‘Have you got it then?’ I asked, in hushed tones.
We were standing outside a Quaker Meeting House,our designated rendezvous.
‘Yeah. Here it is.’ He handed me a nondescript carrier bag, I can’t recall whether it was an Aldi or a Nisa – Aldi, I think. Protruding from it was the end of a short wooden plank. I peered inside the bag to investigate further and sure enough, at the other end of the plank were three vicious-looking rusty nails – more than enough to do damage to an unsuspecting person.
‘Great,’ I muttered, ‘Just the job.’
‘We going in then?’ he asked.
‘Of course,‘ I replied.
We opened the gate of the Meeting House and walked up the path and stepped through the door. Thank goodness there are no frisking procedures or metal detectors at Quaker Meeting Houses, I thought to myself. No – just big smiles and very friendly handshakes. I kept the Aldi bag in my left hand, while having my right hand warmly shaken, then went and put the bag down in an obscure corner of the Meeting House – but still in my eyeline.
I took a seat and felt myself relax, as the atmosphere permeating the tranquil building exerted its magic on me – only for me to tense up again as in walked a police officer! ‘Someone’s grassed us up!’ I hissed at my accomplice. The police officer smiled at me – I tried not to look guilty.
Okay, game’s up – it’s a fair cop … this isn’t the script for some low-budget movie I’ve dreamt up. But I was carrying the aforementioned plank with vicious nails, and my set designer Mark Friend and myself were attending his local Meeting House in Winchmore Hill, North London.
Mark had done some work on the plank for me, and I needed it back for the next performance at Greenbelt Festival on August 27th and he suggested my coming up to Winchmore Hill for the ‘hand-over’. I’d asked Mark to add the nails as it hadn’t been looking vicious enough – this was the plank that Bertrand Russell in THIS EVIL THING describes himself as being attacked with at a peace meeting – when a drunken mob bursts in to break up the meeting, led by a few police officers who fail to intervene, and just calmly look on.
If you go to the ‘People Power – Fighting for Peace’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, this summer, you can actually see some grainy black and white footage of this event, the crowds outside the hall trying to smash their way in, and policemen on horseback – it does not look pleasant.
Back to the present day – and the police officer who came into the Meeting House last Sunday (he arrived by car, not on horse) introduced himself as the ’faith and communities officer’. He told us he was off to visit a Hindu temple after the Quaker meeting was over. ‘You haven’t seen much of me here,’ he explained, ‘because you lot are never any trouble.’
This got a huge laugh from the assembled Friends. But as the laughter subsided, I couldn’t help glancing across to the corner of the room.
‘Just hope he doesn’t spot my Aldi bag,’ I thought, ‘and get curious about what’s sticking out of it.’