THE BRITISH CIVIL WAR OF 2007
Some may say that this is not a suitable time to record my memoirs, as history changes the further into the past it recedes. But, as one of the few survivors of the Battle of Chester, I want my memories to be recorded whilst they are still fresh, vivid and painful, not smudged by retrospective glossing.
And who am I? My name is not Nigel, but that will do as a nom de plume. Perhaps, in twenty years time, when what I write about is history, rather than recent world headline news, then my real identity can be revealed. But, then again, perhaps not.
I had better start at the beginning, at least to set the scene for my small part in the drama. But, when did IT commence? Some media pundits were building theories back to 1945, before the total news blackout removed their talking heads from public view. Pretty much everyone blamed Maggie Thatcher; well you would, wouldn't you?
To my mind, the earliest tremors of what became an earthquake, were there to feel by the turn of the new millennium. Broad based disillusion with all organised politics; localised but hot anger about British military involvement in other peoples overseas problems, especially in the Middle East; estrangement between town and wellie over rural pursuits; the irrelevance of faiths in the face of the Cult of Minor Celebrity.
By late 2005, you most certainly could sense the polarisation of social divides, without the need for a Richter machine. The re-election of Tony Blair and his minions by the clearest minority of the population in history; petrol up to 10 a gallon; raFIDly increasing unemployment as a direct consequence of that and bankruptcy; the collapse in house values and escalating homelessness from repossessions. A potent mixture of woes that was in desperate need of a strong, generally acceptable National leader to sort apart before an explosion.
Unfortunately, the only vaguely qualified person, The Queen, died, allegedly of natural causes, on New Years Day, 2006. Rumours of regicide were being voiced, and not just by the lunatic fringes, even before The State Funeral. A national day of mourning turned out to be a cold, wet, dismal affair. Which may have helped the Anarchist Parties cause. Nobody paid too much attention to the small group of hooded people waiting on The Mall, mixing with the subdued crowds. Not until they rushed over the barriers at the walking Royals and shot William and Harry, dead.
The Anarchists official press statement, released by Serbian Television, apologised for missing their real target, widely assumed to have been Prince Charles, but not actually claimed to be. In the rush of civil liberty restrictions imposed after the debacle, "in the interest of National Security", there was little opportunity for the public to have a voice about their new King, and Queen Camilla, enthroned in a private, but televised, ceremony from a secret location.
A few protests were held, nothing like the later mass riots, and passed off by the security forces as boisterous celebratory street parties. At this stage, the average person was even prepared to carry the photo-identity cards that were introduced under the regulations.
Perhaps some sort of stability might have emerged, but for the European Union Referendum vote held in July 2006. This was postponed to the latest opportunity allowable, but the preliminary debate and discussions were heavily restricted and censored. There were numerous noisy public meetings, all dispersed by the police, after which, for the first time, not all the participants could be accounted for.
Announcement of the final result was delayed for nearly 3 days, as I recall, which added to the uncertainty and suspicions, so that the announcement, when it was made, of a large majority in favour of the EU constitution was greeted with incredulity. Not just from the expected europhobes, but many different and usually incompatible points on the political spectrum.
Smouldering frustration and general discontent was fanned into localised fire storms by the soccer World Cup. Beckham's England team was knocked out of the competition by their old adversaries, the Germans, after a shockingly inept penalty decision by a French referee. Most of the larger English cities endured a few nights of drunken fights by dischuffed fans, but in Manchester the authorities completely lost control of the central area for nearly a week. Order, or at least central government control, was only restored by armed police and the unrestricted use of their weapons, leaving an unclear number of dead and injured, and the first large concentration of missing persons.
Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Well, sort of; actually a number of different people and some of them female. Considering the rigorous media censorship supposedly in place, how did we know about these happenings? Apparently uncoordinated campaigns of civil disobedience emerged. A series of heavy goods vehicle "snail trails" convoys brought the highways to a standstill, using tactics perfected in 2000, demanding cheaper fuel. Wildcat strikes happened in almost every type of workplace, including hospital and prisons. Food deliveries were spasmodic, especially in the London region, with supermarkets being stormed by angry shoppers. A splinter group from the small retailers federation started to not pay their tax, national insurance and VAT returns, an idea that caught on very quickly.
For me, the defining moment was the appearance of underground press articles about the Missing Men of Manchester. A painstaking and highly dangerous investigation by three women, sacked from the Manchester Evening News, tracked the 350 or so males to a heavily guarded compound in Wiltshire. They had been interned, without legal representation or trial, as threats to National Security; an English Guantanamo Bay. Estimates of the total number of detainees went up to nearly the thousand mark, as those unaccounted for from previous protest were added in.
