Ginger Nuts of Horror
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
I Was Born A Big Strong Woman
We’re going far enough back this time that virtually all of this is best guess territory. In the song, I said I was five, mum says five to seven. Let’s split the difference and go with six.
My memory is early spring. I say that because we were woken early - hellishly early. Dark outside early. I remember the pain in my eyes, that chronically stupid feeling, akin to a mild concussion - a confusion rooted in a basic failure to understand why the world is happening at all, at that particular moment.
It’s mum who has woken us up. Her friend, Zane, has decided, in apparently the middle of the night, that We Are Going. So go we do. My memory is Weetabix for breakfast, then into a van, and off.
It’s a bloody long drive. And, I mean, logic dictates there will have been wee stops and what have you, but none of that has stuck at all. When you reach back this far, it’s all impressionistic, blended, with the odd outright invention thrown in.
For instance, memory has us stopping to pick up some friends on the way, another women and her kids, which mum assures me did not happen. So my memory of getting in a rock fight with one of those kids, to the horror of all concerned, must similarly be false - or, more likely, misplaced, because I am damn sure that happened at some point around this time. The past is a fucking maze.
We get there. Mud. That’s the next thing I remember. Driving through it, walking through it. The noise, squelch squelch squelch. The colour of it - exactly the same shade as slurry, similar super runny consistency. Bad enough that my nose would create the phantom smell to go with the visual, the brown fluid coming up through the green grass blades with every step. Everywhere. Black bin liners at the entrances to the tents with inner groundsheets, to leave your wellies. If you didn’t have wellies… best not to think about it.
Lots of walking. I was a country kid, used to walking, but still. I don’t know if it was spread out, or we just did a lot of visiting, but I distinctly remember going to sleep with tired, aching legs. Similarly, the smells were, mainly, pleasant - wood smoke, and food being cooked on open fires. To this day, an open campfire evokes gut level waves of pleasure and comfort for me, as well as the faint tingle of adventure.
And then there were the toilets - just in case you were wondering where the horror angle came in. I know some Glastonbury festival veterans - especially visitors to the 80’s incarnation of the event - may think they’ve seen and smelled the worst that humanity’s bowels can possibly produce. Well, I am here to tell you, those people never had to use a Grenham toilet in the middle of the night. In true suppressive fashion, I have only the most fleeting impressions - flashes of a mountain of shit, the occasional glimpse of white toilet paper, in a pit, a smell that could be tasted, that irritated the eyes, and flies, clouds of bluebottles crawling… the rest is a blessed blankness, locked too deep into my subconscious to ever again see the light of day. I hope.
But of course, most important, there were the women.
There was Tantrum. Tantrum was a true punk - tattoos, piercings - safety pins, of course. Many, in both ears. She looked amazing, spiky, but she smiled and laughed easily and well. I liked her a lot. Zane had brought us - an abduction, she called it, eyes bright behind her large framed glasses and a bundle of curly hair. Then there was Tomma, Freedom Cloud… And at six years old (or five, or seven) it all made perfect sense. We gain more than we lose as our critical faculties develop, I think, but I have to confess, I miss having the kind of mind that could just simply accept names like that, without the slightest impulse to raise an eyebrow, or laugh, or frown.
It was an amazing space, and an amazing time. I remember earnest conversation, laughter, singing, ah, endless singing. I Was Born A Big Strong Woman, You Can’t Kill The Spirit, Who Are The Witches? I sang along with great enthusiasm. I got badges, too. Lots of them. Teddy Bears Against The Bomb, Ladybirds Against The Bomb, Frogs Against The Bomb… you get the idea. Each of them bearing the face of the animal protestor, the CND symbol overlaid on top. My mum’s favourite was ‘Aging Hippies Against The Bomb’, and she kept that one for herself. There was just an energy to the whole camp, a sense of shared purpose, community, and comradeship that I am not sure I’ve ever experienced since. It was earnest and sincere, though a million miles from humourless - laughter was a constant note in the soundtrack of my time there. No money ever changed hands that I saw - all was communal, shared willingly and with friendship. The women just helped each other, leaned on each other, and used their skills and talents for the good of the group.
I remember having The Talk with mum, too.
Why no men? Because it was important for women to have their own space, where they could just be, and talk. But it wasn’t against men, at all - in fact, men helped out with the site.
Were there men's peace camps too? Yes, there were - it was important for men to have spaces, too.
How was I allowed there? Because I was a child, and children were welcome.
How old would I have to be before I wasn’t allowed there? Probably a teenager.
Could I go to the men’s camp then? If I wanted.
Why were we here?
We’re here because this is where they are keeping the bombs. The bombs are very powerful, and can destroy whole cities. They are very very dangerous, and we don’t want them to be used. In fact, we don’t want them even to be built. We don’t believe they should be here. So we’ve come here to let the government and everyone know that we don’t agree with what’s happening, that we don’t want these bombs to be built or used against anyone. We’re here because we believe in peace.
The bombs are a part of my childhood. Background noise. A constant, monolithic presence - not unlike the way a more fundamentalist, Old Testament God might be present for the children of religious extremists, I suppose. Infinite, global destruction. Built and ready to fly. Tens of thousands of them. Nothing would survive - all would be consumed either by fire or the poison that followed. This was the reality of the world I had been born into. There was no certainty, no absolutes, save that if the bombs flew, everything - everything - would end, forever.
This was my reality - hell, this WAS reality. The women I was surrounded by knew it, as surely as I did, and with the added clarity of age and knowledge. And Grenham was their response to this gibbering insanity. They marched right up to the gates where the missiles were held, and they camped and they sang and they danced and they ate and they slept and they laughed. And later, they chained themselves to gates and fences, locked arms in the path of the army vehicles, and some of them were beaten and arrested, and they kept coming back and camping and singing and protesting and laughing.
They lived. On the very edge of insanity, right in the jaws of destruction, they danced and sang.
When you talk about Greenham, there’s always sneers. There’s always ‘Bet the Russians were shitting themselves’, there’s always ‘How did they have time? Didn’t they have jobs to go to or kids to raise?’, always ‘waste of bloody time and effort’. The scorn, the mockery, it’s kind of amazing how strong some of it is, even this far out - how powerful the impulse is for some to spit on this moment, this movement. I think it says more about those who seek to belittle the protestors than the women themselves, to be honest. And as is often the case, it completely misses the point, I think.
Because for me, Greenham is about a feeling, something you carry inside you. A glimpse of a possibility of a different way of doing things, an alternative way of organising the world and ourselves. A glimmer of a suspicion that much of what we consider to be cast iron rules of How The World Works are no more than under-examined customs, whose perpetuation is very much in service of people whose interests are not mine, or those of virtually anyone else I personally know. At a point in time and history where it felt a distinct possibility that the world would end, not because of some massive natural disaster, but because of a series of decisions made by a tiny number of mainly men in conditions so rarefied and remote that most of us would never know their names, Greenham just pitched up some tents and said, nope. Not In Our Name. We reject your paradigm, and we choose another.
So, yeah. I know why they sneer. Let ‘em. If their alternative is a world where nuclear holocaust is a flock of geese or an angry exchange of words away, I’m all for pitching a fucking tent and being called a fucking looney.
PS - I remember asking my mum, some years later - I think around the time all the prosecutions for trespass were overturned, after the house of lords ruled that, as Greenham Common was, as the name implies, common ground, the US base should never have been sited there in the first place, and the women were actually exercising their right to access common land - whether or not she thought Greenham had actually made a difference. Her reply?
“Well, all I know is, the bombs never ended up flying, did they?”