Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fellow Creatures


It’s well known that Madonna has declared herself a Kabbalist. The problem is in knowing what exactly she means by the term. What's a Kabbalist? As far as I know the last of the historical Kabbalists died out some time in the 16th century.

It turns out that what she is referring to is a contemporary hip-Jewish cult which has adopted the name of Kabbalism. In other words, what Madonna is is a "neo-Kabbbalist". What it has to do with original Kabbalism - how closely it follows the doctrines and practices of the medieval mystics who used that name - is another question, and one that we can never truly answer. I mean, even assuming they mimic every known activity, and read every text, would they really understand the milieu, the psycho-political background, in which the Kabbalists worked: a persecuted sect amongst a persecuted people in an era of fixed opinions and deep suspicion for anything that looked like intelligence or learning or that went against the orthodoxy of the time?

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Maybe Madonna will enlighten us some day.

But, it struck me: if Madonna and her associates can call themselves by the name of an obscure medieval sect, about which they know precious little - and other well-known people can call themselves by such names as Templars or Rosicrucians or Gnostics or Druids or Witches, or other names of other obscure hardly-known cults from the past, on which they then project all their own modern manners and ideas and preferences - then I can do the same. I can call myself by a name and declare myself to be it. I can make up a religion too.

So that’s what I will do now. I will now declare myself.

I am a Ranter.

Did you get that folks?


I am the twenty-first century equivalent of the spiritual-anarchistic dissident cult which flourished oh-so briefly in the first years after the end of the English Civil War and before the declaration of the Protectorate (between the defeat of the Levellers and the rise of the dictator Cromwell) and who probably never existed as such, except as a kind of lurid tabloid scare story to frighten Baptists with.


A Ranter.

Well they did exist. There were people who would be recognisable as Ranters, though they may not have described themselves in those terms. Sometimes they called themselves High Professors, sometimes High Attainers (if they called themselves anything at all); sometimes they referred to themselves as the Church of the Free Spirit. You might see them about ranting at the top of their voices - hence their name - giving impromptu sermons beneath oak trees, or in fields on common land, as itinerant preachers, often accompanied by bouts of uncontrollable swearing and blaspheming, declaring that everything is God and that sin had been abolished. Or gathering in pubs and ale-houses in urban centres throughout the land, ripping up bread and meat and swilling ale and calling it the equivalent of the Eucharist; being loud and hearty and gloriously drunk, singing lewd songs to the tune of the psalms while bowdlerising the lyrics; men and women both, being wantonly, lasciviously and openly carnal in full public view.

They never had an organisation as such. There never was a Ranter church or a Ranter party. They were a phenomenon of the time. Like seventeenth century hippies, say, or seventeenth century punks, seventeenth century ravers or seventeenth century mods, they just were: seventeenth century anarcho-spiritual revolutionaries in uproarious violation of all that was held sacred by the forces of Church and State.

The year is 1649. The Levellers - the revolutionary democrats of the New Model Army - had been defeated. The King had been tried and executed. The world was in turmoil. Everywhere there were prophets, there were rumours, there were seditious mutterings at secret meetings in the dead of night. Religious sects were springing up all over the place. It seemed like we were at the End of Time, as if the prophecies of the Revelation were coming true at last, as if, at any moment, Christ himself would ride into the land on a chariot of burnished fire, resplendent in his glory, to take over the Kingdom, to make it the Kingdom of God on this Earth, and to rule in God‘s name for all Eternity. No one knew what would happen.

At some point in the year Gerard Winstanley had declared a Commonwealth and set up the Digger community on St George’s Hill in Surrey, having written The True Leveller's Standard Advanced, the Digger’s manifesto, in which he stated, “In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury,” adding, “Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwells in man to govern the Globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher and Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anointing that ruled in the Son of Man, teacheth him all things.”

Get that? The spirit that anointed Jesus teaches every individual man within himself. Every man, every woman, is like Jesus. No need for teachers. No need for rulers. No need for priests. The Earth is a common treasury for all.

The Diggers were cast out of their self-created communal heaven by the forces of property and repression, chased out by the sword, violated, locked up and destroyed.

Revolutionary political and spiritual millenarianism was the ethos of the time.

There was a flurry of political and religious tracts, some of which were called Ranter.

The most powerful of these is the one known as the Fiery Flying Roll by Abeizer Coppe*, published in 1650, but written in state of high energy and expectation in 1649, after a series of revelations and visitations that had the poor befuddled writer stirring in perplexity, in awe and startled wonder.

These are the opening lines:

"My Dear One.

All or none.

Everyone under the Sun.