This blatant affront to personal freedom by an unrepresentative elected dictatorship prompted me to withhold my taxes, and join the street marches. Which was pleasant enough during the early Autumn heat wave, at least while the water and sewage systems were working. A combination of drought, union disputes, sabotage and decades of government indifference culminated in the taps drying up in October. Hysterical rantings and riots were daily occurrences as people queued for imported bottles brought by escorted convoy. Electric supplies faltered as the river levels fell, depriving the power stations of coolant. Being a protester was much less pleasant then, but I was still up for it, as were thousands of others.
The implementation of Martial Law on my thirtieth birthday, 1 October 2006, must have been carefully planned for weeks, because it went so smoothly. Armed police and service personnel were everywhere, checking FID's , sorry photo-identity cards, against the lists of suspected anarchists to be detained. Entry to the food and water warehouses was monitored, as were hospitals, public transport, road junctions, everywhere. Which is how I came to be trapped in Chester.
I had bicycled there from the Potteries, carrying messages between various of the protest local leaders. For months, getting around had been reduced to either Shanksies pony or bicycling; petrol was rationed out of sight and public transport so irregular as to be useless. The Green Party applauded the wholesale return of self-propelled travel, conveniently ignoring the facts as to why it was happening. Networks of racing bike couriers were soon criss-crossing the regions, spreading the various versions of the truth as promulgated. We often passed each other, carrying our contradictory opinions and philosophies, but never interfered with our presumed opponents. We might stop for a stretch and a blow and a chat, only about our trusty steeds and the quickest routes , never the contents of our rucksacks.
I had arrived at Chester in the early hours after a trouble free one stop ride from Stoke. The only halt had been to hide from an official convoy that came up behind me. At least I assumed it was official as only the government had access to vehicle fuels. As I didn't fancy meeting them, I carried my lightweight 18 speed roadster into an abandoned farmhouse and buried it, and me, under some manky cow splattered straw. My hostess was understandably annoyed and insisted that I sleep in her garden shed, not her unwashed bed; women!
My mission instruction was to deliver the whole backpack to an intermediary in the Cathedral crypt. In exchange, I would receive a smaller, waist strap parcel for the return journey. I would not have been able to complete what was my twenty first sortie without the assistance of this little old lady, who led me through a rabbit warren of paths to the rendezvous. Getting back out of the city and back home was beyond our conjoined skills, however.
So, after a couple of attempts, I secured my prized velocipede in my temporary sleeping hut and went in search of the Protest Party local leaders. I easily managed to avoid the FID patrols who were already getting bored with the monotony of stop and search duties, and was put in contact with a first stop "front screener" who worked from the already derelict, non functioning cold store of a defunct Tesco store. The freezer construction materials prevented snooping by others, at least they thought so at the time.
Ken frisked my personage, getting an inappropriate amount of pleasure I thought, before questioning me about my involvement with the cause. I could easily recite the Party mnemonic , "Protest; People Revolting Over Totalitarian Emergency State Terror," and was able to describe party activities happening in other regions, some of which was obviously news to my interrogator. Ken must have approved of me, or my genitals, because he led me to the Party HQ in a cellar underneath a big, empty hotel close to the Cathedral.
I was allocated to a work commando led by Jennie, of whom more later, and our group went straight out onto the old Roman City Walls to observe and monitor the safe houses where quite a few souls who were wanted by the FID's were hiding. The local authorities had agreed an unofficial truce with the various party leaders in Chester; don't cause trouble, help with the ration deliveries to the old folk, limit your political debates to each evening along The Rows and we will not harass you. However, step out of line and we will round every last one of you up and off into detention, if not liquidation.
Otherwise, each Party had taken control of a sector of the city and ran the locality according to their own rules. We of the Protest Party were adjacent to some strange bedfellows; a small Communist Party area, enclosed within a much larger Nationalist Party enclave, abutted onto a Green Party zone, which itself merged with a Natural Law Party clique, and then the ring around us was completed by a big wedge of Tolerance Party. In reality, the residents rarely moved to another area; the demands of everyday existence were so overwhelming most people stayed where they knew.
This deal worked well throughout October and limited casualties on all sides. We, in Jennie's Commando, "She and her disciples" as we became known, took our turn doing the various menial manual tasks that inevitably accrue even in a small city like Chester when central authority collapses. All the security forces did was prevent public violence, guard the few remaining utilities and seek out members of the Anarchists.
