Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dancing on the silos

Today started like some kind of scene from a cartoon in a tube so packed with people there were seemingly disembodied limbs and bits of human body in every inch of space. The merest little shuffle would open up another game of Guess Who. Whose arm is around my waist? Whose hot breath can I feel on my neck? Please tell me that's a banana in a bag pressing against my thigh...

As I stood, like a baked bean in a mini-tin, I imagined the panic that would ensue in such a crowded space if there was a fire or a terrorist incident...

We changed trains at Euston and had to wait on the platform as the doors of three tubes opened up but were so jam-packed not a single person was able to get on, which meant that the station platform got fuller and fuller, significantly raising the risk of someone being pushed into an on-coming train. The tube network is a horrifying mess in the rush hour. Some poor bastards with 9 to 5 jobs have to deal with this nonsense on a daily basis. It's inhumane.

It was all worth while, however. Today the cast and artistic team of Beyond The Fence got on a big bus with a film crew and drove down to Greenham Common. We were joined for the excursion by my mate Penny, who is a former Greenham Common woman and was on hand to answer any questions the cast had which were triggered by walking around the hugely atmospheric location.

It has been one of those golden days. It was raining heavily as we left London, which made us all incredibly uneasy, but the clouds cleared as we hurtled along the M4, and with the exception of one quick shower, the weather was beautiful for the rest of the day. It was a little chilly and quite breezy, but the sun shone relentlessly: a message from the universe, we decided, that the project is meant to be.

We were given the opportunity to go into the restricted area around the silos where the nuclear missiles used to be stored. It was an incredibly eerie experience. At one stage we were able to walk into one of the darkened tunnels within the silos which were the exact spots where the weapons were kept. Heaven only knows what it must have been like for Penny. These silos (which look like medieval tumuli) represented everything she was fighting against. They were a symbol of evil. A reminder that the world was not at all safe...

I felt proud to have Penny there, and the cast really valued her presence. I was also reminded how proud I feel to be bringing the story of Greenham to a group of people who knew very little (if anything) about it before we engaged on this bizarre and wonderful journey.

We ran up the grassy slopes to the top of one of the silos. They're a good twenty or thirty meters tall, so the views up there are incredible. You can see for miles. At one stage, I watched the two little girls in the cast skipping across the top of the silo with CJ who plays a woman called Mary in the show. It seemed such a natural sight and so bizarre to think that, 25 years ago, they'd probably have been shot for doing that.

I did a little impromptu photo shoot with Llio in some long, tall, straw-like grass. Her red hair and blue eyes looked extraordinary against the yellowing backdrop.

At one stage the cast danced on the tops of the silos, just as the women had done on New Year's Day, 1983. I stood at the bottom of the silo and looked up at them, silhouetted against the sun, laughing joyously and singing When the Saints Come Marching In, and I felt a rush of deep affection and happiness.

After lunch we went back to "Green Gate" the only original gate and section of the old fence still in existence. It happens to be where our show is set, and also the gate where Penny lived when she was protesting. She showed us where the tents were and we sang a number from the show to her, which was a very magical moment for me.

She took us on a wonderful walk along the perimeter fence away from Green Gate, through a glorious silver birch forest and past a series of little streams to a place where she set up "Emerald Gate" to keep a closer eye on a pair of silos which were situated a long way away from the others. She set the gate up with three women and they remained there around the clock for many months. Hearing her stories inspired everyone so so much.

As we walked back to the bus, the sun began to sink in the sky, and all the silver birch trees started glowing orange.

We've had an incredibly magical day. One of those days I doubt I shall ever forget.

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