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It was beginning to get light as our seven-seater pulled into Aldermaston with our patchwork affinity group. I joked with Gabriel (who had 300 copies of PN): 10 points if you spot Angie Zelter, 8 points for Dan Viesnik… 7 for Martin Newell.
We parked up in the bungalow housing estate opposite the military base agreeing to rendezvous at 2pm or to assume unplanned arrest for a no-show.
We headed off. I was togged head-to-toe for worst-case Antarctic-fishing-boat weather conditions, five-year-old Tom was a power ranger superhero, and the others were in sensible non-conspicuous clothing.
I had loosely pledged my allegiance to Tadley, the faith-based gate, as I knew people who would be there (and I knew a tea tent was nearby).
The Dorothy Day affinity group had been blockading Tadley since 4am. The ground was moist from recent rain and it was easy to get cold within a few minutes . I managed to catch the eye of the irrepressible John Lynes; he seemed sanguine despite sitting there for three hours.
At the main gate, Fernando and I got chatting to a bunch of glittery Swedes blockading with tubes and a group of defiant Finns: they’d all come especially for the blockade. Some had been travelling up to five days on buses to be there.
We got the word that cars were going through Reading gate, a small usually-unused gate. The fence seemed to stretch on forever as did the long line of cars which were obviously spilling through one of the only entrance points. We finally reached the gate where three women were balancing a banner demanding “Make Cakes Not Bombs” on the small grassy verge. I felt powerless, as we were too few in number to make an impact or form any kind of intimidating blockade.
Then suddenly from behind us, like angels appearing from nowhere, a dozen teenage woodcraft folk zombies with a mobile sound system rolled up and wandered into the path of the gate. The police immediate declared the gate closed and started turning cars away!
After a good hour, the zombies requested a break to visit other gates but promised to return if needed; we swapped numbers just in case.
The atmosphere at the gate was jovial as we chatted and shared cake with police officers. The small group of 50-something ladies approached the officers as possibly their kids or grandchildren. We nicknamed our blockade “The Cake Gate” and posed with the banner in front of a line of good-humoured officers.
I shared with one officer the historical background of the Aldermaston walks and how the protest music and poetry which grew out of the walks in the late ’50s influenced the scene in Greenwich Village and the likes of Bob Dylan in the ’60s.
The atmosphere was slightly distrustful on both sides as if we were waiting for the other to change tack. Suddenly there was a lot of movement behind the gate; two stern-faced armed guards stepped out of a car.
A couple of police vans pulled up and replaced the officers whom we had befriended. Happily a few floating blockaders joined us. Then a two-piece brass band rolled up. Around 12 of us, mainly women, stood in front of the gate, swaying to dulcet brass as cars whizzed past and more police piled out of vans. It felt like an artificial calm before the storm. The Cake Gate had obviously been pinpointed as a weak point.
An inspector came over to us and said he was going to ask us to move out of the road. Fernando and I with three others promptly sat down and linked arms, the brass band broke into a rendition of Caravan.
It was an absurd scene: a ring of police towered over five blockaders, a banner demanded “Cakes not bombs”, and a two-piece brass band played stripped-down jazz classics.
Then, just as swiftly as they had appeared, the majority of the police filed away. The inspector reappeared to inform us they were closing the gate. We had again won the ground with our sparse numbers!