Mine own.

My most excellent Majesty (in me) hath strangely and variously transformed this form. And behold, by mine own Almightiness (in me) I have been changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trump.

And now the Lord is descended from Heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God.

And the sea, the earth, yea, all things are now giving up their dead. And all things that ever were, are, or shall be visible ― are the grave wherein the King of glory (the eternal, invisible Almightiness) hath lain as it were dead and buried.

But behold, behold, he is now risen with a witness, to save Zion with vengeance, or to confound and plague all things into himself; who by his mighty angel is proclaiming (with a loud voice) that sin and transgression is finished and ended, and everlasting righteousness be brought in with most terrible earth-quakes and heaven-quakes, and with signs and wonders following."

Get that?

"My most excellent Majesty (in me)..."

The spirit within...

"Hath strangely and variously transformed this form..."

Has touched the very flesh, the very shape and form of the being who is here writing...

"Mine own Almightiness (in me)..."

The Eternal Soul...

"Has risen with a vengeance... who by his mighty angel is proclaiming... that sin and transgression is ended..."

That there will be no more sin, but only joy and grace abounding, everlasting.

"And under all this terror, and amazement, there was a little spark of transcendent, transplendent, unspeakable glory, which survived, and sustained itself, triumphing, exulting, and exalting it self above all the fiends. And, confounding all the blackness of darkness (you must take it in these terms, for it is infinitely beyond expression.) Upon this the life was taken out of the body (for a season) and it was thus resembled, as if a man with a great brush dipped in whiting, should with one stroke wipe out, or sweep off a picture upon a wall, &c. After a while, breath and life was returned into the form again. Whereupon I saw various streams of light (in the night) which appeared to the outward eye, and immediately I saw three hearts (or three appearances) in the form of hearts, of exceeding brightness; and immediately an innumerable company of hearts, filling each corner of the room where I was. And methoughts there was variety and distinction, as if there had been several hearts, and yet most strangely unexpressably complicated or folded up in unity. I clearly saw distinction, diversity, variety, and as clearly saw all swallowed up into unity. And it hath been my song many times since, within and without, unity, universality, universality, unity, Eternal Majesty, &c. And at this vision, a most strong, glorious voice uttered these words: The spirits of just men made perfect. The spirits, &c. with whom I had as absolute, clear, full communion, and in a twofold more familiar way, than ever I had outwardly with my dearest friends and nearest relations. The visions and revelations of God and the strong hand of eternal invisible almightiness was stretched out upon me, within me, for the space of four days and nights without intermission."

Get that? Get that? Read it again if you don't. Just be clear how profound these visions are, and ask yourself where, exactly they are coming from.

These were the revelations spilling out from the sons of men in these day, profound and disturbing and proof, if any were needed, of the reality of the divine presence and of its revolutionary intent.

So the Ranters existed, but, unlike the Levellers - who were an organised political party springing from the New Model Army, with a structure and a leadership and a set of demands - they were just a few scattered individuals speaking in tongues of the turmoil of the world. They represented the seditious murmerings of the defeated democrats, turned in on themselves - turned to millenarian dreams of an immanent and imminent God - on the threshold of awareness, on the doorstep of existence, just waiting to burst asunder our fallen and defeated world. They called for the end of religion and talked of the indwelling spirit whom thy named Christ in Man. One of their slogans was “All is Well,” another “All is Ours.” They whistled and danced and sang and called for drink and tobacco. To the pure all things are pure, they said. There is no such thing as sin. They called their God the Being, the Fullness, the Great Motion, Reason or the Immensity. And when they meet in the street or in the Ale-House bar they would hail one another as Fellow Creature.

These were times not unlike our own.

The whole world was going crazy.


Actually, saying that - saying “I am a Ranter!” - has been a liberating experience for me.

I hate to be labelled.

Those of you who have followed my career will know that I’ve spent over ten years following the Druids about, having written at least three books featuring Stonehenge and its recent history and the history of modern Druid culture. I even have a Druid robe. It’s blue and white with a parchment design on the front with a quill pen writing the words (as a copy of my own handwriting) “Once upon a time”.

Carrie de Fey made it for me. I had it made because while I was writing King Arthur’s book with him he insisted that I wear a robe, and I wanted something a little more individual than the simple white nightie that the rest of the Druids wore.

It’s lovely.

Unfortunately I never wear it.

I’m not a Druid.

A friend, knowing of my interest in pagan culture, asked me what it was all about. So I told her.

“Paganism is to religion what anarchism is to politics,” I said.

