Alan inadvertently speaks at a public meeting.
"Public Meeting in City Centre this Saturday". Alan noticed the headline in the local paper and decided to be part of the public, it would be a skirmish behind enemy lines demanding a cool head and excitingly, a disguise. He was under no illusion that it could be anything other than a protest against the outcome of the referendum. Greenshore was the most liberal city in the country, boasting two universities and numerous other teaching establishments, it was a venue of protest for anything and everything. It was only two days since the vote and feelings amongst 'Remainers' were running high especially as they had been so sure of victory. The abrupt manner of defeat had sharpened their vitriol and if you lived along the East Coast your IQ was subject to question.
'I'm just going down to the town centre. Some meeting to do with Brexit. Should be interesting', he shouted up the stairs.
'Why would you want to do that? It'll only make you angry and then I'll have to listen to you all night, ranting.'
'Why don't you come, make a day of it. Could be fun you you know.'
'Maybe your idea of fun but not mine. You go, but be careful there are a lot of angry people out there, and I'm one of them.'
'Don't worry, I'm going in disguise, people will think I'm an old Socialist.'
'And how will you be in disguise?' Alan could hear the incredulity in Jane's voice. 'False beard and sandals?'
'No. Far more cunning. I'm going to hang your red scarf around my neck. That, with smart jeans, pressed shirt, my sharp grey haircut and I'm one of them. Old school socialist, reincarnated!'
'And a piece of brightly coloured cloth will transform you from Genghis Khan into Trotsky! I don't think so.'
'I've told you before. This whole thing is not about left or right. It's about the metropolitan elite, liberal elite or whoever they are, ignoring the rest of the country.
'You include me in that don't you. How do you think this makes me feel when you disagree with everything I stand for.'
'That's not true. Anyway I need to catch a bus or I'll miss the event. Won't be too long.' Alan climbed the stairs and kissed Jane goodbye. 'No more than a couple of hours. Bye.'
The lanes were always busy at this time of year but today they positively teemed with protesters making their way to the meeting, Alan's progress became slower and slower as he shuffled towards the sound of the loudspeaker. The big grassy reservation in the centre of the road was packed, as were the wide pavements on either side of the main road. He estimated some five thousand people thronged before a raised scaffold platform, all booing or whooping depending on the message.
'The narrow minded racism of the Brexiteers.' Long, noisy 'boos'.
'The visionary integration of the Europeans.' Whooping, loud cheers and the waving of many small EU flags on a stick.
A majority of the audience were students, in amongst them in clutches, middle aged parents and their offspring sat on the grass, representing the gentry: the latest incomers to the city. Flags and T-shirts supporting the Greens, Momentum, The Socialist Workers Alliance and every other left wing splinter group in the world were proudly on display. Alan could not see a vantage point from where to watch proceedings without being immersed in the volatile crowd. It would be like being at the wrong end of a football match and having to cheer when the opposition scored. Crossing the road through the stationary traffic he saw a roped off area behind the stage with an opening policed by two large security guards. Inside the ropes, organisers, speakers and apparatchiks from various political factions moved around freely. He sidled towards the entrance to assess if he could blag his way in, when at that moment a rather large and exuberant lady tripped over an outstretched foot and fell to the ground. Instinctively the security guards rushed to help and after a struggle, the ladies size hindering a swift rescue, she was restored to the perpendicular. Taking serendipity fiercely by the horns during the diversion, Alan stepped swiftly into the enemy camp and attached himself to the periphery of a group staring up at the current speaker.
He felt like a secret agent parachuted into enemy territory. A quick reconnaissance dispelled his paranoia, no one was looking at him because he had Brexiteer tattooed on his forehead, no one was looking at him at all. His disguise was genius, replicated by many other 'sixty something' left wing politicos, although black brogues were not the footwear of choice. Alan began to relax and enjoy the novelty.
Speakers came and went, some barely literate, others highly accomplished and obviously well known to the masses. The central message was the same: 'the electorate have made a mistake because they didn't understand what they were voting for'. Alan listened to the one sided rhetoric from speaker after speaker, no one spared a thought for those communities disenfranchised and directly affected by EU membership. The dialogue may as well have been a monologue, he decided to listen to one more speaker before going home.
The current speaker was concluding and Alan looked around for the next, who should have been waiting at the foot of the scaffold steps. With huge applause the speech concluded, the orator came down the steps and a small crowd pushed towards her, shouting congratulations, Alan was swept along in the throng. As she struggled past him the centre of attention moved with her, and soon, he stood alone at the bottom of the steps.
