On the Peace Train to Manchester

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Cricklewood blogger and his daughter meet kindred spirits aboard the 8.12 from Euston

Saturday 23rd September

7.10 am

Kilburn Station –  the only other people on the tube seem to be Polish and Chinese workers

7.50

Euston – join the large group already there at the concourse – look around for Muslims- hardly any in sight. Pick up train tickets from one of the organizers who had a list of all those who had booked via the Internet.

8ish

Announcement that the Peace Train to Manchester is ready to depart. It is a chartered train solely for those going to the Stop the War march.

There are three policemen with cameras at the ticket barrier. As we walk along the platform I notice that some carriages have been block-booked by Unison and other leading trade unions. We find window seats and are soon joined by an English couple in their fifties – husband is wearing a ‘Stop the Wall in Palestine’ shirt; lady is laden with newspapers. I spot Bianca Jagger and Tony Benn. My daughter opens her crossword book; English couple starts reading The Guardian.

9ish

Various people pass up and down the corridors distributing leaflets. Guardian reading lady seems to be greeted by everyone who passes by. Later found that the carriage has many members of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union who know each other. They address each as other as ‘comrade’ – a bit like we use ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. Start chatting to Guardian lady – turns out she is from Kilburn as well!

10ish

Some organizers bring in a public address system into our carriage and a couple of speakers make brilliant anti-war speeches. One compares John Reid’s recent remark calling on Muslim parents to inform on their children with the Fascists in 1930s Germany who called on children to inform on their parents. Another draws comparisons with the Viet Nam war: when the US found itself trapped it tried to escape by widening the war and bombing Cambodia; now the US finds itself trapped in Iraq and is threatening Iran. One speaker also memorably describes Blair as a man who uses all the barrister’s tricks and ‘dances before Congress’.

Patricia Seeger, the folk singer, then started a protest song ‘jump on the peace train! All aboard; Jump on the peace train! Stop that war. Old friends, new friends too. All on board waiting for you. Blair, Blair, what will you do? This peace train is heading for you.

We all join in the chorus ñ memorable spirit of solidarity. I start reading Michael Gove’s ‘Celsius 7‘ in fits and starts – from the Muslimophiles to the Islamophobes.

Mid-day

Brilliant sunny day in Manchester. We start marching from Manchester Piccadilly. A Samba band starts playing. I overhear Bianca asking Tony: ‘When was the first time you marched in Manchester’. He begins what seems a characteristic long peroration, but daughter and I are now out of ear shot, sandwiched between some CND people and a Unison group, and cannot hear the response. Assemble in Albert Square by the City Council building.

Big cheer from the crowd for Salma Yaqoob as she is introduced as the co-chair. Her big line:ìJohn Reid ñ donít tell us to keep a closer eye on our kids; keep a closer eye on your bombers.

Other big speeches by Paul Mackney of UCU (university and college union) ‘we demand an end to a war without end’. He also makes the interesting connection between John Reid’s ‘inform on your children’ call and an earlier move to ask universities to spy on Islamic societies on campus.

Amazing to see so many young hijabis on the centre stage directing the show: Yasmin Ataullah, Naila Ashraf, Samia Malik. One speaker noted that the Stop the War Coalition was the most important political development in recent times in Britain. It is a development in which the Muslim community of the country has played a central role. Good lines from Craig Murray: “we reject this policy of continual war; we reject this attack on civil liberties”.

Anne Murray of BECTU, the media workers union was also powerful: “George Bush says he hears the word of God; Blair says he hears the word of Murdoch”.

Early afternoon

March from Albert Square to Lower Mosley Street, Deansgate, Market Street, Cross Street and then back. Police watchers everywhere.

There is a large Police contingent at the cordoned-off G-Max Centre, where the Labour Party conference was in progress and the Prime Minister is speaking tomorrow. March organizers hand in a resolution.

There is a ‘die-in’ staged and we all crouch or lie down –  to mark the real deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon. More speeches at Albert Square but daughter is tired so we start searching for a place to rest our feet: perfect venue – the Manchester Art Gallery. Rested, the next mission is to find a place to pray. I spot a couple of hijabi sisters by Picadilly Gardens and seek their help. They say it is only 5 minutes away but because I look lost with their instructions, they kindly instruct their younger brother to take us there while they wait. Pray at the Muslim Youth Foundation mosque, 27 Turner Street, M4 1DY, and also pick up the Ramadan timetable.

6 pm

Back on the train. This time our travelling companions are an Englishman with a white beard and his twenty-something daughter. She complains to him her difficulty in understanding the book she is currently reading, ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf‘. They next go on to discuss body tattoos – her boyfriend had texted her what he was proposing for his back. Later I start looking at the beautiful sunset on the west for good reason.

7ish

Time to break the fast. Later I go to the buffer car for a cup of tea. Amazed to find that the steward has been working this shift as a volunteer. Return to seat to find old gentleman sipping a brandy!

9ish

Witness some drama – a passenger is reunited with his wallet and jacket which he had lost on the train. It was recovered by the train inspector who gives it to him. The man kisses the inspector on both cheeks! The whole carriage cheers. Train returns to Euston. (136)

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