April 8, 2011

"Public Enemy Number One" - Philip Dodd

When I moved down to London there were loads of anarchists. In Hartlepool however, where I grew up, there was just me.

I formed an unholy trinity with the towns other two lefty extremists. One was in the Socialist Workers Party, the other in the Labour Party but as far to its left as it was possible to be without falling off the edge.

We worked together and socialised together. It was a very intense relationship I suppose, and we'd talk long into the night. People often rubbish this sort of introspective lefty chat, but it was crucial for me. Without it I wouldn't have developed intellectually in the way I did, and neither would my character. There were of course also many comedy moments. Three earnest young men in a small town, plotting to overthrow the state. I must do it as a sitcom sometime. But that's what I love about this period really, a rich vein of idealism, punctuated by moments of farce.

I found myself working at a place called Community Enterprise Trust. It was a government funded scheme for people who'd been unemployed for a while. Basically the government closed down the industry that gave people proper jobs and paid us a pittance for doing community related work. But this organisation did its best to make use of its opportunity to do some useful stuff. I provided welfare benefits advice, taught vegetarian cookery and showed people how to play basketball. Not a bad way to make a few quid.

My mate Graeme (the extreme left of the labour party chap) worked there too. One day in a team meeting it was announced that we were going to get a Royal visit. Charles and Diana were going to visit in a few months time. As you can probably imagine I wasn't the biggest fan of Royalty. It was made clear to me (with an emphasis that now seems ludicrous) that I wasn't to wear a t shirt with any controversial slogans. During the meeting me and Graeme started whispering and joking about it. Then we were all asked what we thought of the visit, and did we have any ideas. I don't recall now whether it was me or him but one of us said:

"I hope someone puts a bomb up their arse."

It was the kind of thing we said all the time. We certainly didn't mean it as a threat, a dream maybe, but not a threat.

Our team manager was an ineffectual woman called Jean. She tutted at us a bit, and that was that. Me and her had already had a few run ins, but she never really had the determination to boss me around. Her management skills (such as they were) were all gleaned from an evil little book called "The One Minute Manager". The basis of this book was that you could carry out any key decision or task within 1 minute. Including sacking people. I fucking hated that book. It stood for everything I despised.

One day Jean was out of the office for the afternoon after a particularly stupid morning when she'd employed its wisdom. I was saying to everyone that we should stand up to her. There was a lot of silent resentment and someone said "She'll probably look at that bloody book and do whatever it says in there". It was summer and the door to our portakabin was open to get some air in. "Not anymore she won't." I said , picking up the book from her desk and flinging it through the door, as far as I could. It landed in a hedge on the other side of the bit of grass outside the portakabin.

Strangely she never mentioned its disappearance, and no new version of the book ever turned up. Anyway, as usual I digress.

A few months later the day of the Royal visit arrived. I kept a low profile, not wanting to meet the visiting parasites. It all went off rather smoothly. In the evening I found myself in the same pub as the chief exec of the organisation I worked for. Tony was a good guy. He was really committed to what he did, but he did have an ego the size of a planet. He also quite liked me. We'd sometimes chat about politics and I think he saw in me a younger version of himself. A young firebrand idealist. After a few beers he couldn't resist talking to me about the Royal visit. He asked me how I thought it had went. There was just a glimmer of a smile across his eyes. Eventually he couldn't hold it in any longer.

"You noticed anything weird about the last couple of days?"

"What, apart from all the Royal shit?"

He sat back in his chair and smiled at me. "You've been followed by Special Branch for the last three days."

"What?" I thought he was taking the piss.

"I swear it. They've been following you for 3 days in case you tried to disrupt things". I looked at him incredulously. He continued, "Do you remember saying something about 'putting a bomb up their arse'?"

"No, they didn't follow me because of that. Did they?"

He laughed and bought me a pint. I went to bed that night wondering how they could have followed me around for all that time without me having even the faintest hint. Scary.

The next afternoon when the local paper came through the door I wasn't looking forward to the coverage of the Royal visit. But as I flicked through the first few pages a headline caught my eye.


They had written it up in a way which suggested that some great plan had been hatched by an "anarchist group". Group? That'll be me. Apparently there was a big plan to disrupt the event, possibly including violence, and that this threat had been efficiently dealt with by the authorities. They meant me. Public Enemy Number One.

Editor's Note: These are the actual pictures of that newspaper story.


Philip writes stories, some are fact, some are fiction. His stories can be funny, or they might be sad, and are often about memory and how we are shaped. Find him at www.domesticatedbohemian.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @PhilipDodd.


  1. Fantastic story. The Hartlepool Mail once had 'Boy Loses Glasses' as a headline, which shows you what a quality paper it is!