend the day throwing myself on the court’s mercy. The prison offered to let me change into my own clothes. I declined. That’ll show ‘em, I thought, my sleep-deprived brain quickly rationalising my spiteful nose-chopping. I would not dignify a process that did not dignify me. Or something. So they took me to court in my prison sweats.
As I was handed over to SERCO, my reign of half-arsed defiance continued.
“Take your shoes off.” Barked the guard in a needlessly confrontational manner. After all, we’d only just met.
“Take your shoes off… please.” I suggested. The guard looked understandably confused.
“I don’t have to say please to you.” He stated accurately.
“But you can.” I replied, matching his accuracy. “There’s no reason we can’t be civil.”
“Take your shoes off.” He growled again, getting all up, as they say, in my grill.
“No.” I replied, because I am four years old.
A torturous and surprisingly lengthy exchange then followed wherein we argued the comparative merits of my captors either asking me politely to take off my shoes, or doing the job themselves. They eventually plumped for the latter option.
“Chuck him in solitary.” Spat my former debating partner as he dropped the shoes back at my feet. I secretly beamed. Solitary meant I’d actually get a chance to write and think and maybe even grab a little sleep. Sleep, I dimly realised, was something I probably needed, as I appeared to be starting pointless arguments with petty dictators over the square root of fuck all.
I sat in solitary and thought about my predicament. I realised that, along with my appeal would come a lawyer, with whom would come news of the outside and through whom I could talk to the people I loved. I spent the next hour hastily scribbling messages to my family, my friends and my girlfriend, trying to cram four days of homesickness into a few paragraphs of prose. By the time my barrister arrived I’d almost forgotten there was going to be an appeal.
As usual when interacting with lawyers I tried to give as much thought and gravitas as possible to decisions which, most of the time, might as well be fucking guesswork. As wonderful as my particular briefs are, they are legally bound not to tell me what to do. At times it’s rather like having a surgeon ask you where to make the incision, and can lead to me saying some fucking stupid things. Like “guilty”.
In this case the rub of the matter was that the presiding judge could allow our appeal, refuse it, or, in fact, lengthen my sentence. This obviously raised the stakes somewhat, but I was told such an outcome was “very unlikely”. I recalled the same two words being used about prison, but I took the gamble anyway.
I’ll say this for our legal system: it’s more entertaining than daytime TV. Watching the judge squirm through my appeal was enormous fun, and I even got to steal a glimpse or three of my gorgeous girlfriend through the Perspex of the perp box. To be fair to his honour, he was caught between a rock and a hard place: no honest reading of the sentencing guidelines could place me in prison, but he’d be persona non grata on the dinner party circuit if he just let me go. It was quite a bind the poor sod was in.
In justifying the injustice of my continued incarceration, the bewigged one made some rather eyebrow raising pronouncements. First of all, his honour suggested my crime had overtones of contempt of court. It wasn’t a court, he hastily added, but it, sort of was, as well, a bit. Though also, it wasn’t, obviously.
Of course, if it had been a court Murdoch and Son had been sat in, I wouldn’t have made such a tit of myself at all. Indeed, had the bastardly duo been addressing any body with real power, then I’d never have undertaken my slapstick crusade. For me, the fact a pie in the face could deliver more justice than the select committee was the biggest joke of all.
Finally, the judge said, I must remain in prison as “a deterrent”. Perhaps this was to prevent a wave of copycat pieings of octogenarian billionaires at parliamentary show-trials, or perhaps to teach the public that, no matter what the letter of the law says, if you humiliate powerful people then you will be punished. The words of my cell mate, Splinter, occurred to me again: “If someone comes at you, you gotta come back at them hard, to show you ain’t no dickhead.” Splinter would have made a fine judge.
Though the crown was, on this occasion, no dickhead, his honour did make a nod to the evident ludicrousness of my incarceration. While, naturally, he was unmoved by the arguments of the defence, the magistrate in my case should have taken into account my guilty plea (she claimed she had done) and so my robed benefactor would be taking a week off my sentence. Abracadabra – nobody did anything wrong but, somehow, mistakes were made. The legal system saves face whilst pulling a slightly less silly one and I’m left with just ten days of free room and board. I make no effort to hide my new grin and practically skip back to custody.
I’m led back into the van, a week lighter and feeling pretty great. I steal a newspaper from my custody cell and smuggle it into the van with me. Perhaps it’s sleep deprivation or conjugal withdrawal, or perhaps it’s just elation, but as we roll through London I start to feel feral, already free, untamable. My name comes over the Kiss FM news and the other isolated cons and I trade wolf howls from our tiny cells inside the van.
Back at Wandsworth the SERCO screws wander off, leaving us alone in the sweltering van for almost an hour. We can’t see each other but the shouts of growing anger are audible throughout the vehicle. Before long one of my fellow captives has had enough and begins hurling himself against the door of his cell. The van rocks gently. I begin to do it too, timing my jolts to coincide with his, bouncing back and forth off the walls of my cell as the momentum grew. One after another the whole pack joined in, unseen but united, the van tilting precariously, decentralised networking at its finest. After that, the screws let us out pretty quickly.
Aren’t you that bloke who threw the pie?” asks a sharply dressed cockney as I make a pitiful attempt at a rolly. I nod.
“What’re you up on?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“Multi-kilo cocaine conspiracy.” He replies. “Got a spare snout?”
I’ve been warned against the cardinal sin of generosity inside, but I’m in an obnoxiously good mood so I oblige anyway.
“Don’t make a habbit of it, though.” I warn “Cos I’m the hardest cunt in here and I’ll fucking have you.” My new friend grins as he sparks up.
Strolling back to my cell I’m informed from various quarters that I’ve been on telly again. Some of the lags come up and pat me on the back or call me a variety of lucky expletives, but at my cell there is someone less keen to congratulate me.
Allright Splinter? How are you?” I ask jovially through the door.
“How the fuck am I? You’re going home next week!” A traitor part of me wants to point out the fact that I didn’t rob a bank, but that’s hardly the point. This place isn’t good for anybody and Splinter has as much right to feel pissed off about staying here as I do to feel good about leaving seven days sooner.
So ends day 4.

What happened to Jonnie next? Find out in our next thrilling installment.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

47 hours in a locked room

I'm tired and I need a pillow.

Yesterday my captors moved me upstairs to a cell with a spotlessly pillow-free bunk for me to sleep on. Despite Splinter's spirited efforts to get the boys with the keys to rectify this, along with my own, meeker entreaties, I'm still without a cushion for my head. This is not the only reason I'm tired.

As anyone whose ever really tried it knows, doing nothing is exhausting. The mind and metabolism grind to a halt and even staring into space feels like an effort. We're supposed to be let out of this little room for about half the waking day - 6 hours worth if the posters dotted on the landings are to be believed - but in practice what we get is about an hour, split into two chunks. Today we didn't even get that.

Our first daily dose of diet freedom, the exercise yard, was rained off. There was no big announcement, no wet play, it just didn't happen. Then the clock rolled round to rec time, (or "S&Ds" as it's apparently called) and it kept on rolling. After a while the reason became clear - the weekly canteen delivery (the snout, supernoodles and sundries prisoners buy with their own money) was making the rounds, and it got scheduled for the same time as S&Ds. So S&Ds got cancelled.

It's hard to know whether such a mistake comes from callousness or incompetence. Both events are regular, predictable, part of the vital clockwork of the prison. Both are important. But somehow the institution couldn't schedule them for slightly different times. Even moving things round by half an hour would have made all the difference, to us anyway. I guess it doesn't seem quite so important from the other side of the door.

One of the first things I realised in here was that when you've got next to nothing, what you still have means the world. The bright side of this is that a friendly conversation or an unexpected cup of tea brings more joy than I ever remember getting from the games and gadgets that occupy me on the outside. The dark side is that, when even the little you've been told to hope for is taken away, it's devastating.

Part of me feels ridiculous, whining about being locked away in here. This is, after all, a prison, and missing out on 30 minutes respite sounds like small beans, but when you're in here, it means a lot. Not being let out means we can't shower, we can't call home, we can't apply for visits or doctors appointments or jobs. It means we can't talk to each other or take a walk or just get a little space. It means we'll spend nearly two full days in a locked room, smoking and sweating and bickering with each other, staring at the walls or, worse, the TV, wondering if the next break will come round or if some further fuck-up will cancel that, too. Most of all, it means the glum exhaustion of doing nothing.

It's 10 PM now and a guard just came round to check we hadn't somehow escaped through the 40 foot tunnel I've been secretly building. I managed to get his attention before he breezed past.

"Can I get a pillow please, guv?" I shouted at him through the slit.

"Office is closed." he barked back dismissively. "You should 'ave asked during S&Ds".

So ends day 3.

You can read about day 4 here.

Sunday 14 August 2011

So, prison is scary, right?

As I got back from my medical this morning E Wing was on lock down. From floor 4 I could hear shouting and screaming, the banging of prison doors. It was a right kerfuffle. “You're fucking dead, mate” shouts one prisoner, which is a pretty unfriendly thing to say to your mate. Floor 4. The floor I was about to be moved to.

The exercise yard is tense. I feel exposed walking laps on my own until a guy I recognised calls me over and I take a seat with his crew. They talk gangster shit I half understand interspersed with a quiz regarding my own illegal antics.

“So, why'd you do that, Blood?” asks Ruxspin. I give him the long answer: Beyond hacking dead girls phones, Murdoch supports despots in both dictatorships and democracies and has poisoned the public discourse with racism, class war and ever shriller cries for harsh and punitive “justice”. The short answer is simply that he's a cunt.

“You shoulda thrown a grenade, mate” suggests Ruxspin. While I might not agree with Ruxspin's tactics you can't fault the boy's spirit. Particularly not to his face.

I get back to my cell and am told I'm moving in an hour. I pack my things, say goodbye to Mr. Magoo and steel myself. I've already gotten the knack of moving round the prison, avoiding eye contact, spotting the nutters with my peripheral vision and keeping a wide berth. It's not too hard - after all, I was raised on the mean streets of Windsor. These tricks only work on the wings, though. It's a different story in a 6x8 cell.

“You taking the piss, guv?” opines Splinter, my new bunk buddy. He is the very man many of my haters wished on me after my light hearted prank/vicious assault on our democracy: a big black bloke from Brixton who likes neither me nor my proximity to him. Maybe we could both take it up with the Judge?

“I'm Jonnie” I offer, hand extended. No response. After a few silent minutes I try “I sense you'd prefer to be on your own?” I'm curtly informed that Splinter does not actually give a fuck.
Splinter gruffly orders me to make my bunk up, which I do. “Nah, make it up proper, I don't want you fucking about later when I'm trying to sleep or watch telly”. By way of apology I tell him that I'm new at this. “What do you mean you're new at this?” I explain it's my first day in prison, like, ever.

“Why, what you in for?” he asks


20 minutes of laughter and gossiping down the wings later and the mood has lightened considerably. Splinter gives me some hard won prison advice. He's been in and out of the system for 30 years.

“If someone comes at you in here you gotta come back at them hard. You've gotta smack them up” I tell him that I value his counsel, but suspect that I might not be the hardest bloke in Wandsworth.

“That's what I'm saying, bruv, people are going to come at you and you gotta show that you ain't no dickhead.”

We break for rec. time and showers. I drop the soap, slip over and hurt my arse. Write your own joke for this, you lazy pricks.

During rec. time I also fail to get a phone call. Some bureaucratic fuck-up is still working its way through the system and the guards are unsympathetic to my plight. I've yet to speak to anyone in the outside world.

I get angry for the first time and kick the walls of my cell impotently. My problems, of course, are neither remarkable nor surprising. Wandsworth houses over 1600 inmates and, like everything else, is spluttering under the cuts. That means fuck-ups, and a penal system that does not keep to its already deliberately low standards. The daily frustrations must take their toll after a while. It's no surprise people kick off.

At this point 4 huge blokes block the doorway to my cell, peering round expectantly as another slips through and squares up to me. He looks, well, hard.

“You Jonnie?” he quizzes me. It seems silly to argue.

“Yeah? Well Murdoch sent me”

I scan his face for a hint of a smile but I find none, a look I'm all too familiar with from the stand-up circuit. Who is this guy? A Wendi Deng fan?

“Murdoch sent you?” I reply, remembering Splinters words and trying to hide my fear.

“Yeah, he's my uncle” he says. We both break into grins and the familiar dance of how, why and hellos plays out. I give him the short answer first, then the long one. Five minutes later Beebop, my newest lag friend, is getting me to sign his copy of The Sun. He says he is going to sell it on e-bay. Maybe I'll buy it.

So, prison is scary, right? Yes and no. Yes, there are men of violence here, and others who have simply coped with the system's bullshit for far too long. So far, though, the philosophy that brought me here has served me well. Everyone is human and none above another, whether they're a billionaire or doing bird.

As I write this Splinter is passing the time by watching Top Gear - a reminder, if one was needed, that there are far worse people than the ones you find in jail.

You can read about day 3 by pointing your cursor here and pressing click.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Day 1 - Going Down

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

I remember the blood rushing through my ears and the sick cramp in my stomach as the judge passed her sentence. My probation officer, my lawyer and the law of the land all agreed that I should not go to jail. Rupert Murdoch had dropped the charges. But this woman, alone and unaccountable, was having none of it. There were rules, she said, but she, like I, was willing to break them to make a political point. I got 6 weeks.

My girlfriend was in tears and I was in shock as I was led into custody. The man who took me down worked for SERCO, a private contractor, the same one currently bidding to run the probation service. My own probation officer was hard working and overworked, dedicated, caring, fastidious and fair. I dread to think of the plight of future defendants if his job is taken by the lazy gang of plastic pigs who clumsily processed me.

The one exception was Amy, SERCO's sole female guard. She came and asked if I was OK and I burst into tears. As she comforted me I told her about my son and the summer I would miss with him.

Minimarbles, if you are reading this, whenever that is, I am deeply sorry from the depths of my heart. I love you and miss you. Not seeing you is my real punishment here; the only one I care about, anyway.

My first contact with another prisoner, in the dungeon beneath Westminster Magistrates Court was a trifle unsettling. As the plastic SERCO pig opened the door to my new, temporary digs the man inside (we shall call him Dangermouse, because that is not his name) leapt to his feet. He wasn't supposed to be put in with anyone else, he protested. There had been problems. Violence. The look of fear in his eyes matched the one growing in my heart, but the SERCO screw locked the door on us anyway.

The mood soon changed once I introduced myself to Dangermouse and we got talking. I was relieved to hear that we would soon be furnished with dinner and tobacco. Dangermouse and I traded prison tips for protest anecdotes till the time came for my appeal.

To nobody's great surprise the same power-drunk petty dictator who had sentenced me also refused my bail application. She did not give her reasons. It must be excruciating to live a life where everything you do is so utterly predictable.

An hour later and we're rolling through the gates of Wandsworth Prison. Its 40 foot walls are iced with barbed wire and spikes, which I reckon is gilding the lilly, to be honest. Who has a 40 foot ladder?

I'd been advised by Dangermouse not to say what I'd done, just that I was in for assault. This plan went up like a lit fart the moment I stepped into E-Wing. “Oi, Pie man!” shouted one of my fellow lags. A few cons camme over to alternately shake my hand and take the piss. We had some of what I believe is known colloquially as “banter”, something I have not enjoyed since university. It is not like riding a bike.

I was introduced to an “insider”- a prisoner whose job it is to show n00bs like me the ropes. I'm told I'll be on E wing for a week before being moved. “Go to A wing if you want a quiet life” says a man who was not called Donatello “Go to B or C if you like socialising. If they try to take you to D wing, protest. That's where they put all the drug addicts”.

I've already been advised to keep my tobacco in my sock and never leave it in my cell. “It's the main currency in here” confides Donatello “That and coffee”. Suddenly I wish I was better at giving stuff up.

