Scotland's National Catholic magazine

Extraordinary Lives: Brian Quail

Brian Quail is a retiree and anti-Trident nuclear weapons activist living in Glasgow.

Teaching

I was a Latin teacher in the mid 1960’s and then I was seconded from education full time. I studied Russian at the University of Strathclyde and then at the Herzen Pedological Institute in Leningrad. At the time, the theory was that Russian would be the second modern language in school after French, however, it never happened. There was one point in my life when I was presenting three subjects: Latin, Greek, and Russian. That lasted about a year, then they stopped teaching Latin in school, they stopped teaching Russian in school. For a long while I would just enter in the morning and sit in the staff room and wait to see which teacher was absent. I took a premature retirement with enhanced pension rights.

VJ Day

I remember Hiroshima itself, the surrender of Japan. I was a wee boy. I remember the universal joy that the war was over. I asked my mother: “What is an atom bomb?” She explained to me that the Greeks used to believe things could only be divided into atoms, but they discovered how to break the atom down, which was true enough. I think she envisioned something very scientific and wonderful. She didn’t know about the heat, blast, and radiation. No-one did. The decision was made to censor strongly all pictures from Hiroshima, Nagasaki. It wasn’t until 30 years later that we actually saw what the bomb did. I was in Glasgow in the City Chambers when they showed films of it.

Beginning the activism

I remember being in George Square and there was a young, red-headed man by the name of Robin Cook making a brilliant speech. I decided there and then. Direct, non-violent action came later on with the coming of Trident. Since then I haven’t looked back. I’ve got 16 convictions and six times in jail for not paying a fine. I’ve got quite a record now.

The Catholic Worker

I began working with The Catholic Worker 10 years ago. I love Daniel Berrigan and Dorothy Day. These people fascinated me: the authenticity of them. When they spoke, it wasn’t just what they were saying, but their authority. It has brought me back to the faith. For years I felt lapsed. My Catholicism has become more and more important to me in my peace work, because it seems to me more essential to fulfilling my responsibility as a Christian to speak out against the monstrous evil of Trident.

Convoys

Every so often convoys would come up carrying hydrogen bombs inside up through England, the Borders, to Scotland past Balloch. I was a part of ‘Nuke Watch’ which monitored these convoys. When it was possible we tried to stop the convoy and inhibit the progress. The moment leading up to it, you might think ‘what if I do it the wrong way?’ or ‘what if I need to go to the toilet’? But when you actually [stop the convoy] it’s just calm and peace. I haven’t stopped a convoy for a long while because of Covid. I’m very frustrated at that: convoys are going up and down past the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond through Glasgow and it’s becoming normalised again.

Prison

Before, you used to get a fine and when I’d refuse to pay the fine I would get jailed for that. When I was first in prison it was the old Barlinnie. It was the stuff of nightmares. There was ‘slopping out’ [the use of a bucket instead of toilets] because there were no toilets. The last time I was in people were okay. When prisoners found out why I was in, they were completely sympathetic.

Retirement?

No. When they carry me out in a box. I’m not a well bunny but I’m still well enough to go under a convoy if I get the chance.

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