'Come on mate. Your turn,' Shouted a semi-official usher from the top of the steps.
Alan looked from left to right to discover that it was in fact his turn, the real incumbent for some reason being absent. A surge of excitement welled within, he took a deep breath, climbed the stairs and stood before five thousand people. On the platform with him, are half a dozen apparatchiks who had accompanied every other speaker. One of them, a rather tall young man, sporting a hipster beard and red and black checked shirt, came forward and whispered in his ear.
'Just announce your name and who you represent. If you're good you get ten to fifteen minutes, if not so good, just the five.'
'Thank you,' muttered Alan. 'I'll be surprised if I get more than five. That woman was good.'
He approached the microphone and a curious calm settled within him. What a chance! To speak to more than just half a dozen people at a dinner table. To cast pearls before swine! To speak for those who couldn't speak for themselves! To speak for the C2's and the D's who voted for Brexit.
'Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and comrades. Thomas Paine. Rights Of Man Party. 'These are the times that try men's souls.' He paused, a ripple of clapping and quite a few whoops, but no challenge to his identity.
'My first vote ever was in 1975, when I proudly voted to remain, in what was then, The Common Market. We won by a landslide.' Lots of cheering broke out, thankfully the heady rhetoric of the previous speaker was still in the air. 'Europe was the future, especially for the young,' more cheering. 'An exciting adventure beckoned. The six became nine. We felt the hand of history upon our shoulder.' Alan was in full flow now, the pauses seemed natural and the words poured coherently out of him.
'Do you remember that great man Nelson?' This was an instantaneous hit with the crowd who as one replied. 'Mandela! Mandela!'
'No!, No! No! No! Not the greatest freedom fighter of all times. Not the man who single handedly ended apartheid. Do you know of another, Nelson?' The cheers began to subside and a disquiet settled within the crowd. 'I talk of our greatest sailor, Admiral Horatio Nelson. The man who lost the sight in his right eye at the battle of Calvi, in Corsica. The man who lost an arm in an amphibious attack on Santa Cruz. Eventually, the man who gave his life at the Battle Of Trafalgar - twenty-first of October 1805 - when defeating the combined forces of the Spanish and French navies. His shattered body was transported home in a barrel, full of brandy. - The man who stopped Napoleon from invading England. The man who along with The Duke Of Wellington freed Europe from the yoke of tyranny.' There were a few whoops but most of the young audience were very quiet, few had heard of Admiral Nelson and fewer still saw any connection with Brexit.
Alan quickly stole the silence. 'But we all know Winston Churchill, our great war time leader who saved us from another tyranny. At a major speech in Zurich, in September 1946, he announced 'We must build a sort of United States of Europe.' The crowd jerked back into life and Alan repeated the quote again, slowly and with emphasis, ' We must build a United States of Europe.' The crowd responded by whooping loudly and Alan knew he had foolishly purchased more time. 'Winston Churchill was the first politician to call for a Council of Ministers. He called for a partnership between Germany and France, to allow France to regain its 'moral leadership of Europe.' Alan effected a long silence and in a great arc slowly regarded his audience. 'He did not advocate at any time' - he paused and then raised his voice, - 'that we should be involved.' There was initial cheering until the actual words sunk in and then a slow descent into silence.
'The Treaty of Paris, of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Lisbon. Have you read them, do you know what is in them, do you know the implications of each treaty. Did you know who Horatio Nelson was, did you know that Winston Churchill, never, never advocated membership of Europe by Britain. You are the generation that will be our future, but you are voting on something you know nothing about. You accuse old people of stealing your future, but you don't know what what you are voting for. You are the first young generation not to have taken part in a revolution. You have voted for the status quo, the vested interest, the big corporations and the non elected bureaucrats of the European Union.'
The element of surprise was with Alan, no one had expected a pro Brexit speaker and the shock had allowed most of his speech to be heard in silence. Now, shrill whistles began reverberating around the regency buildings lining the green. Deep boos and jeers increased in intensity, and for the first time Alan rather wished he was at home watching the Wolf Hall box set.
Suddenly, a strong hand arrived under each armpit, he was swung round and marched down the steps by two children dressed as policeman. Whilst leaving the auditorium he could hear the cacophony turning to cheers and whoops as he was taken away and bundled straight into the back of a police car. Within seconds he was whisked from the scene of the crime feeling very excited but palpably relieved.