It’s the people’s religion, I said. No need for priests. We make our own rules. We make our own rituals. We mark our own critical times in our lives - our own births and marriages and deaths - in our own way, and we make our own peace with the god or goddess of our own choosing in our own terms.

Hence there’s a kind of absurdity in anyone wanting to be a Druid. Druids are, by their own assertion, pagan priests and "pagan priests" are a logical contradiction since no such thing can exist.

I have to admit, I’m a kind of priest myself, however. Not a pagan priest. Priest by persuasion rather than by profession. Priest by nature, meaning I take everything too seriously, even my own jokes. An atheist priest. Priest of the proletariat. High priest of the holy hell-raisers, drinking a toast to mine - and your - soul.

My friend said, “so is that what you are then, a pagan?”

I was faintly embarrassed.

“No,” I said, “I’m an anarchist,” and then hated myself for saying that too.

You name yourself as anything and it’s immediately sad. It immediately throws up contradictions.

I’ve given myself all sorts of names in the past. I’ve been a hippie, a punk, a socialist, a communist, an anarchist, a half-hearted Druid, a drunk, a wanker, a writer.

A pagan priest is a contradiction in terms, since paganism is the religion of the people and the people don‘t need priests. Priests are, by definition, ideologists of the State.

The nearest I ever came to adopting a label was when someone told me what pantheism means.

I think I can accept the term pantheist.

A pantheist is someone who believes that everything is God. God is everywhere, in everything, immanent and magnificent, earthly and mundane, a part of our world. Thus a pantheist can be an atheist, a materialist, a humanist, a deist, a creationist, an evolutionist, a scientist, a priest, a believer, a disbeliever, a Gnostic and an agnostic all at the same time. He or she is all of these things and none of them. A gnostic agnostic: someone who knows what he doesn't know.

It’s the only logical solution.

The Ranters were the first self-professed pantheists in modern history. Therefore I am a Ranter.

See, I’ve said it again, so it must be true.

I am a Ranter.

Hail Fellow Creatures!


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meet Paradox

Time and Telepathy and the Galactic Big Issue.

Here in the dusty industrial heartland of London’s East End something extraordinary is happening. They’re instituting a revolution. But not a revolution with guns: a revolution with consciousness. A revolution in time.

Meet Paradox, Galactic Federation Agent and Earth Wizard, the man leading the Time and Telepathy workshop.

He wasn’t always a Galactic Federation Agent, of course, and he wasn’t always called Paradox. He used to sell the Big Issue. And before that he was an Advertising Executive earning seventy grand a year. He had it all by the time he was 34: a house, a family, a high-powered job; £10 million worth of clients, two offices, and thirty staff under him. Used to drive an Alpha Romeo. The slickest suits. Cool and in control. And he gave all this up to live in a park and sell the Big Issue.

Crazy? Well yes. Crazy and beautiful. Crazy like a poet or an artist.

It was like this. He was becoming disillusioned with the nine to five and the drudgery of time. Maybe he had everything he had always wanted, but he was still unfulfilled. He started to question it. And then he heard Bill Hicks say that if you’re in advertising you should kill yourself. He took two weeks off work, and that’s when it happened. One day he woke up and there was just this sense of perfect grace in the room - in the sunlight, in the air - this presence close by him, and there was a shiver of ecstasy like the breath of a summer breeze on all his senses, this telepathic tickle (as he describes it now) as if the Earth was a goddess and she was making love with him, and he knew that THIS was what he wanted, not THAT: that there was more to life than just work and money.

He had thirteen of these epiphanies in the space of two weeks. Thirteen laughing erotic orgasmic encounters with the goddess. Yes!

Later he went to live in Battersea Park, and to sell the Big Issue. His wife left him. (Who can blame her for that? She’d married a man earning £70,000 a year, and now here he was saying he wasn’t interested in money.) But this was his life now: living in a park beneath the trees, hearing the sweet stirrings of nature all around, the dappled sun peeking through the leaves. That first morning he woke up singing “Oh what a beautiful morning!” It was the best thing he ever did.

And that was the beginning of his performance career too, selling the Big Issue. He says, “if you ever want to be a performer, sell the Big Issue.” There he was, on Victoria Street, talking to anyone and everyone, giving this high-energy, rocket-fuel performance, brandishing the magazine like a sword or a poem. And that’s what he felt like then, a warrior poet: a warrior poet embracing the Earth. Living life by luck and by grace, as a gift from the Universe. He once sold 20 copies in 25 minutes. Is this a record?

