Collapse was imminent. I was at breaking point but oblivious to the obvious until I found myself in hospital on a drip, screaming, and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics. I’d vomited blood and been told my blood pressure was dangerously low and I saw his fat fingers. I saw his fat fingers.
It was June 2002, and I was answering bail in Watford for disrupting a public meeting, contrary to the 1902 Public Meetings Act. Some bright PR spark had decided it was a great idea to invite War Resistance International to a Meet the Army presentation. They had responded with red paint and disruption. I had been asked to take the photographs.
I was charged, given residency and signing conditions and was just about to leave the custody area, when I was aware of three large men surrounding me.
“Emily, my name is DC Lovell from CO6 I am arresting you on suspicion of violent disorder at the Israeli Tourism Office you do not have to say anything…”
I slumped on the floor, got out my book, and pretended to read. The Israeli Tourism Office? Nothing had happened that day. In fact it was a total failure. We’d attempted an action at the Israeli Embassy but we’d been pushed off the fence by security with large umbrellas and chased down the road by police officers with big sticks. I was wearing soft soled shoes and stood on a spike trying to climb the fence at the Embassy, puncturing my foot. I was in agony, could hardly walk, but agreed to go along with our back-up plan, occupying the Israeli Tourism Office. We got into the building, went up in the lift, but the door was locked on us before we could enter and we went home very dejected.
“Emily, we know what you’re like. Are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way? It’s up to you. You can cooperate and come with us in the car, or we can cuff you and get a van sent up from London.”
“I’ll cooperate on the condition I can phone my friends who’ll be waiting for me in the pub and you let me have a fag.”
“Fine with me,” he replied.
Two hours later, back at Paddington Green, they decided they wanted to search the house and accompanied me home as a prisoner.
I sat on my mattress and smoked fags, trying to look nonchalant. I stared at the photos on my wall. Happy scenes of life in Cornwall, dancing with my sister, hugging my mum, singing with my dad. But they didn’t seem real, they seemed so distant, so alien.
My housemate Katie stood at the door, a can of Stella in her hand, goading them, giving me long slurps when they weren’t looking.
And then I saw his grubby fat fingers caressing my diary, his small squashed eyes glancing through my neat handwriting. His fat fingers on my black notebook. His stomach pushing through his white shirt, sticking out from his cheap crumpled suit.
The third made his way through the mess on my floor. A black walking boot lay in the centre, its partner lost under the piles of legal papers, books and clothes. A pair of jeans and a dressing gown lay in a tangled mess, like lovers entwined in a passionate embrace on the pink carpet. He glanced casually through my pile of books, books waiting to be read, precariously making their own Tower of Babel, waiting to fall and drown me in words.
I sat in the cell. I saw his fat fingers. I read the crime stoppers number tattooed on the ceiling. I saw his fat fingers. I was charged with violent disorder. I saw his fat fingers. They told me I’d be kept overnight for court. I saw his fat fingers. I woke from sweaty dreams on the hardened wooden bench. I saw his fat fingers.
I rolled to the wall, pulled the blanket over my head and cried. I saw his fat fingers and I sobbed. I saw his fat fingers and wanted to scream. I saw his fat fingers and wanted to choke on my grief.
My solicitor didn’t think I’d get bail. We sat in a partitioned room and talked through a phone. She looked small and neat, her black hair pulled back in a simple pony tail, her navy suit immaculate. I felt dirty and dishevelled; messy and messed up.
“Emily, I’m really sorry, but I really don’t think I can get you bail on this one.”
“Please don’t say that, please. I can’t cope with prison. Not now. Not at this moment.”
“I’ll do everything I can. Katie’s bringing down your passport – the police are saying they read in your diary that you’re planning to go to Palestine and they’re using this as a reason to say you’re going to skip bail and go abroad.”
“Yes, but this is a serious charge. Plus you don’t have a good bail record and you’re on bail for other offences.”
I waited for court, biting my lips, having morbid thoughts about how the state always manages to fuck up anarchists. There was no violent disorder, it was a total set up.
Statement of Wilcock, Ben, CO906
On Tuesday 28th May 2002 I was on duty in plain clothes and attended Paddington Green Police Station where I met DC Witney. At 1050hrs, DC Whitney showed me a number of photographs that had been labelled with a series of exhibition reference numbers… I was informed that the series of photographs related to a group of people who had entered the Israeli Tourist Office… I immediately recognised two of the females amongst the group. The first female who I know is APPLE, Emily… She is wearing dark clothing and she has short dark hair. She is laughing in the pictures and the images show her to have a ‘toothy’ laugh. I have known Emily APPLE for a number of years, due to her involvement in protest activity.
But I was granted bail. I had to surrender my passport, the £500 surety was split between friends credit cards and I was free to go. But something was still wrong. Freedom was sweet, but there was a bitter edge. I went home and drank a bottle of whiskey. I lay down, curled in the foetal position, the pillow soaked through on both sides, cuddling my old blue teddy and sucking a make do security blanket.
I’ve got to start somewhere. It may as well be here. This is going to be difficult. It’s going to be hard. To be honest, I feel violated, alone, vulnerable and scared. They’ve taken something so Where do I go from here? I really don’t understand. Yet I understand I’ve come the closest I’ve ever felt to complete breakdown. Had I now been lying in a cell in Holloway, then I think I might have lost it. I actually prayed to my Guardian Angel today, prayed so hard. After everything that happened, I knew I didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with prison. I knew I couldn’t cope, that I needed time out to digest, to comprehend the invasion.
It was the tequila that finished me off. We’d been drinking heavily for months, but that night we polished off five bottles between six of us, not to mention the bottle of vodka and a couple of bottles of red. Jess was leaving, going to Palestine for four months and we wanted to give her a good send-off; wanted to drown our concern for her in large quantities of booze.
It was a good night. A fucking good night. Up to a point, of course. I remember rolling around the kitchen floor laughing hysterically. And then I don’t remember much. Our kitchen floor, bright lights, but then nothing up to the point of fighting paramedics.
I spent three nights in hospital before the moans, groans and screams from the old man opposite reduced me to a state of desperate mania.
“I’m leaving,” I said to the nurse, “I can’t take this anymore.”
“You can’t leave.”
“Your blood pressure is still dangerously low. You cannot leave. You can see the doctor in the morning.”
“I don’t want to see the doctor, I just want to leave this fucking place. I can’t stand being here another minute.” Tears were streaming down my face and I repeatedly played with my fingers, trying to tear them away from my hands.
“Just calm down. You’ll be okay.”
“No I won’t. I’m leaving.”
“If you leave, you have to sign something to say you’ve discharged yourself.”
“I’m not signing anything. I’m leaving.”
I picked up my bag and walked out of Homerton Hospital, not getting beyond the double doors before collapsing in exhausted hysterics on the nearest bench. Katie discovered me, half an hour later, having been summoned by the hospital to come and find me.
I want to run away and hide, bury my head under the sand. I’m almost at the stage of thinking, come on you fuckers, come bang me up, throw away the key for all I care. At least then I don’t have to worry about the rest of my life. I am stressed out of my mind. I’m exhausted and feel as though I could sleep for years.
I’m so scared. I’ve never been this scared. Compared to a normal average person, I faced quite a lot of shite, but I’ve never been so afraid. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m scared that I’m spinning out of control.
Finally discharged and back at home, unable to sleep, I lay on my bed in the half light of the orange glowing streetlamps which penetrated my pale curtains. The night was hot and humid, stifling and strangulating. A big hand had reached down and squeezed the life out of the city, choking us on our own polluted nightmare. I listened to the drunken shouts of the East London night, listened to the sirens that constantly screamed across the inner-city landscape.
Fragile and hysterical, I paced those London streets. 3am, black hoodie jammed over my head, I walked down Amhurst Road, not attracting even a second glance, grateful to live somewhere where seeing nutters is part of daily existence. I sat at a bus stop which had long since picked up its final passengers, and cried.
Emily Apple is a writer and activist living in Cornwall. She has been an activist for over twenty years and has helped form several organisations, including Fitwatch and Counselling for Social Change. She has been published in a variety of online and print publications, including The Guardian, Red Pepper and Open Democracy, and is currently working on a book, Dear Martin: Letters to a Corporate Spy about her experiences with a former friend from Campaign Against Arms Trade who was exposed as a spy for BAE Systems. @emilyapple