Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Iain Banks and the Battle of Lewisham

Sad to hear that the Scottish writer Iain Banks is very seriously ill with gall bladder cancer. Banks has written some great books including The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, the Culture series of science fiction novels (published under the name Iain M. Banks) and a fine appreciation of whisky 'Raw Spirit: in search of the perfect dram'.

When we were doing the Lewisham '77 event in 2007 I corresponded with Banks' friend the Scottish science fiction writer Ken MacLeod who mentions the 'Battle of Lewisham' in his novel The Cassini Division.  Ken confirmed that he and Banks had taken part in that famous anti-National Front demonstration in New Cross in August 1977. Ken recalled:

'I went to Lewisham in the back of a big van rented for the day by the local branch of the left group I was in at the time. That group had decided to send one lot of members to Clifton Rise and the other to the march, with the intention of encouraging as many marchers as possible to go to Clifton Rise after the march officially ended - which they did. Our little squad went to Clifton Rise. Not all of us were in the left group but we all knew each other very well and had a good natural leader, an experienced bloke called Joe.

When we got there I was surprised by the size of the crowd. There was a fair while of standing around, and then the fascist march came up the road, the sticks and stones started flying, and the police rode horses into the crowd. I remember quite vividly the fury and fear and the sense that it was a case of fight or be trampled. After that I remember a sort of running battle, pushing up against lines of police, and seeing the fascists cowering under the pelting. After we had them on the run I urged people around me not to go chasing after them and getting into fights with the police. A belated salute to Joe, who managed to keep us together all through the riot and got us safely home. ... I remember Iain Banks turning up at the place where I lived with a bunch of other lefties in Hayes, Middx. He'd come down specifically for the demo and went there with us in a big van'.

Police escorting National Front march through New Cross, August 1977

Darcus Howe (with megaphone) speaking during the demonstration (photo by Syd Shelton)
Ken also got in touch with Iain Banks and passed on this short message from him:

'I was there, though all I can recall is the general feeling of prevailing unexpectedly, the sight of the fascists squeezed into a corridor going round a street corridor with half bricks and bits of car exhausts raining down on them and the cops protecting them and the motorbike on fire'.

Anyway Iain thanks for doing your bit that day, and all that you have done since. I will raise a glass of Lagavulin to you tonight.

(Update Sunday 9 June 2013: Iain Banks died today)

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