Edinburgh, Scotland - Security is a funny elixir. The more it's tipped in one direction, the less there is somewhere else. More than 10,000 cops - including 1,500 London Metropolitan Police officers - have been detailed to stifle what activists bill as the comeback of the summit-stopping global justice movement but what the British tabs paint as an unprecedented extremist threat.
Following small-scale trouble on the Carnival For Full Enjoyment demo on Monday, July 4, agitated officers in luminous yellow overalls today are shaking down anyone who looks like a protestor on Edinburgh's byways. One Met cop tells me, "I have a problem with European thugs coming here to smash this city up."
On The Policeman's Blog (coppersblog.blogspot.com), PC Copperfield is worried about "undermining the war effort" if he speaks candidly. "The Scottish officers who are reassuring you on Sky News are probably sweating off-camera," he writes. "Things are not going quite as planned."
Things are not quite as they should be for the activists either. The counter-summit at the local student union is only "counter" in so much as it doesn't seem to be taking place. The convergence centre in the Forest Café is practically deserted, and the few stragglers there have shot nerves. "Secrecy and paranoia are driving people crazy," one says. "Only two people in my affinity group know what's going on tomorrow, and they won't tell anyone.'
By July 6, most activists have dispersed to Stirling, 22 kilometres southwest of Gleneagles, site of the G8 meet. Now protestors are trying to lock down the M9 motorway. Twenty bravehearts are blockading the Sheraton Hotel. Huddling from the rain in shop doorways, they stare at the phalanxes of riot police opposite. Somehow, 10 protestors manage to block a Japanese delegates' bus for 15 minutes. A sort of payback comes some hours later when our convoy of 15 buses aiming for the mass march in Gleneagles is stopped 10 miles from the resort. During an hour-long standoff, the police declare the protest cancelled.
Finally, we're given a police escort to Auchterarder, the nearest village to Gleneagles, and driven there at 10 miles per hour. "It's so humiliating," a woman next to me grumbles. But amazingly, as we enter the picturesque village, almost every resident we pass cheers or waves.
About 10,000 activists have made it into the town, despite police attempts to cap numbers at 5,000. The mood among the puppets and the 100-strong Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (Circa) is celebratory. One clown, Corporal Crustie, says he's opposed to any attempt to tear down the summit fence. "On the contrary, we're going to build it higher so they can't escape."
Enthuses one local pensioner from his front garden, "The children will never see anything like this again." And indeed, a lot of townspeople have joined the march.
Hundreds of activists follow a coffin-bearing Congolese delegation over an unguarded stretch of police barricades into the Gleneagles barley fields. Mark, a Dutch activist with the anarchist collective Eurodisnie, is on a high. "It's a Bob Geldof moment,' he exclaims, "spur-of-the-moment chaos.'
Slowly, marchers wade through the wet, waist-high barley stalks, vaulting barbed wire fences as they go. Absurdly, 1,000 of us come face-to-face with the Met's finest behind the wire of the last perimeter fence. Then two sections of fencing are torn down, 10 activists calmly saunter through and masked-up anarchos start pitching barley, earth and rocks at the cops to the tune of Seattle's Infernal Noise Brigade marching band.
Around the front line, non-violent activists shout, "You're worse than them!" and "Peaceful protest!" Within moments, the cops are charging and we're all running backwards.
Within the hour, the summit grounds are secured and the protest is over. The TV camera people are cursing their luck at missing the London Olympics news extravaganza, and activists are departing for Britain's metropolises. I can't face another night on the floor of my Trainspotting-like flophouse, so I board the overnight to London. At Euston station the next morning, I'm thankful there are no police officers to be seen. I could do with a coffee, but I'm also so bloody tired, I just want to get back to the safety of my bed, so I board my tube train, which, via King's Cross, clears Liverpool Street station at about 8:44 am.
Six minutes later both Euston and King's Cross are devastated. By the end of the morning, the prime minister has returned from Gleneagles, police reinforcements are being drafted into London from the Home Counties and the army is out on the streets of Covent Garden.
Dazed and exhausted, I hear Orwell's final warning in Homage To Catalonia playing round in my mind. Describing England's surreal lassitude, Orwell wrote of "the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen - all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs."