The day we blew up Baby was not a day like any other. Our alarm clocks were set for 4am. I collected each of the three other Activette participants from outside their homes with a gap of approximately 7 minutes between them. We had some difficulty finding comfortable seating for those in the back with the prop. It was the 2nd of March and still dark for at least an hour and a half. Our destination was a nonviolent demonstration at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in
Burghfield, near Reading, which should take 2 hours twenty minutes. The blockade started at 7am, which meant there was little room for error, but we had confidence in the precision planning we'd made in the past weeks. We pulled into a Marks and Spencer's service station near Tunbridge Wells, for fuel and cappuccinos. I had a smoked salmon sandwich. Activette E bought a small bottle of whisky. We initiated conversation around the service table. By the time we left the garage the sky was turning mid blue. It was later than we'd thought.
The M25 traffic was heavy. We felt mildly intimidated by aggressive commuter belt driving inside the Citroen 2CV. Amidst the buffeting we tried to concentrate on the role each of us had to play in the action ahead. We had decided to disguise ourselves as scientists and aimed to enter the AWE based on the deceit that we were associates of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, something about this implausibility really appealed to us. This year the Bulletin's Science and Security board made the decision to move the Doomsday Clock hand (the symbolic clock which represents how close we are to global catastrophe) to three minutes to midnight (midnight being the point of irrevocable destruction). Something our government ignored when it decided to push the £100 billion Trident programme through ahead of the general election this year. Although we could not claim to have much atomic science under our belts we felt a kinship with the Manhattan Project scientists since we had actually recently developed a device which was an environmentally friendly solution to nuclear warfare - the Smile Missile. Activette M had already picked her name Professor Buck McFlurrie, Activette O opted for Dr. Emil Schaffhausen, the character Michael Caine played in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, she is a real movie buff. Activette E was landed with Dr. Engelbert Humperdinck and I was Dr. Dirk Birdingarden. From this point in the journey on we slipped in-between accents of geeky west coast American descent or American-Austrian, a couple of us briefly ended up with accents of a rare Ancient East Asian dialect.
Just after Reading on the M4 we stopped at another service station to buy ratchet straps and to apply our beards. The time was 9.35. None of the other scientists were being any help with directions, so we went back and forth a bit before finding the right little lane to Burghfield. When we were in an adjacent field to the atomic weapons establishment, we pulled over in a ditch to assemble our own deterrent, and attach it to the roof of Baby, my pistachio ice-cream coloured 2CV, our answer to the Vanguard-class Trident submarine. Again the scientists were being no help whatsoever when asked how to use a ratchet strap. We spent 40 mins stuffing the interior of the missile with deadly confetti, taping it up and trying to use ratchet straps. In the end we unanimously agreed the solution was to sort of hold on to the straps and drive really slowly.
At 10.20am we arrived in a stately fashion at the first gate in the Burghfield blockade. The CND crew who had been there since 6am in that bitter March wind, gave us a warm reception. Professor Buck McFlurrie got out of Baby and in a firm but friendly fashion asked the police to step aside for we were the friends of the Bulletin of Scientists come to deliver this new theoretical weapon. She continued in her enthusiastic Californian twang to say it was a totally biodegradable deterrent, made of recycled objects at a cost of £16.50p, in contrast to the £16.8 million it takes to make the ballistic missiles that garnish the Trident submarines, with no risks of toxic leakage, or loss of human life, but nevertheless an obvious threat, which also doubles as a piñata. The police spokesperson said Professor McFlurry needed to shave. So we drove on to the next gate where we were told morale was low. Indeed when we got there apart from the brightly clad wall of police in lemon yellow and some luminous sweethearts dressed as toxic waste, the scene was bleak.