So now he was writing poetry as well, shot-from-the-hip-hop performance poetry - dancing, delicious, radiating poetry with the syncopated rhythm of the street - taking it to the open mike night at the Foundry on Old Street, rapping out his close encounters with the goddess in an ecstatic tumble of words. Now THIS was life. A creative life. A life like we all ought to live.

It was July 2003 when he made his assignation with Time, was decoded (as he says) and learned what it was really all about: when he first read Dr. Jose Arguelles’ books and learned what he was really on Earth to do.

And now, here he is, in a steamy warehouse on an industrial estate near Puddle Lane in the East End of London, on a hot August afternoon: decoding the Universe as an Accelerated-Conscious-Evolution-Through-Telepathy trainer, with a bunch of crazy seekers for the truth, where this writer met him, only for the second time.

This writer was more than an hour early, of course, such is his imperfect grasp of the Laws of Time and Telepathy. And then he went for breakfast, and was half-an-hour late getting back. It takes a befuddled brain of near genius to be both early and late for the same meeting.

So that’s the revolution that Paradox and his friends are promoting: a revolution in the measurement of time, informed by the work of Dr. Jose Arguelles: a creative people’s campaign to institute calendar reform, from the old, twelve month irregular calendar of 28, 29, 30 and 31 days, to a new 13 month, 28 day calendar, with one day left over. The Day Out of Time - July 25th of every year. The New Year begins on July 26th, when the star-sun Sirius-B rises in conjunction with the sky.

In the old system, anyone can tell you that the date is Sunday, September 17th, 2006, say. But what does this mean? Do you know what day of the week October 17th will be? Or what day of the week August 17th was? Or what day September 17th 1953 was? Or What day September 17th 2012 will be?

In the new calendar every month starts on a Monday, and every month is four weeks long, which means the 17th of the month is always Wednesday. Every month is a moon (which is where the word “month” originally comes from).

If we were to institute a new measurement of distance, say, would we make our calibrations of different lengths, so that one metre was divided into 97 centimetres, while another was divided into 103? Or: one foot contains 11 inches, while another contains 9 and a 1/4? That’s exactly what our calendar system does.

The word “calendar” comes from the Latin “kalendarium” meaning “account book”. The kalends was the first day of each Roman month, when the interest from loans was due. In other words, the old calendar represents a measurement of Time as Money. The new calendar represents Time as Art.

The year from July 26th 2004 was declared “the year of the great calendar change”. The Day Out of Time is now an official holiday in over 70 Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo, the 2nd largest city of the world.

The “telepathy” part of the process comes from living to an ordered, accelerated rhythm according to the natural cycles of the Moon.

As we were meant to live. In harmony with the Earth, not in contention with her.


For more information on the Time & Telepathy workshops go to:

For more information on the “Thirteen Moon Peace Calendar” go to:

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Born-Again Bikers

Driving used to be a pleasure.

Right now I'm inching forward in first gear, watching the tail lights of the car in front flicker on and off, tasting the traffic fumes like bitter porridge, steaming in this damp, heavy heat, seeing yet another red light up ahead, yet another set of road works, waiting, waiting - moving - waiting. Where's the pleasure now?

And then the motorbikes are skimming by, dodging through the traffic, weaving in and out with uncanny agility, and I'm watching them with a combination of resignation and faint resentment, watching them move up to the front of the jam. And then they're off when the lights change - like that! - with a snarl or a growl, off into the distance. That's when it strikes me. Driving to them - or riding, rather - is still a pleasure.

I'm on my way to the Ace Cafe on the old North Circular Road, just off Hangar Lane in Stonebridge, London. Back in the '50s and '60s the Ace was the archetypal biker caff. On a Saturday evening thousands would turn up here, from all over. They'd sit around in the steamy cafe and drink tea and smoke fags. Or they'd be hanging around in the car-park, "shooting the breeze", talking about bikes usually, offering advice, asking questions, bragging, joshing, having fun. And then there were the races. West to Hangar Lane and back. Or East to what was then the Neasden roundabout (it's an underpass now), doing the ton along the S-bends through the iron bridges. A lot of bikers were killed. Only they weren't called bikers then. They weren't even called Rockers in the early days. They were "the Lads".

The Ace closed down in 1969. It was the end of an era. Young people could afford cars now. Why ride around on a dirty old bike, when you can sit in comfort and listen to music? Or if you wanted a bike it was more likely to be Japanese. You don't wear black leather on a Japanese bike. You wear an all-in-one jump-suit, bright like an ice-cream sundae. The demise of the Ace cafe reflects the loss of interest in motorbikes as a means of transport and the decline of the British Motorcycle Industry. The few bikers left on the road, the old-fashioned sort - the die-hards - were seen as an anachronism, as faintly ludicrous somehow. Most of the Lads had settled down. They had jobs, wives, mortgages. They drove whatever cars they could afford, to work and back. After that the cafe building had a variety of other uses. Recently it was a tyre place. But since December 1997 it's been the Ace Cafe again, once more a hangout for bikers.