My tobacco comes, along with a bag of sundries: 1 plastic plate, 1 plastic bowl, 1 plastic knife, fork and spoon, 1 plastic cup which I immediately lose, 1 tube of toothpaste, 1 toothbrush, 2 sachets of shampoo which state that they have not been tested on animals, 1 bar of soap which does not, 1 envelope, 1 pen, 1 sheet of HM prisons paper. The spartan functionality of my welcome pack immediately focuses the mind. I decide straight away that the item in shortest supply is paper. Donatello quickly finds me some, through some quasi-contraband process which I do not understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.

That night I watch Celebrity Juice with Mr. Magoo, a sickly Romanian man recovering from an operation who is my new cell mate. Celebrity Juice is easily the worst thing that has happened to me in jail so far.

As I lie on my bunk drifting to sleep I notice a 2Pac quote inked on the wall above my head.

“Please father, I'm a sinner
I'm living in hell
Just let me live on the street
cos there ain't no peace in jail.”

I hope this place won't be like that. Maybe 2Pac was a wimp.

You can read about what happened on Day 2 here

Wednesday 23 February 2011

5 Reasons the left should support Labour councilors supergluing themselves to Eric Pickles

During the next few weeks, many local councils are setting their budgets. Some, particularly Labour councils, are being forced by central to make savage, destructive and irreversible cuts – the sort of cuts that were roundly rejected by the electorate in May last year. Paul Cotteril, a Labour councilor and political campaigner, yesterday made the case for Labour politicians to roll over and play dead to stop that big, bad Eric Pickles from doing something even nastier. Here’s why that strategy is bullshit.

1.) Eric Pickles will cut if they don’t

The Conservatives are pushing cuts onto local councils in order to shield themselves from the blame for their own policies. If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, ask why the worst of the cuts are all happening in Labour controlled areas - Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham, Liverpool and Manchester, to give some examples. By collaborating with central Government, Labour Councilors play right into Eric Pickes hands, taking responsibility for their opponents unpopular, damaging, undemocratic policies. Resisting cuts means the Tories will take the blame for their own shitty ideas.

2.) The removal of penalties means councilors don’t have to go to prison unless they want to.

Cotteril argues that the removal of criminal penalties for refusing to implement cuts makes it harder to resist, as councilors can no longer martyr themselves. This is patent nonsense - if councilors – Labour or otherwise – need a crash course in civil disobedience, I’m sure members of Britain’s ever-expanding anti-cuts community will be more than happy to oblige. When your local finance officer tries to implement cuts, disrupt the meeting, D-Lock yourself to the door, or do whatever you can to convince him to join the resistance. If Pickles takes over in his place, request a meeting and superglue yourself to him. There should be more than enough room on him for everyone to get stuck in.

3.)Resigning as a councilor means you don’t have to pretend to be a councilor any more.

If you’re unwilling to fight for the rights of your constituents, if you’re unwilling to pursue the mandate under which you were elected , if you are unwilling to say no to policies which will ruin the lives of people in your community you have no business being a councilor and you should resign. Arguing that doing this robs you of your powers is not the point – if you aren’t going to use your position to fight for people’s rights, step aside for someone who will. Plus, as a former councilor who had the integrity to stand up against Pickles and his mob, you can use your new-found credibility to help stop the Tories in a whole range of new, fun and exciting ways (see previous point).

4.)The cuts have no democratic mandate

As I’ve already stated, Labour politicians were not elected to implement the Tory cuts program. Neither were the Government. The scale of planned Tory cuts was concealed during the election campaign, and is being driven through, shock-doctrine style, in its aftermath by a party which failed to secure a majority. It is not the duty of progressive politicians to deliver the lesser of two evils. It is the democratic duty of every progressive in this country to resist the cuts by whatever means necessary.