With the sewers inoperable, nightly shit dumping expeditions had to be mounted from each area. At least we had the blessing of a large hand cart with a reliable lid, the Commies had to make do with buckets. The unlucky and unpleasantly aromatic labourers would congregate on the Roodee to be escorted into fields nearby to deposit other peoples loads. We were counted out, and back in, to prevent any escaping. The local Military Governor, Colonel Richards, was keeping a firm hand on his charges, whilst the national situation resolved itself.
During the daylight hours, we assisted those dwelling in "our" district to get to and from the closely guarded warehouses, doing babysitting and granny minding as well as the hauling of supplies. In return, the grateful few donated what they could by way of food and water for us to smuggle to those of our number who were in hiding.
Each evening, most people gravitated to the City Centre for company, warmth and to listen to the Party apologists holding forth from the balconies of The Rows. As dusk descended, up to a couple of thousand would assemble; well there was no electricity supply to power televisions, radios or computers so talking was the only option. The only reason not to join in was the stink of a great mass of unwashed bodies!
Back at the house where Jennie's Commando was quartered, she and I had become something more than an item for jealous innuendo. Most of the others in her group were young students, caught at University when Martial Law was introduced. We were over ten years their senior, and often had to act in loco parentis for the inevitable emotional turmoil's produced by the unique situation. So, as wise elders will do, Jennie and I would seek our own quality time together, away from prying eyes; shagging each other stupid in one of the empty houses on the boundary between us and the fortunately very Tolerant Party.
Sexual congress had previously occurred in my adult life, but only in exchange for hard cash. Such encounters may have met mutual needs, but love and comfort were not two of them. With Jennie, our relationship was full of both, and vigorous loud coupling. Whether we would have shared such an intense passion, but for the exceptional circumstances, was something we did discuss, often. Who knows the answer? Neither of had obligations to others, beyond our commitment to the Party, and our actions were not harming others, except keeping a few other people awake on cold nights. And by early November, the first winter frosts encouraged a lot of others to cuddle up for warmth, if nothing else.
Sometime around Bonfire Night, and the symbolism was not lost on many, there were a series of messages replayed to crowds in The Rows by the FID patrol loudspeakers. The National Coalition Government contribution contained little other than a tirade against the Anarchists, and a plea to turn them all in. A brief item from the Regional Military Governor imparted nothing beyond a vague promise to implement central policies and ensure safe delivery of essential supplies. However, Colonel Richards' live speech did mention the distress and despair being generated in other cities in the country. He failed to explain what was causing the upset, but that became clear quickly enough.
Within a week there was a major change in the atmosphere, and practical arrangements, within the city. Initially in ones and twos, then in whole platoons, the security forces defected, with their weapons and full kit, to whichever of the local Parties appealed to them. Debriefing of them put flesh on their ex-commanders skeletal statement. The NCG had ordered each RMG to cleanse their areas of anarchists, using whatever degree of violence was felt to be necessary. In a threatening progression, a composite force of Army and Air Force units loyal to the NCG was moving across the country, surrounding each centre of population, preventing any entry or exit, and then doing a detailed house by house search, using the local FID intelligence.
The armed service personnel in Chester were from East Anglia, and had heard on the military grapevine of riots, street battles and many deaths in their home areas. Also, many of the local police officers objected to being compelled to denounce old friends and neighbours. Altogether, the best part of three-quarters of the Chester combined security forces swapped sides.
In a rare example of common sense, the various political parties in Chester agreed to form CRATED, Cheshire Resistance Against Totalitarian Enforced Dictatorship. No, it doesn't exactly flow off the tongue or instantly create great passion; but it was the best compromise a committee could produce, so there it was. Fortunately the name was much less important than the effect of its actions. The parties amalgamated their workforces to divide up the practical tasks of coping in a large urban area trying to survive under pre-industrial revolution conditions. Free and generally unimpeded public movement was allowed by the authorities, although they still had to regulate the supplies.
A very popular burden to be shared was the care of the animals at Chester Zoo, a responsibility that the Greens had been quietly getting on with since mid summer. Many of the smaller tropical creatures had succumbed to hypothermia, but the larger beasts, elephants, giraffes and the apes had survived. Each day, a work party would trundle accumulated food scraps and hoarded water to the cages and enclosures, escorted by lots of kids, and a fair few adults. Sometimes, or so I was told, it was hard to know who enjoyed the visits more, the animals or the humans.
Colonel Richards relaxed the restrictions on movement in and out of the city. Quite a large number of people, residents and defectors, decided to try their luck in the surrounding rural areas, or set off on journeys into the unknown to reach relatives and friends in Liverpool, Manchester and beyond. By such a process of exchange, a few refugees arrived at the City gates, but the FID patrols remained very vigilant in allowing outsiders in.