In 1960 there were 1.5million registered motorcycles on the road, but by the mid 1990s that figure had fallen to it’s lowest point ever: to 594,000. Since then the figures have been rising again.

1998 saw the highest motorcycle sales for 12 years. In all, 120,416 bikes were sold that year, a 36% rise over the previous year. By 2003 the number of bikes veering and swerving along British roads had risen to over 1 million. Biking is back, and in a big way. More teenagers are riding bikes. More women. More young men. And - less surprisingly perhaps - more older men too, men in their forties or fifties, greying, balding, going back to biking after all these years, or taking to bikes for the first time, looking for something "out-there" they no longer find in their ordinary lives. These are the "born-again" bikers. A phenomenon.

I pull into the side road next door to the Ace. I don't want to risk trying to park up in the car-park. Too many bikes. Rows and rows of them, gleaming in the sunlight. Every kind of bike. Old British bikes - Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs - lovingly restored, gorgeously polished. BMWs, all growling efficiency. Trikes. These are customised monsters, really cut-down cars with handlebars instead of a steering wheel. Harley-Davidsons, with their distinctive, low-slung shape, the epitome of American cool. Japanese bikes. The other riders call these "plastic rockets" or "plastic missiles". The British bike owners call them "Jap Scrap". Which is ironical given that these bikes always were more efficient - faster and more reliable - than their British equivalents. Hence the demise of the British Motorcycle Industry.

I must admit I'm intimidated at first. What am I doing here, pulling up in a car? I know nothing about bikes. And bikers always had a certain reputation. Well they just look hard in all that black leather. I quickly get out and cross the forecourt to get a cup of tea. Then I sit down outside hoping that as few of them as possible have seen the connection. I'm trying to deny all responsibility for that nondescript vehicle parked up in the alleyway nearby.

There's a middle aged couple just arrived. The woman sits down and pulls off her jacket, but she's still got her leather trousers on. It's blazing hot and you can almost see her legs melting.

Later I'm sitting indoors cooling off, when a kind-faced old chap comes in to pick up his leathers. He's talking about his bike. He's saying it's no good on the motorway. "It was designed for the North Circular," he says. "It only wants to go at fifty-five. I can push it up to eighty, for overtaking. But then I have to keep listening to it to make sure nothing has broken."

I say, "do you come here every week?"

"Yes," he said, "of course. The wife knows it's my drug. Luckily I've done a lot of work this week, putting up shelves, so she didn't mind me coming out. But she knows I couldn't live without it."

And then he's wrapping the white silk scarf around his neck and pulling on his helmet, pressing in all the studs on his heavy-weight jacket up to his neck, slipping the goggles over his eyes. Anonymous. From a kindly old chap to a deadly-looking biker with the aid of a few studs.

Outside the bikers are posing about. It's part of the scene. There's a couple of young Rockers with their Triumphs. They can't be much more than twenty years old, but they've got the Rocker style off to a tee. Slicked back hair with a quiff. White tee shirt. Key chain hanging from their belts, and the obligatory handkerchief tucked into the back pocket. Most of the Rocker style has a practical basis. The handkerchief is there so you can wipe your hands after fiddling with your bike.

Later I'm talking to Colin. He's in his forties, perhaps, with close cropped, thinning hair. Without his leathers he doesn't look at all like a biker. He looks like a shop keeper. Which is what he is, in fact. He owns a shoe shop.

He rides a Harley-Davidson. He's been riding for about a year now, which makes him a true born-again. I say, "so what is it about bikes?"

"That's easy," he says, with a certain sparkle. "Got rid of the wife. Bought a bike."

I want to know why he rides a Harley. "It's the old posing thing," he says. "The louder the better. People turn round with a Harley. And women like 'em too. Loads of birds."

Meanwhile the young Rockers are set to go. They've got their girls with them, also dressed in fifties style, but with added twenty-first century accoutrements, like nose-studs. They're pulling on their helmets, fastening their jackets. Part of the ritual. And then they kick start the bikes and there's a juddering roar. The girls climb up on pillion (some things don't change) and they're off. Now I understand where the expression "just for kicks" comes from. Kick starting the bike is the prelude to the fun.

