Mark Thomas at The Anvil

Tonight we, together with Phil, Howard and Lindsay, and Fuller and Adi, went along to see Mark Thomas at the Anvil in Basingstoke. Well I say that, he was actually performing in the ‘more intimate’ surroundings of the Forge, which from the outside looks to be the cupboard under the stairs, whilst there was Tango Fire going on in the main theatre. However, that did provide us with an interesting game of trying to spot who were there for the dancing, and who were there for Mark Thomas, (and a few worrying moments for Adi when she thought she was decidedly badly dressed for the show…)

Mark Thomas Book plus Appendix

Anyway, the theme of Mark’s show is the arms trade, and covers much the same subject area as his book, “As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Tradeâ€?. Having said that the live show doesn’t necessarily follow the book religiously, indeed on a couple of occasions during the show he reacted to heckles from the audience, sometimes digressing.

Having said that, the show begins with something that doesn’t seem massively related to the arms trade, with Mark’s ongoing campaign against part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. As part of that act a demonstration exclusion zone of up to one kilometre from Parliament Square was set up, primarily in an attempt to get rid of Brian Haw who has been holding a one man protest in the square since 2001. As a result, anybody who wishes to protest in the square and a number of surrounding areas has to apply to the Police six days in advance for permission to protest. However you can protest against anything, so Mark has been mounting a campaign against the law by holding a number of protests in the square, including a protest against the law itself, and a protest against the Police officer who signs off on the permissions to protest. He has also been involved in organising a mass lone protest, where large numbers of people mounted different single person protests at the same time, including such pressing issues as providing free chocolate, and ending dullness. Having filled in the relevant form, all of the protests were totally legal.

One of the next protests, on November 5th will also highlight the problems of parts of the Terrorism Act 2006, by holding a Guy Fawkes demonstration – because Bonfire Night contravenes section 3 of the new law which states that “any act that glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences” is illegal. There are a number of pictures of previous SOCPA in the SOCPA Flickr group, including pictures of Mark himself.

As you may be aware, Mark has campaigned against the arms trade for a number of years, and has been involved in several protests and stunts at the DSEi arms trade fair held every two years in London. In previous years he laid on a courtesy bus from a hotel used by traders at the fair, and even chained himself to the axle of another bus used to transport traders. This resulted in his picture being included in a Police list of possible troublemakers at the next fair, however thanks to him writing his book, he also managed to get a press pass to go into the fair. Needless to say a large section of his show is given over to stories of the somewhat surreal experiences he had at the fair. Some of the key moments though, was when he discovered that several companies were breaking the rules and selling torture equipment through the fair. The remaining part of his show then looks at what he has done in response to both these companies, and also other illegal arms deals that he has discovered. Ultimately, the evidence of all of this was presented to the Quadripartite Select Committee, partly because anything presented to the committee is immune from prosecution, under parliamentary privilege, so for example evidence when presented on TV that could land the TV company in court, can be presented to the committee without fear of prosecution. A transcript of Mark’s appearance before the committee can be found online here, including one point in the proceedings where the chairman of the committee reminds Mark of the Parliamentary privilege, and says that is safe to say things in the forum of the committee, to which one of the other committee members adds the comment “Slander everybodyâ€?.

Signed Copy

I have to say that we are glad we went along to see the show. Although we don’t often go out midweek, I’ve wanted to see Mark live for a long while, and Howard managed to get the last few tickets that were available.

After the show, Mark was signing copies of his book, which I queued up for, and also giving out printed leaflets with the contents of his submission to the Select Committee, which his publisher refused to include in the book. I have to say that I didn’t have much of a conversation with Mark, partly because I did my usual shy and nervous routine at meeting someone famous, and also partly because the people in front had wanted two books, but there was only one left, and Mark was making sure that they would be sent a copy but not charged for postage. One of these days I’ll maybe manage to have a conversation with someone well known in a situation like this, or maybe not!

Beth was suitably inspired to consider what protest she could undertake whilst walking through Parliament Square – the law is such that even wearing a small badge with something that could be taken as political on it is in contravention of the act, and so requires permission. I also thought that maybe Mark would be a bit of a different kind of speaker to have along the next time we have one of the listening to different voices events at the Church. I know there are probably a number of people who would enjoy his material, but others who would object to the language in places. Having said that considering some of the people we have in the Church, it might produce some interesting discussions – we were quite surprised when recently a familiar face from our pews week by week appeared on TV as the senior judge dealing with the recent terror plot!

The show is well worth seeing, and along with details of the book, Mark’s website includes details of the remaining dates on his tour, and further details of his campaign. Oh, and as a little postscript, if you are a teacher having trouble with your classes, Mark did mention that one of the arms dealers he contacted was quite happy to supply pen sized stun devices that would deliver a significant electric shock to a (made up) Catholic school in Ireland. Seriously worrying really…

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