The run up to DSEi 2007 had been one of the most stressful, but also team building exercises in our history. We had gone from having a drunk idea through to raising thousands of pounds to buy a tank. Now all we had to do was get the tank to London and smuggle it past the police and into the arms fair.
Agents Spritely Monkey, Undecided and Lady Bea had all traveled up to test drive the tank previously and it ran like a dream, so we transferred across £5000 to the previous owner and got the ball rolling. Our main concern was that the police would attempt to confiscate our tank on sight, so we wanted to make it as legal as possible. This had resulted in Bristly Pioneer and Gelatina traveling up to Norwich to apply for DVLA papers to get a tax disc and number plate for the vehicle. Unfortunately, due to the obscure nature of our tank, the DVLA demanded that they inspect it before we could have our papers. This caused a major problem as we were attempting to buy a tank and get it legal to take to the fair with about a week and a half! Somehow we managed to get the Norwich DVLA people on our side and they arranged a next day early morning inspection of the tank in Ipswich, if we could get it there in time.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 7TH
At 8am Agent Spritely Monkey boarded a train to Ipswich to meet Mick, our low loader truck driver, at the DVLA offices. Mick had picked up the tank the day before from the fields it had been kept in. Waiting at the DVLA with our inspector, our truck pulled around the corner with an 8.5 Tonne armored personnel carrier on the back. Thank fully we passed our inspection (it was as big, heavy and monstrous as we said) and the paper work was faxed to Norwich to complete our application. Spritely jumped into the train and Mick drove the truck south to meet Agent V by an east end lock up which agent Cainingu had organised for us, all was going according to plan.
At around two in the afternoon Mick arrived in London to meet agents Spritely and V with the tank. Unfortunately his truck was so big that he couldn't get it right up to the lock up gates. The decision was made to back it off the truck and reverse into the lock up. Spritely jumped into the drivers seat and wheeled down the ramp onto the road.
It's worth mentioning at this point that driving a tank is nothing like driving a normal vehicle at all. There is no clutch, simply a gear change pedal, there are five gears AND forward or reverse (you can reverse in 5th!) Changing gear involved pre-selecting one with your stick, then stomping and releasing the gear change pedal to engage it. The brakes, and steering are run by the hydraulics, so if you don't have enough pressure, you're in deep trouble.
Next thing, disaster struck, as Spritely was attempting to start it up again and get into the lock up, two Police Community Support Officers strolled around the corner on their beat. Obviously a tank in the back streets of East London isn't a regular sight, and they made a bee-line for us and started asking questions. As soon as they radioed for back up the police, who had been eagerly tracking our exploits, realised they had hit the jackpot and found our "secret" tank. Within 10 minutes there were 6 PCSO's posing for photo's by the tank, two cars of uniformed officers, a van of officers, a car full of undercover police and two motorbike road officers on the scene, not good!
Agent Bristly Pioneer was called out of work, and shot down to the east end with the paperwork which had been e-mailed from Norwich. The next two hours were some of the most stressful of our lives so far, attempting to explain to the police that it was simply a leisure vehicle for a group of friends. They wanted, paper work, they wanted to inspect the vehicle and worst of all, at one point they wanted to tow it away! We managed to talk them down, however they had also now decided to start harassing the guy who was going to let us keep it on his land. Eventually they agreed to let us move it into the lock up rather than towing it away, however they refused to let us drive it the 100 feet to the doors, as it was not officially road legal yet. This was 100 feet on an empty back street with 40 policemen to keep guard, obviously it was still a danger. We ended up having to hire another truck to move it, this tank was already proving expensive.
Eventually we got the tank locked up and safe from the Met, before heading over to limehouse to have a planning meeting. As you can see from the photo's we were all pretty stressed out by this point, we had the tank, but with the police knowing where it was, our surprise entrance was blown. However never ones to let a stressful situation dampen our spirits, we toasted the fact we had our very own tank, named her FREDOM (she was previously just called Fred) and danced the night away in a Local pub.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 8TH
Heading down to the lock up early to start work on getting the tank running smoothly and ship shape, we were greeted by a van of Police who had decided to park up outside to monitor what we were up to. Again they decided to take the tactic of harassing our hosts, with FIT team police photographers recording everyone, wandering around their place of business and generally making everyone feel under threat. They even started spreading roomers that we were ultra violent protestors, who were going to squat his land.
After a while the FIT team's presence led to hijacker mischeif with Gelatina peforming a tank turret striptease for the photographers, by the time she was down to her knickers, the suitably embarrased photographer had put down his camera and was desperately trying not too look. The police eventually disappeared, only to return about four hours later to get under people's feet again, eventually heading off for the night at about 6pm.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 9TH
We soon realised that we were going to have to move the tank if we were going to remain friends with our host, so we hatched a plan to move it in the middle of the night. Hopefully we would be able to slip past the police and regain our element of surprise. At 1am in the morning Agent V, Spritely Monkey, Gelatina and Bristly Pioneer sneaked up to the lock up. Only to find a van of police waiting for us, we hadn't discussed this plan openly, only over the phone, and this was a full 7 hours since the police had left. They of course wanted to know what we were up to and demanded everyone's names and addresses (which isn't strictly legal) even threatening to stop our truck if we refused to give them. Eventually we decided to come clean, and admit we were moving the tank to a location where they couldn't harass us.
Our truck arrived, and after more debate, the police agreed to move out of the way and let us drive out of the lock up and onto the truck. This of course was much easier said than done. The tank was about 4 inches thinner than the width of the truck, meaning that Bristly Pioneer had to drive the six wheeled beast up with only 2 inches to spare on each side, this whilst the police were desperately trying to photograph what was inside the tank, and in the middle of the night with no headlights, not much fun. Eventually, after the will of the gods, and a run up at the truck we managed to get Fredom parked on the back. Agent V jumped in the cab with the drivers as our police escort followed, and the other agents jumped on our bikes.
We drove to the new location, a wood yard, within spitting distance of the Arms Fair, and prepared to unload. The police in their wisdom parked their van behind the truck, so as Bristly attempted to reverse off, with one wheel coming off the side (it's ok we had five more) the tank lurched towards them at quite some pace. Cue six police scattering as a tank flew towards them, and Bristly, for a moment, thinking he was going to wipe out a riot van. We locked up the van in it's new home and threw a tarpaulin over the gates, so that the police couldn't see inside. As the hijackers headed off to bed (it was about 4am at this point) the police broke out their sandwiches for a long night ahead guarding the tank. It seems that from now on we were to be under 24hr surveillance.
On our way home, we decided to have a road side crisis meeting. We were getting paranoid that either the police were bugging the hall, or our phones, as they seemed to know our every move. It was here that we decided we needed a plan C, something to pull the rug from under the feet of the smug police who had been following us for days now. We came up with a plan, but it was going to cost a LOT of money, a lot of money we didn't have. We realised the plan had to stay top secret, and so only a few agents new about it, even right up to the last moment. But dear reader, we'll have to keep you in suspense a little longer.
As the night time agents, slept, a second group of hijackers made it down to the lock up and worked on the tank. By the end of the day things were looking much more ship shape, we had fixed a leak at the back, got some of our lights working and our hydraulics were looking good.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 10TH - The day before the arms fair opens
Bristly and Gelatina traveled up to Norwich to pick up our new tax disc and registration numbers, meanwhile Yoshi, our OAP electronics wizard got to grips with our electrics. The police were still camped outside the lock up, desperately trying to peek in, however they had now got embroiled in a water battle with the hijackers. Every time a policeman would poke his head over the fence, they would get hosed down with a fire extinguisher, the police then decided to retaliate by filling latex gloves with water and chucking them over the fence. I kid you not, we ended up getting the police, to throw water bombs at the anarchists!
Returning to London Bristly nipped over to the nearest car shop and our number plates were made up, by the time we got back to the tank things were looking better still. Undecided and Yoshi had our headlights working, indicators and side lights too. Although I think at this point the side lights were wired up to the smoke grenade launchers. Again, as before, our tank is not like a normal car, it has two batteries and runs on 24 not 12 volts, so finding spares can prove tricky.
As for plan C, things were looking up. Agent V had given us all 'pay as you go' SIM cards for our phones, and most agents were now chatting on untraceable mobiles. It was at this point we began to question whether we had actually turned into terrorists. Luckily an amazing agent had offered to lend us the money to get plan C on the road, and Agent Koshka had been working magic on her phone putting the various elements into place.
We decided we needed a last minute meeting for the Hijackers who knew about plan C to get our heads together and prepare for the big day. We convened in a pool room above a local pub, switched off mobile phones, flattened out a map of the area on the pool table and got down to business. By this point paranoia was at some ridiculous level. It also didn't help that several agents had recently been to the cinema to watch 'The Bourne Ultimatum'. We began to plan in the empty room, when all of a sudden, Agent Rusty Knees (a recent Space Hijacker recruit) walked in.
"Hello guys, I just happened to be downstairs, and wondered what you were up to?"
"I was just downstairs and my friends the barmaid said you were up here, what are you planning"
"Erm, I'm not being funny, but are you a policeman?"
"What, er no"
"What colour is your underwear?"
"Listen, you are going to have to leave us alone, I'm afraid"
We get back to work, Plan A - Fredom was well on track, by the morning, we would have a working, road legal tank to drive into the fair. Agent V had sorted out a massive sound system to load onto the top including a sound cannon "not enough to kill a cow, but might cause structural damage". Plan C - The Bird, was also falling into shape, however we were having supplier issues, and it looked like two agents were going to have to leave carry a huge wad of cash across London first thing in the morning to finalise the plan.
Next thing we know, another two men walk into the room and start playing pool right next to us. Again, we instantly assumed they were police (we'd had a few drinks by now) and after a bit of questioning, they wandered off downstairs.
We split up for the night, with Gelatina and Koshka off to scan google earth and get plan C sorted, Bristly, Spritely and Greenman were off to ride the route we would take to the fair in the morning, and everyone else off to work on Fredom. By the time we got back to the lock up, halogen spot lights had been set up so that Undecided and the technical team could work on the tank through the night. We had word that the police may attempt to raid during the night, and so Hardcastle and the tank team decided that they would sleep in the tank and around the yard incase it happened. To test out the theory of whether our phones were being bugged, at one point Spritely called Bristly to arrange a late night move of the tank, and sure enough within 15 min's, the police had turned up at our doors again. Hmmm?
Eventually everyone got to bed, sleeping in shipping containers, armored personnel carriers and wood huts.
Continue to September 11th - Tank Day ...