And then I speak to Womble. He's a proper old biker, shaved head and shades, leather jerkin and grease-stained jeans. "Third generation biker," he says. "My Dad was a Rocker. Mind you, I can't get him down here. I even offered to drive. He won't leave the East End anymore."

Mark, the proprietor comes up, collecting empty cups. Mark is a Rocker, with all the gear. Slicked back hair and sleeveless jacket. He says, "I'm doing my waitressing bit."

"So where's your pinnie?" asks Womble.

"I save that for the bedroom."

"Yes. That's what I'd heard," quips Womble, archly.

And they both laugh.

There's a couple of trikes pulling in. One of them is a cut-down VW driven by a middle-aged geezer with a pony-tail, wearing a camouflage jump suit. No helmet. You don't have to wear a helmet with a trike. He's in his fifties at least. Bikers can get away with anything, it seems, and it doesn't matter how old you are.

His name is Dave.

His trike is a work-of-art, electric blue with glistening chrome. And the sound! A nasal grumble, like a deep-hearted growl in the bowels of the Earth.

Dave is the laid-back sort of biker. Easy-rider rather than the Wild One, with a neat goatee and grey hair. Very calm and clear-eyed.

I said, "what do you call yourself? Are you a biker?"

"Not by profession," he said.

Said he'd been a biker in his youth. Started in '59 or '60, but sold his last bike in '65. After that it was the mortgage thing. Wife, kids, job. (He's a surveyor). But then he'd taken to bikes again ten years ago. So he's not-quite born-again anymore. I asked him what it was about biking.

"It's the camaraderie," he said. "You meet some really nice people on a bike. If you're anywhere on the side of the road and a bike goes by, nine times out of ten he'll stop to see if you're all right. You don't get that with car drivers. It's also a cowboy thing. Like you're an outcast, riding off into the sunset."

He's a member of the N----riders Motorcycle Club. Most bikers belong to one club or another. (Womble is a Celtic Warrior.) And that's maybe where the strongest appeal lies. Riding off in a pack to some long weekend, hundreds and hundreds of bikes. The roar of the engines. The hiss of the road. Dave was talking about a cafe he used to go to, on the road to Margate. "There was a dip in the road, so you'd hear this roar before you saw the bikes. And then it was like the Ghengis Khan hordes coming out of the East. And you could be part of that."

Anyway, back to the conversation with Womble. He tells me a story about his 8 year old daughter, how they were at a rally, and she was sitting up by the fire. It was very late, and someone came up to talk to her.

"Does your dad know your up this late?" he said. "Only if you was my daughter I'd be worried about you."

"But these are all bikers," she said, indicating around. "I'm safe with bikers. They'll look after me."

"I nearly cried when I heard that," says Womble.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fairford Disarmers Update

Dr. Margaret Jones & Paul Milling outside Bristol Crown Court.



Robbie Manson (solicitor) 07812 681 083

Margaret Jones 07804 464 014
(or 0117 94 66 885 BEFORE 9.00 am)

Paul Milling 07769 - 665235

A judge at Bristol Crown Court has ordered a re-trial in the case of two peace activists charged with damaging military equipment to stop planes taking off. After a day and a half of debate, the jury failed to reach any clear verdict.

Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage after disabling several dozen bomb carrying and fuel vehicles at RAF Fairford in March 2003. They were attempting to hinder take-off of 14 B-52 planes to bomb Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion. Milling and Jones say this was a bid to delay the planes’ departure for Baghdad and give more people time to flee the city – thus protecting property and helping to prevent war crime.

The trial begins next week at the same court, of Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch, charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage for trying to reach and disable a B-52 bomber at Fairford.


Here is an article I wrote for the Big Issue at the time concerning this case.


Would you break the law and go to prison to protest against the war in Iraq? CJ Stone met a woman who has...

Big Issue, March 31st-April 6th 2003

In a leaked memorandum a couple of weeks ago, around the time that the so-called Shock and Awe campaign was underway in Baghdad, Richard Sambrook, a senior BBC executive, warned programme makers against broadcasting too much of the protests and "attracting some of the more extreme anti-war views."

In other words, a campaign of mass trauma, on a population of several million, has to be considered as "moderate", while people opposing the campaign and attempting to defend the civilian population are labelled "extreme".

Dr Margaret Jones, 53, a freelance writer, anti-war protester and member of Trident Ploughshares, is a most unlikely extremist. She’s well-spoken, polite, middle class, cultured, well-read, and highly motivated. In fact, she’s one of the most moderate sounding extremists I have ever met.