5.) The Conservative agenda must be stopped

Along with the cuts, the Tories are planning the most radical set of public sector reforms in living memory. It is not hyperbole to state that, if they succeed, public services as we know them will cease to exist. To aid them in any part of their program is collaboration. This isn't about careerism or winning the next general election - it is about drawing a line and digging in. Even if you believe we cannot stop them, we must do anything and everything we can to slow them down, to make their lives difficult, to choke their bureaucracy and starve them of resources. If we don't, we'll spend our golden years telling our grandchildren what the NHS was, and how we failed to save it.

Friday 28 January 2011

How to win at kettling – a guide for non-policemen

During the second half of 2010 an exciting and physically challenging new urban sport broke out of the sub-cultures and into the big time. Kettling, once the preserve of climate activists, anarchists and anti-fascists, took the student world by storm throughout the winter, and is now set to hit the mainstream in 2011 with trade-unionists, benefit claimants, evictees, the disabled and anyone else who gives a flying fuck about their fellow human beings all set to get involved. The first match of the year is scheduled for Saturday, 29th of January, and both TSG and protesters are limbering up ahead of the big game.

But how, exactly, do you play kettling? Well, first you'll need to split into two teams – attackers and defenders. Team A, the defenders, will be formed of disparate groups of individuals with broadly similar but occasionally conflicting aims. So as to best identify themselves, they should wear hoodies, masks and an expression of determined optimism. For Team A the aim of the game is to remain free and at liberty for as long as possible while expressing their opposition to the status quo.

The offensive team, Team B, will be smaller in number, better armed, and dressed like angry glowsticks. The aim of the game for Team B is to trap Team A in as small a space as possible and stop them from leaving, thereby eliminating their right to free expression.

So far, Team A has suffered from a lack of training and equipment, as well as the fact that the rules were written by Team B, and breaches of even these rules are frequently ignored by the Federation International de Kettling Association, or “IPCC” as it is commonly known. For example, whilst Queensbury rules state that a sterile cordon can only be created in response to violence or breaches of public order, it is now routine for Team B to justify kettling in response to the perceived or imagined threats that these things may occur. This unsportsmanlike innovation means that some tactics previously used by Team A – such as not breaking the law – are unlikely to prevent Team B from kettling them anyway.

One thing that does play in Team A's favor is sheer numerical superiority. At it’s core, kettling is a struggle between a small, well equipped force trying to surround a much larger group. The principle is one which has been used throughout history, most notably by Hannibal at the battle of Cannae. By encircling his enemies within as tight a space as possible, Hannibal was able to create a front line where he actually outnumbered his opponents, despite their greater numbers, whilst simultaneously creating panic within their trapped ranks.

This is precisely the situation Team A wants to avoid. To do so, they should make good use of one simple concept that any GCSE biologists reading will be familiar with – surface area to volume ratio. The larger the space Team A occupies, the harder it will be for them to be kettled. At the beginning of a march this could mean starting at multiple rally points, or splitting up soon after setting off. It also means moving quickly, as a fast moving, albeit chaotic group covers more ground and occupies more space than a slow and orderly one. In fact, it makes sense to move unpredictably as this makes it harder for team B to spring an ambush, and also spreads the message to people who would not normally get to see dissent on their streets. In France, where this tactic has been popular for some time, it is sometimes called a “wild protest”

Team A might ultimately want to make their voice heard in a place of geographical significance – parliament square or Millbank for example. When this happens, Team A will probably get kettled. This may divide Team A into two groups, one inside and one outside of the kettle. Try to set up a secondary or tertiary rally point for groups outside of the kettle to converge at – this will prove useful later.

To best defend against the coming kettle, Team A should spread out as widely as possible within their rally space. This will both thin Team B's lines and create a more comfortable atmosphere for all involved. Depending on the situation, particularly on the number of people in Team A, Team B will either kettle geographically or physically. The former is the nicer kind of kettle, where there will be probably be lots of free space and individuals may even be allowed to leave freely, though not as a group. The latter tactic – sometimes known as “hyper-kettling” involves Team B crushing Team A into as tight a space as possible, using violence to squeeze people into an abnormally, sometimes dangerously cramped space. This is horrible.

