This is something that you couldn’t do today but, back in the more innocent seventies, freedom of expression included the right for teenagers to seize the country next door, as long as they promised to give it back the next day. And donate all the money raised to charity. Over the next five weeks, I will serialise the story behind the events of 1974. How to add credibility to your publicity stunts. The correct way to invade the country next door. And what to wear for the fashionably minded freedom fighter (warning: seventies themed).
It all started at a Rag Conference in 1973. I was the newly elected Plymouth Area Rag Chairman (that’s UK-speak for student charities supremo) and I was on the look out for two things. One, the bar. And two, the charity stunt to end all charity stunts.
Which is why my ears pricked when I heard someone talking about a really cool stunt they’d organised the year before. “We set up a customs post on a bridge and charged people a toll to cross over.”
An interesting idea but why would anyone pay money to a group of students blocking a bridge? This was my embryonic author’s brain kicking in – where was the back story? Why the custom post and why that bridge? What the stunt needed was a good dose of credibility. A reason for people not only to stop but to expect a customs post to be on that bridge.
World building 101 – and why I became a teenage freedom fighter. Not only did I have the Che Guevara poster but I had just the very bridge – several of them in fact. Plymouth was on the English side of the Tamar River. Cornwall was on the other side. Now if I could convince people that Cornwall had seceded from the United Kingdom…
No problem. A little research uncovered Mebyon Kernow – the Cornish Nationalist Party – who were fielding candidates in the upcoming general election. All it needed was someone to overhaul their policies – far too tame to interest the national media – and spice up the rhetoric. And we needed something visual – costumes. And so the The Free Cornish Army was born.
First we had to announce our existence. And second we had to have something to announce. So I formulated a six-point manifesto. Nice simple demands that everyone could understand. And, more importantly, had that stamp of authenticity. These were exactly the demands that a radical band of freedom fighting Cornish nationalists would make.
I forget the complete list but it went something like this.
1. Cornwall to become an independent nation and part of the Commonwealth.
2. Seizure of all ‘foreign’ owned holiday homes in Cornwall and handing them back to homeless Cornish folk.
3. Cornish to be reinstated as the official language of Cornwall and taught in all schools.
4. And probably a Cornish pasty allowance to be given to all families:)
Then, as all revolutionary governing councils do, we hit a dialectical problem that threatened to split the movement. Who in the British Government were we supposed to inform of our unilateral declaration of independence? The Home Office – wouldn’t that mean we accepted that Cornwall was part of the UK in the first place. The Foreign Office – would they even know where Cornwall was?
So we sent our demands to both. And, of course, the press. We took the train down to Truro to make sure we had a good Cornish post mark – attention to detail is everything – and posted our packages. I added an extra paragraph or two of revolutionary rhetoric, explaining how for years we had tried the ballot box but now reluctantly turned to the gun. That we had forty fully trained units waiting to be called into action. And that the torches of freedom have been lit throughout Kernow and we would not see them extinguished in our lifetime. This was the sentence that the national media would quote extensively. But that’s a story for next week.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!