I had the option of trying to return to the Potteries, but having discussed things with Jennie decided to stay with the devil I knew, which earned me a sharp blow around both ears. Our commando was absorbed into Work Party 13, still with Jennie as the boss, and now nicknamed "Her and the Bakers Dozen." The pooling of resources produced enough serviceable bicycles for a riding raiding rabble to scour the adjacent district for abandoned goodies.
We in Work Party 13 were frequently assigned to this task, and I enjoyed being back on my roadster after so long without it. Our group seemed to be blessed with luck on our raids, finding items such as abandoned vehicles with fuel still in the tanks, stray livestock and un-harvested crops. For the larger items that we could not carry ourselves, two of us would remain with it until motorised transport could be sent out to retrieve it.
On one such raid, we went along the Cheshire Cliff road, looking out over Liverpool, and the petrochemical works at Ellesmere Port. Previously, this area had been heavily guarded by armed troops as it was the major fuel terminal for North West England. On that day, the site looked deserted so we, hesitantly, went for a mooch around. To our great delight there was nobody to welcome us, other than some other scroungers-in-waiting searching the massive, circular, storage tanks that seemed to be empty. However, we contrived to liberate the contents of a large garage wherein was parked three petrol bowsers. Careful unscrewing of their compartments discovered thousands of litres of precious fuel, type unclear.
For such a irreplaceable find, I bicycled like the wind back to Chester whilst the rest of Work Group 13 stood guard over our claim. Colonel Richards sent me back with three of our own tankers to carry the liquid gold, and a squad of armed police and troops to protect us all. He had not received any official petrol deliveries for weeks and that day's proceeds provided enough petro-carbons to warm many homes and public shelters for a decent time.
Christmas was celebrated in different ways across the City, despite the freezing weather and slowly increasing apathy from relative malnutrition. Jennie was ill with vomiting for a couple of weeks before the penny dropped, our rampant condom free lusting had reaped the inevitable consequences, we were going to become parents. What a world to bring a child into, but abortion was not an option that either of us desired.
Our ex-military forces had been listening in to their radios and plotting the progress of the NCG Loyalist cleansing group. By mid January 2007, it was very clear that a large sub-division was coming our way, principally to block the escape of wanted Liverpudlians across the Mersey and through the Wirral. The General commanding this force was very confident of swinging through our City without any difficulty, which both amused and infuriated our defectors.
CRATED held a series of meetings, both open and private, to discuss how the inhabitants of Chester would react when the Loyalists arrived. Opinions varied, predictably, along Party lines but with notable exceptions. Witnessing some of the Green's advocating violent resistance was quite unexpected, and challenging to us other cowards. Fortunately, the debate was forced to a conclusion by the imminent arrival of the enemy.
About one third of the population opted to seek sanctuary out in the countryside, without any weapons, hoping to rely on the good nature of the other side, a decision I respected but thought was completely crackers. Our troops positioned their heavy guns to cover as many of the approaches as possible. Snipers were posted in the tops of the Cathedral and the few other tall buildings. We had too few infantry to ambush each road so screening sections were placed, each with one of the operative short range radios to summon back up.
D for Doom, Despair and Destruction Day, dawned on 27 January 2007, cold but dry with excellent visibility. Which allowed us all to see the approaching Loyalist helicopters as they covered the advance of the ground forces from the east along the old A51 road. CRATED had decreed that the first contact be peaceful, in the vain hope I thought of limiting violence. Soon came the "HELP!" call from our trip wire personnel, as they watched the huge columns approaching their positions. Colonel Richards knew the Loyalist General, so drove out in a omnibus with a party of children and nominated representatives from each Party, to pledge our Cities loyalty to freedom. Guess who the Protestors delegated? Yep, me!
When we arrived at the old Vicars Cross Golf Club, now heavily overgrown, the spearhead of the opposition had surrounded and disarmed our pickets, but then treated them to long absent cans of lager and fags. The senior Army bods granted each other an audience, and apparently sensible dialogue ensued. I tried to pay attention to the proceedings, but my attention kept being distracted to the liquid libations being offered to our increasingly inebriated defenders. It was a very, very long time since I had tested anybodies version of an amber nectar. Discussions had stuck on the issue of hidden Anarchists and was not progressing.
As a brief adjournment was called, and our kids were taken off to look over one of the helicopters as it refuelled, I became aware of a slowly increasing volume of noise from the direction of the City Centre. I strolled nonchalantly away from the main group to get a clearer view of the advancing clamour. Into sight came an extended procession, led by a brass band in which Sally Army uniforms were prominent. Someway behind them was a crowd of adults carrying strange shaped and coloured children. Very strange offspring really, whose approach provoked howls of delight from the accumulated loyalists.