I visited her in Holloway Prison, where she was on remand for conspiracy to commit criminal damage and aggravated trespass, for an action which took place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on the 13th of March. In fact, along with Quaker activist and peace campaigner Arthur Paul Milling (known as Paul), she cut her way into the base, and, armed with hammers, spikes and cutting tools, managed to effectively disable as many as thirty to thirty five support vehicles, including low-loaders, oil tankers and bomb transporters, by cutting hydraulic lines and brake pipes, slashing tyres and smashing dials and windows. Possibly more than £50,000 worth of damage was committed between them.

She denies none of it.

Fairford, of course, is where the B52 bombers responsible for "Shock and Awe" are based. Protests around the base have been increasing as the war continues. In fact more than 3,000 people attended a rally at the gates on Saturday 22nd March 2003, with a huge police presence, including riot police and horses, and more are planned for the future.

Margaret intends to plead "lawful excuse" for the action. Lawful excuse is the provision within law to commit a crime either to stop a greater crime, or to defend someone in danger of their life. The example she gave to illustrate this was of a baby in a burning building. A rescuer might have to kick down a door to enter the building - a criminal act, of course - but has the lawful excuse that the damage was necessary in order to save the baby’s life. The lawful excuse in the case of the Fairford action arises: firstly from the fact that the war in Iraq has no legal basis in International Law, and is therefore illegal, and secondly that some lives may have been saved as a consequence of what they did.

As Margaret said, "if we have saved even one person’s life, then it was worth it."

It’s amazing how relaxed she seemed, considering that conspiracy to commit criminal damage is such a serious offence. It is the conspiracy part of the charge that carries most weight, and there is no upper limit to the length of imprisonment a judge can pass down. But Margaret is, at least in her own mind, prepared for the worst. As she said, she practices something she called "creative pessimism", meaning, it is better to expect the worst and be surprised if things work out better than you had expected, than to expect the best and risk major disappointment. Consequently she was preparing herself for a possible long period of incarceration, practicing yoga, reading a biography of Ghandi (who himself spent time in prison) and rationing her TV to the news in the evening.

She has also done a good job spreading her views amongst the other prisoners. During exercise she took to wearing a small poster pinned to her lapel. "No War!" it said. The guards paid no attention, but several of the prisoners commented. Mostly they agreed with her, and one or two came up to shake her hand. Even when prisoners disagreed, it allowed her the opportunity to discuss the issues. One prisoner came away from such a conversation having changed her mind.

There is something profoundly comforting and reasonable in her demeanour. It’s like she’s taking you into her confidence. Even the US guards on the air force base would have sensed this. They were startled, of course, possibly frightened, at finding the two of them there, amidst all the mayhem of broken trucks. The guards were armed to the teeth, and the protesters could easily have been mistaken for terrorists. It might have gone seriously wrong. But once Margaret starts to talk, it’s like you are being lulled by her good sense. She saw the armed soldier in front of her, not as an enemy, but as precisely what he was: an ordinary young man, and spoke to him as such, in a kindly, understanding tone, detailing not the specifics of what she had done (she wanted them to have to pull all the vehicles out of commission while they were being checked) but the extent. Later they were passed on to the Gloucestershire police.

She has since been released on bail, under curfew, having promised not to engage in any more such actions until her trial. But it’s remarkable how little coverage there has been in the national press, despite the fact that such protests are continuing around the country.

When I asked her what her motivations were for risking her freedom in such a way, she quoted the nineteenth century American writer, Henry David Thoreau at me: "Make of your life a counter-friction to stop the machine." And while neither her nor her co-defendant, Paul Milling, would want to incite others to take such actions, they did offer a possible alternative. As Paul Milling said: "if people agree with us, and they want to do something to stop this war, there’s one simple thing they can do: stop buying American products. Because the US government are manipulated by US industry. So if you want to buy a car, don’t buy a Ford, don’t buy a Vauxhall. Not going into McDonalds, not buying Coke, it will make a huge difference."

After I left Margaret in Holloway I stopped off at King’s Cross for a pint. Someone leapt at me in the street, wanting to shake my hand.

"I just saw you in Holloway," he said. "You were talking to the political prisoner."

"That’s right, do you know her?"

"No," he said, "but my daughter is in there. I just want to say that we both agree with what she’s doing." And he gave me a double thumbs-up sign to indicate his approval.

The Stop the War Coalition website is at:

The Reclaim the Bases (responsible for organising protests at Fairford and other bases) website is at:


Following is an unpublished piece, also about the case.

While the Hutton inquiry raised a number of interesting questions about the conduct of the government in the months before and after the invasion of Iraq, one essential question remained outside of its remit. This was the question of whether the war was actually legal in the first place.

