On the 10th July 1988, there were no deliveries of any food, or anything else whatsoever, to the “Marx” stores in London. The queues at the counters and through the doors and along the pavements were as long as ever, when suddenly it was announced by the counter-hands that there was nothing left to sell. Nobody moved for two hours or so. The people at the front waited wearily but patiently for supplies to be unpacked or
delivered. Then the New Police arrived, those who were lined up inside the stores were herded out, and the doors were locked.
People waited another few hours on the pavements. Then they began to disperse. They knew there was no one in the stores to shout at, and noisy complaint to the New Police could be considered rioting and answered with bullets. A few groups set off towards Downing Street, but were stopped and turned back by New Police on horseback. A small
crowd gathered under the windows of L’s office on the Embankment, but they were quickly dispersed by L’s personal guards – not New Police but East Germans, in foreign green uniforms and Soviet-style jackboots, and armed with Kalashnikov sub-machineguns.
Even these bolder few had not put much heart or organization into the approach to Number 10 or Scotland Yard. There was no use in protest marches and demonstrations now. For now there was real deprivation, real tyranny, real hunger. And that was precisely what L had promised them. They were no longer rich in many poor things, as once protestors had so angrily complained to governments and authorities. Now they
were poor in all things.
They went home, and there was “a great quietness over the city”, as
L himself records.
The next day the stores in other cities remained closed, and within a week not a single official store, shop or stall had anything to sell anywhere in England.
To help us learn what many citizens must have felt at that moment when civil life broke down, we have this recollection by a Camberwell tobacconist and newsagent, a Mr Bruce Waughs, a staunch Conservative by his own account, who had run his own small shop in Brixton until the revolution, and then carried on working in it when it was expropriated
like all other businesses big and small, as a licenced distributor of the RED TIMES. It tells what is surely a most surprising anecdote.
“My wife Stella appeared at the door, and she just stood there, looking at me with her eyes wide open and saying nothing, like someone who had just seen something happen that could not happen. I said, “What is it?” And she said, “There’s nothing! Nothing to eat. Everything’s just stopped.” It took some time for me to get the story out of her. When I did it took me even longer to grasp what it meant. Then I walked out of the shop, shut the door behind me, and was about to lock it, when Stella said, “What are you doing that for? Who are you going to lock it against?” And then it really came home to me. Well, I pushed the door open again and left it gaping wide, and I took her hand – something I hadn’t done for years − and we started walking along the street. And suddenly I felt − terribly, terribly happy. I can’t explain it. I can only say that I had never felt so happy in my whole life, not even when I was a child. And at that moment I looked at Stella, and she looked at me, and we began to laugh, and we couldn’t stop, we walked along the street laughing and laughing, and then we joined hands and began to dance, skipping round, like children, and if anybody had asked us what we were laughing at we couldn’t for the life of us have told them, not then. And all at once we weren’t alone, not alone in the street and not alone in our happiness, there were others, several others, many others, and then hundreds of others, the streets were full, and everyone was laughing, and dancing, we had seen nothing like it since the day we stood outside Buckingham Palace in July 1981 and cheered the Prince of Wales and his bride. And that was the same month our shop had been broken into and our stock looted by a mob in a riot, and Stella had cried. And I think the royal wedding had been a tonic for us, and Stella felt much better afterwards. But now what were we celebrating? The moment when we knew we might starve? It was only afterwards I could put a name to that feeling. Freedom. Somehow, in the twinkling of an eye, we had been set free. Free of what, you might say, when we were living under a tyranny, and had no notion of how we were going to go on living at all. Exactly. It was irrational. But somehow it happened. It wasn’t just having no more living to earn, no more mortgage to pay, no more bills, no more saving and budgeting, no more being told how much better Stella’s brother was doing with his furniture stores and garages than I was with my corner shop – all those sorts of worries had been lifted one by one when the revolution came eight months before, and other worries had come to replace them, heavier too, by far. Worries about the grandchildren and were they getting enough to eat, and about Stella’s mother who not only had her teeth taken away but even her wheelchair so that she just stayed indoors and we had to carry her from the bed to the chair and back again, and generally worries about whether life would ever again be comfortable and pleasant – as it had been when we had only the mortgage and things like that to worry about. And so what kind of happiness was this, what kind of freedom was it? I can tell you now – it was freedom from hope! Stella and I and all those other people made a strange discovery that day. We discovered that when you truly despair − there’s nothing to do but laugh.”
It is perfectly true that on that day many people danced in the street. The New Police, mounted and on foot, descended on crowds wherever they found them, and broke them apart and sent them home. They rode or marched up, thinking that these must be the beginnings of the first genuine and justified demonstrations against a government since the 1930s, after all these years, even before the revolution, of groups playing at protest, playing at suffering, playing at reaction to pretended oppression and pretended deprivation. And the New Police were themselves so surprised at the carnival mood they found in borough after borough, that they were caught by the television cameras smiling,
chatting to people in a friendly way, as they asked rather than ordered
them to get off the streets.
But there was one man who, when the report reached him that the people were dancing and laughing at the news they would get no dinner that day, was not surprised to hear it.