Because each adult was bearing one of the great apes from the Zoo, monkeys, chimpanzees, baby gorillas, (not a silver back I was pleased to note) and the magnificently orange haired orang-utans. And as if all that wasn't bizarre enough, behind this mass of humanoids were the elephants, lumbering along, each with a British flag draped across their back, quietly following that days work group, 7 if I recall correctly.
The band arrived and formed a large semi-circle facing the negotiating table. Whilst they played on, a string of sing along songs, Christmas carols and regimental marches, the apes made friends with our supposed enemies. They, the chimps in particular, made the most of the tit-bits they were offered by the troops, whilst the orang-utans draped themselves over the barrels of the tank guns. Each of the half-a-dozen elephants went a wandering around the assembled military hardware, often lost against the grey/brown camouflage.
In this informal circus, the possible clowns prevented their own appearance by rapidly agreeing a ceasefire and Open City Status for Chester. The General then achieved life long ambitions by holding a monkey and riding one the largest elephant. He was paraded around to an accompaniment of cheers and music, just like an Indian Maharaja from the 1920's.
Eventually harsh reality returned with orders for the Loyalists to fall in for march and the Chester residents to return home. Genuine good wishes were exchanged, along with two of the chimps who would not leave the rear of warm vehicles and were bartered for their weight in beer.
That evening, enjoying my half can of warm lager, I discovered that the idea to mobilise the band and animals had been the spontaneous joint effort of some Green Party and Tolerance Party activists; a brain wave whose symbolism was what you wanted it to be, but it preserved our lives, and that of the zoo residents.
Although we were all grateful for the increased supplies that we qualified for as an Open City, they came with the not quite so welcome addition of the NCG Daily Newspaper. This turgid chronicle of unrelieved success was reminiscent of the media manipulation in George Orwell's 1984, but reading between the poorly printed lines gave us an insight into how bad things were elsewhere.
With Jennie growing ever greater with child, winter slowly gave way to early Spring, lighter evenings and warmer weather. And then, nothing. No deliveries, no signals on the military frequencies, total silence from central authority for a whole week. Until the morning of 1 April 2007, when, with excruciating symbolism, a flight of aircraft passed over the city, dropping thousands of leaflets announcing the imminent arrival of armed forces from the United States of America.
As threatened, or promised, aerial cavalry was parachuted on to the Roodee, accompanied by helicopters dripping with rockets and guns. The leader of this invasion was an archetypal GI Colonel, crew cut, shades, large shoulder pads and a mouthful of gum. He respected the Open City declaration that we had won and wanted to press on to link up with the rest of his battalion who were meeting resistance at Whitchurch. His only requirement was of no violence from us and his people would protect us until the humanitarian relief arrived.
Which duly happened, a well stocked Red Cross convoy with medical materials, plenty of food, supplies for the animals and mobile bath showers for traditional cleansing, followed by a basic issue of fresh clothing for those, like me, who had none. After which, the most important free gift was of uncensored and reliable news, albeit from a Yankee perspective. We soon became aware of what the world already knew; that the RMG for London defected and stormed Whitehall, that the EU and NATO refused the NCG appeal for assistance, prompting George W. Bush to take the only action he could to support his ally, an invasion to topple an elected dictator and restore democracy.
Initially the US invasion had been welcomed and unopposed, until a major battle ensued over and in London. A ceasefire was parleyed by a combined delegation from Russia and Israel, which was transformed into an armistice and then a full peace plan. So, tomorrow, the 4th July 2007, or as it will be 07/04/07, Britain, excluding the newly united Eire and Ulster Republic, will become the latest constituent of The United States of America, with Gordon Brown sworn in as Governor General.
King Charles the Third has abdicated the throne and moved, with Ex-Queen Camilla, to Russia to lay claim, through his lineage with the Romanovs, to the much speculated King of all the Russians. Tony Blair is to be tried for treason and crimes against humanity, with a widely expected banishment to France, who have offered to take him and his family. Parliament will have to be rebuilt after its demolition in an air raid, and a new building is being planned in Milton Keynes. Before it is occupied, elections will be held using the soon to be initiated census in which every adult will have to swear allegiance to the new flag and constitution.
Jennie and I are to be married in a simple ceremony at the cathedral when we have achieved citizenship. Our lovely daughter, Lilly, was born safely in the US field hospital, their first delivery and much fted by the staff as an automatic American. She is growing quickly, but not as rapidly, thank God, as our new charges at the reopened Zoo, where we are resident keepers and wardens to the ever expanding Great Ape collection, the real heroes of the Civil War of 2007.