To prevent hyper-kettling occurring, Team A should keep an eye on the body language and positions of Team B. Unlike Team A, who are free to do as they wish, Team B can only act under orders from one of their team captains, so if you see them moving in a group, putting on helmets, changing their stance or otherwise altering their behaviour, that means an order's been given. Try and ask yourself: what was that order? Was it part of a strategy? What will they do next?

If members of Team A see a kettle forming, the best thing to do is get beyond Team B's lines as quickly as possible. At the start of a kettle's formation these lines are usually weak and can be darted through. Shouting about the kettle is a good idea. Waiting for others to react to it isn't – the best way to convince others to leave is to lead by example. In any case, you will be more use outside than inside, as kettles are easier to break from the back of the line. Once out of the danger zone, use social media like Twitter and the new website to inform your teammates of what’s going on.

For those left inside the kettle, it is imperative Team A fills as much space as possible, quickly. Getting those around you to join in is vital. Grab onto people and link arms tightly to form chains and encourage others to do likewise. You could also sit down, though this makes it harder to push back against police lines, and it will be easy for the police to tighten their cordon should you at any point be forced to stand up. Indeed, Team B may be happy to kettle a crowd sat on freezing concrete for as long as that crowd is willing to stay sat still. Still, at least you'll have some space.

Whether you are in a physical or geographical kettle, Team A pros will only have one thing on their mind: breaking out. Breaking out is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of kettling, and freeing your teammates from an illegal and inhumane open prison is one of the most empowering things you can do as a player. To break out successfully, Team A must choose a weak spot in Team B's offense, pick the right moment, and then concentrate as much force as possible in that location. Good spots to target are places where the lines are only one or two glowsticks deep, or where more inexperienced members of Team B are playing. In London an organization called the Territorial Support Group are Team B's “A-Team”, to use a deliberately confusing metaphor. As well as the usual giveaways of riot shields and helmets, TSG members have a letter U on their lapels – this stands for “Utter fucking bellends”. The TSG is limited in size and for big games large numbers of other players – normal bobbies without riot training - will be brought off the subs bench. Keep an eye on who knows what their doing and who doesn't.

A good play from Team A will see them focusing their energy on a point where opposition players have the least direct access to their teammates – in a geographical kettle this might mean the edge of a line beside a wall or van, in a physical kettle it is simply the point furthest from reinforcements.

Timing is crucial. While it is generally best to wait until you can apply the maximum possible force to a weak point before rushing in, sometimes opportunities appear that are likely to be short lived. Acting swiftly and decisively in these situations can break the kettle.

The aim of focusing energy on one point is to create a gap in the line which can then be opened as wide as possible. One good way of doing this is to form a wedge or triangle shape, with the player at the front opening the space and allowing a fan of other players to spread it as they follow behind them. This is easier in geographic kettles than physical one, but in either case the structure will be more effective if players link arms and build momentum before reaching Team B's lines. Keep a look out for groups with home made shields, helmets and padding – they are likely to be looking for ways to break the kettle. You can help these Team A pros by allowing them to move through the crowd, then sticking close behind them.

If Team A has become split it can be very effective for those outside the kettle to push into Team B's lines from the outside whilst those within the kettle do the same from within. If a small group has escaped just as the kettle was forming they have the opportunity to put pressure on the kettle from the outside just when it is at its weakest. Keep in contact via phones, SMS, Twitter, Sukey etc. Also, use your eyes and ears – they may be old technology, but they’re surprisingly effective.

If all has gone according to plan, you will hopefully spend this Saturday breaking in and out of kettles across London. However, it’s not impossible that the day will end in a disheartening stalemate, with protesters being slowly dripped out of a kettle over many hours. Remember, in these situations the police do not have the right to take your details – not even your name – unless there has been a “Section 50” introduced. Officers WILL attempt to blag it. This includes straight out lying to you about their powers and threatening you with illegal arrest. Look around for a legal observer – these guys are awesome and will put the police in their place.

Finally, though kettling is a fun and addictive sport, it does have its dangers. Anarchish recommends you always wear the proper equipment while playing – knee and shoulder pads are recommended, and ideally a helmet as well. Carpet or foam can be used to provide extra padding underneath your clothes, which should be warm and comfy. Bring lots of food and water – I recommend “Mr. Tom” bars for food as they are cheap, lightweight, high in energy and fucking buff. Also, you can get them from most newsagents. Bringing extra food, water and hot drinks is a recipe for instant popularity.

Remember: kettling is not ultimately about stopping violence or disorder. It is about discouraging protest, about punishing people for having the audacity to stand up against the state. Do not give in to it. Be brave, be bold, be prepared - and play to win.

Friday 14 January 2011


Both the activist world and the mainstream media have been abuzz over the last few days with further revelations about the life and work of erstwhile cop and pretend climate protester Mark “Flash” Stone/Mark Kennedy. For those of you unaware of the saga, Mark was a policeman who worked undercover as an environmental activist between 2003 and 2009, at which point he was discovered and confronted. What has thrust the story into the public eye in the last 72 hours is the apparent change of heart Mark Kennestone has had, offering his services to the defence in the ongoing trial of activists who were mass arrested before a planned action against Ratcliffe-On-Soar power station - an arrest he helped make happen.

Activists have had a range of responses to the exposure of the traitor in our midst. This is understandable. As well as the political and legal implications, the movement must also think carefully about the effect his betrayal had on those who were closest to him, and who could still be very hurt by any further developments. However, over the last few days we have learned from the media that there is another, much overlooked human interest story in play here. What about Detective Mark Stone’s feelings? Shouldn't we as a movement do everything we can to care for the man's dented emotional well being? Indeed, considering the dramatic turn of events in the last few days, should we not ultimately feel grateful to have been part of Ken Flashedy's inspiring emotional journey?

Being an undercover policeman is a stressful line of work. Admittedly, it wasn’t as stressful for Flash Markstone as it would be for a snitch working amongst East End gangsters, the IRA or drug dealers, for all of whom the threat of a swift and merciless execution would be ever-present. Nor is it as stressful as actually being an activist, lying awake at night, wondering if you really have the strength and courage to change things, and whether those in power will succeed in ruining your life for trying. Still, it was probably really stressful. Day in, day out, living a lie, learning to hide your feelings, to fake your feelings, to forget which ones were really yours. Spending days and nights partying with people, laughing and chatting with them, getting close to them, gaining their trust, knowing the whole time you are betraying them. It must have been awful. And, at some point, Mark had a change of heart. Not the kind of change of heart where you give up your Government pay cheque, stop fucking over the people whom you’ve convinced you care about and actually take a stand. More the kind of change of heart where your actual behaviour doesn’t change in any way, in fact it gets worse, but you sort of feel bad about it secretly, then eventually make a minor, whiney, non-commital gesture, that costs you nothing long after the damage is done to make up for it. Considering what a remarkable turnaround this is, I think we, as a movement, should feel grateful to have been part of Ken Marky’s epic personal journey.

Of course, now that our former comrade has become our current comrade, there are a few things he should do for the movement in order to complete his quest for atonement. As a former undercover cop, Flash Stonedy has some pretty vital information about how insidious scumbags like him operate. Now is the time for Stoney Kennash to share that information with the world. I’m sure a lucrative public speaking career amongst private security firms, intelligence agencies and international police conferences is available to the former officer but, considering how bad he feels, I’m sure they will be of no interest. I'm also sure, considering the complex emotional journey the man has been on, selling his story to Max Clifford would be the last thing on his mind. Instead, I suggest he provides exactly those services, for no charge, to the international climate and anti-capitalist movements. After all, he’s on our side now.

Of course, Stash Koneddy might argue that his security could not be guaranteed at meetings of anarchists, greens and the broad left. I cannot argue with this. For some reason, there are a lot of people who want to kick his fucking head in. Luckily for him, and us, those expertise can be shared without him ever having to be in the same room as anyone who might wish him harm. Uploading his knowledge to blogs, writing articles for activist newspapers and making Youtube videos would all be excellent ways for Stark Mennedy to begin proving that his mumbled half apology and promise of help was more than yet another cynical lie crafted to protect himself at the expense of all around him. I look forward to it.