Now, in an unprecedented case, this issue is to be addressed by a High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Butterfield, in the unlikely setting of Bristol Crown Court: not normally the scene of such weighty deliberations on matters of national and international importance.

Big Issue readers will remember an interview in March last year with Dr Margaret Jones, at the time on remand in Holloway prison. Dr Jones, and her associate, Birmingham Quaker Paul Milling - both members of the direct action, anti-war organisation Trident Ploughshares - had been discovered inside RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on the evening of the 13th of March 2003, having spent more than two hours cutting fences, evading the guards and disabling a number of support vehicles for the B52 bombers: smashing the dials and windscreens of three fuel tankers, losing the ignitions keys down a drain, putting grinding paste and sand into the fuel tanks of some low-loaders, and cutting the brake pipes of a significant number of trolley units used to transport the bombs.

They came heart-stoppingly close to being caught several times while they were inside the base. At one point they were underneath the trolley units, watching as a pair of American army boots marched by only a few inches from their faces. Another time, while they were cutting razor wire to get into the part of the base that housed the bombers, the headlights of a jeep flashed over their huddled forms; but whoever it was in the cab seemed not to want to notice them.

When they were finally arrested - by a startled US serviceman with a gun - they handed him statements declaring the war on Iraq to be illegal. Dr Jones was particularly complimentary of the young American’s presence of mind.

“He looked absolutely freaked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone so upset in my life.”

As she pointed out, they were prepared, he wasn’t. “He didn’t know how many we were, if we were violent, if we were IRA, if we were al-Queda. There could have been hundreds of us in the bushes, but he kept his gun pointed at the ground.”

Both of them were passed on to the RAF police and charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage. Once arrested they were asked if they considered themselves to be terrorists.

“I found that easy to answer,” Dr Jones said. “My response was, well if you want to talk about terrorists, shall we talk about George Bush?”

They were also asked if they hated Americans. Again Dr Jones found the question easy to answer, having taught in the States. In fact, she says, the reason she wasn’t upset by the serviceman when he arrested them was because she identified him as exactly the sort of young person she had dealt with in her previous life.

“I do genuinely like Americans,” she said.

Subsequently three other peace activists, Toby Olditch, Phil Pritchard and Josh Richards, were also charged with similar offences. None of them have denied any of the charges.

Instead they have called upon a number of rarely used arguments in English Law, specifically the defence of lawful excuse under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, the defence of acting to prevent a crime, under the Criminal Law Act 1967, and the defence of necessity, which can be used in all criminal charges except murder. Put very simply, all three defences allow the notion of committing a crime in order either to save lives, or to stop a greater crime.

Dr. Jones gave a particularly graphic example: “If somebody is locked in a house and the house is set on fire, if you rescued that person from being burned alive, nobody would come after you and say you committed a crime in kicking the door in or cutting it down with an axe. So we are arguing lawful excuse. All right, we committed what would technically be a crime, but what we did was justified because the crime of the war on Iraq was so much greater, and we were trying to prevent that crime. That the small nominally criminal actions that we did were designed to prevent this monstrous crime of bombing Iraq.”

There will be a preliminary hearing in late January or early February, while the main trial of Jones and Milling will take place on March the 8th.

It is the preliminary hearing that is the most significant and unprecedented, as it will impinge upon the trials of all five defendants. Before any trial can take place, Mr. Justice Butterfield has to consider a number of tricky issues: including, firstly, whether the war was unlawful under international law, and then, consequently, whether it was illegal under UK domestic law, as both questions are central to the defence case. A number of international law experts will be called upon to give their opinions. If the Judge then decides that there is any question at all of the war’s illegality, then it opens up the possibility of allowing several important defence witnesses to be brought before the jury.

Meanwhile Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are preparing themselves for any eventuality.

Paul is busy clearing up all the outstanding odd jobs he still owes to the Quaker community in Birmingham, while Margaret is practising her yoga.

What is most impressive about both of them is the sanguine way they treat the possibility of long-term incarceration.

As Paul says: “The way I see it, if you think something is morally wrong, and there isn’t time to do anything about it legally, then you’ve got an obligation to do it illegally. And if that means you’re going to go down, you’re going to go down.”

To which Dr. Jones adds: “whichever way it goes we feel very comfortable with what we did. We know where the real criminals are, and it‘s not us.”


Conspiracy Theory

All the President's Men.

Tony Blair, responding to questions about leaked reports that he had had to refrain George Bush from bombarding the al-Jazeera TV station, said, “but honestly, I mean, conspiracy theories...”

Yes, we know what he means.

Read more here.