It was time to put the smile missile to the test, the months of development in Dr Shaffhausen's laboratory / studio, weeks of scientific endeavour, hours of sticking and pasting and all the nattering, problem solving, doubts, and disappointment when the rest of the scientific community turned their backs on us. We would show the world. But first we had a nice cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream from a CND stall to warm our frozen cockles. As we were just licking off our whipped cream moustachios someone asked us for assistance with the blockade, where a gap between protestors meant AWE workers could potentially pass through. So after solemnly marching our missile towards the space between the protestors and the police we literally chucked it at the ground where it exploded into a flurry of peace and love confetti. It was marvellous to behold, not exactly devastating, but definitely surprising. And when at last the confetti settled on the tarmac the peace protestors started using the Smile Missile carcass to perch on. The unbounded beauty of recycling. We renamed it 'the peace pouffe'.
By 1.30 our little Activette behinds were feeling nippy. We had detonated our 10ft biodegradable phallus in front of the Atomic Weapons Establishment. We had made our definitive statement of ecology and love over toxicity and war and it was now time to get back to St. Leonards-on-sea in time for the kids' tea. It took some persuading to get Dr. Engelbert Humperdinck to leave her new peace loving friends, but in the end we scarpered, while the hardcore peace movement remained to brave the weather, to protest, to sing, to clear up the mess we had made.
On the journey back I started to reflect. We'd met some wonderful, proactive people. But mostly dedicated activists. Where was everyone else? This was an organised well-promoted event, run by Action AWE. For us artist-activist newbies we were so energised by this project, because we had an unclouded vision of what we wanted - the quite reasonable complete worldwide decommissioning of nuclear armament. But I've noticed the subject of nuclear deterrents does not seem to interest, or inspire the masses in little Britain or middle England, and there are still people who say we need a deterrent. I could never get over this paradoxical hegemony which means for the world to be safe every nation under the sun should be developing an atomic programme on a par with Trident II, which really would make the future of most species precarious. But it's a passé conundrum and Activette M says all the hot guys are into fracking these days. Even if this is the case, policies regarding the health of the planet are amazingly unfashionable in the forthcoming elections. Clearly politicians do not view the environment as a seat clinching subject. My local Labour candidate, Sarah Owen, when I asked her what she thought of Trident, responded confidently that it provided jobs in the region, with no mention of the environmental harm it could cause. She blew her chances of ever becoming an Activette then and there. She didn't even mention redirecting the funds from Trident to the NHS, which I would have expected as the Labour stance. So what can an artist / activist / mother from a rough sea-side town do to raise awareness, to make it a more popular subject for debate and mobilisation? Make a massive cardboard phallic missile to wave at the police outside an atomic weapons establishment? No wonder I thought I saw some smirking amongst the police lines.
'Next time, next time', I was thinking as these peculiar grinding noises started reverberating under Baby's bonnet…'next time we'll turn up, not as scientists with drawn on beards, but as beautiful women, then we might get some attention!!!' The croaking sound started cranking up and Baby started grinding to a halt. We were just sliding off the M25 and managed to make it to the hard shoulder of the dual-carriageway when Baby finally breathed her last. The effervescent conversation fizzled out to the repetitive roar of virile engines hurtling past us. We semi-bearded scientists sat there for a few minutes shuddering in the wake of each passing vehicle, before I got out to look under Baby's bonnet to confirm what I already knew - I'd failed to check the oil and had blown up her big ends. Brilliant. The time was 3.40pm, there was no way we'd make it back in time for tea.
It is so hard to do some constructive activism. Where does one begin? What about the uranium-tipped bullets being used in the middle east as we speak? What about the use of firebombs in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S Military, which is ostensibly Napalm? Why has nobody pulled over to see if we need any help? The age of chivalry is over and potentially the age of birds, bees and the human race, unless we can come up with an even more effective weapon… but what can be more terrifying than girl power? It's just a case of effective detonation.
The Activettes are currently recruiting and have spaces available for people with skills in mechanical maintenance, the use of ratchet straps, or anyone else who is happy to occasionally wear facial hair and call themselves an Activette.
Find The Activettes at the next major fracking demo.
Activettes - 'the girl group that takes the message of make love not war to the extreme'.
http://nuclearinfo.org Comprehensive_Nuclear-Test-Ban_Treaty 1996