To the barricades

One of the most enduring images of revolution, is that of the barricade. From early on, barricades became intrinsically linked to urban uprisings, everywhere they occurred. Demonstrators, or armed revolutionaries, would immediately erect these road blocks, to protect areas that they had manged to seize, or to control movement around towns and cities.

Dependent on location, or even country of origin, the materials used to construct these obstructions could differ widely. In rural communities, there might be straw bales, bags of grain, or piled logs. In cities, they might dig up large cobble stones, not only for use in the barricade, but also as improvised weapons. Nearby houses would be stripped of furniture, which was then piled high and deep, affording reasonable protection. If the locale had a nearby library, university, or well-stocked bookshop, you might see piles of books made into useful redoubts. This made good sense. Books are heavy, and often thick, so they can stop bullets, or at least reduce their effectiveness.

As time went on, more solid barricades appeared, made of barrels, wooden chests, and even building materials, like bricks, or paving slabs. With the arrival of motorised transport, the civilian militias soon adapted overturned cars, buses, and vans for their purposes. Even as recently as this year, we have seen rebel forces abroad using tyres, commandeered vehicles, and industrial machinery, all to barricade a street, or a particular area.

This made me think about the dilemma for the modern urban revolutionary though. Say this was to happen in a large British town, or city. What exactly would be to hand, and how much use would it be as a barricade? Vehicles are plentiful, that goes without saying. They are easily overturned, but do not make a good refuge from bullets, even less so from rocket grenades, and artillery shells. They also contain petrol tanks, so can be dangerous for the user, as well as affording only temporary cover. Better to use the trailers of articulated vehicles; there are lots around, and they don’t blow up easily. Also heavy plant, like bulldozers, diggers, and mobile cranes. They offer good obstructive qualities, and are easily moved into position. Pallets are also useful. There are piles of them everywhere, and they make a good platform. Not as part of the barricade, but as steps and perches to stand on, so you can see over the top.

The authorities tend to use the ubiquitous alloy barriers for their part. These should be avoided. They are too easily overturned, and can quickly be grabbed by your opponent, and used as weapons in return. They are additionally fundamentally flawed, as their effect is mainly psychological, and they have gaps that allow fluids and thrown missiles to pass through. Come to think of it, who could ever have thought that they would be of any use? They also still favour use of the manned ‘shield wall’ as well, and riot police are frequently seen seeking cover behind one. Popular since Greek and Roman times, this is easily climbed over, and equally easy to break down. No, it has to be a barricade, but it must be a good one.

There are not so many books around these days. the demise of the High Street, and countless closures of Libraries, as well as the departure of most branches of W.H. Smith, and Waterstones, has removed the option to deploy books in bulk. It is hardly practical, or indeed logical, to erect a stack of Kindle readers, and expect them to provide adequate cover. Charity shops, and Pound shops, which have generally taken the place of all other shops, usually have little to offer by way of bulky items suitable for barricade construction of any durability. There are so many pubs closing, that beer crates are no longer available, and widespread use of tarmac on pavements, as well as roads, has taken away the chance of digging up cobbles or slabs. The combination of progress, and a depressed economy, is conspiring against the barricade builders. So what to use?

Then it dawned on me. Most areas boast a branch of Argos, and many have a decent sized Tesco supermarket too. Both shops are well-known for producing massive amounts of catalogues, usually stacked outside the shops in huge containers, to make it easy for customers to collect them on the way in or out. These can become the new building blocks of today’s barricades. Widely available, already stacked, and apparently limitless in number. The modern revolutionary has been handed his solution by the retail giants.

All we have to do now, is to ensure that the next revolt coincides with the release of the new Argos Spring and Summer catalogue.

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