A naked woman, daubed with anti-car slogans and sporting a furry hat, reduced a cathedral service to near-chaos yesterday as 1,000 people marked 100 years of the motor car.
The 28-year-old woman was dragged away, police and stewards struggling to cover her, shouting: "The motor car is a killing machine. You are killing each other and you are killing the next generation."
Clergy were too stunned to move as the woman, who goes by the name of "Angel", tried to shackle herself to the pulpit as Prince Michael of Kent sat, with other car worshippers, rooted to their pews.
Emulating Lady Godiva, the 11th-century English countess who rode naked through the streets of Coventry on a horse in support of tax cuts, she threw off her coat and cried: "In the spirit of Lady Godiva, I am here to mourn the death of my mother and the 17 million people killed directly by the motor car and to remember the mothers who have lost their children, the orphaned children, our brothers, sisters, fathers and friends. Mother Earth forgive us."
Angel, from Glastonbury, said her mother was killed in a car accident. She read out virtually her whole alternative litany haranguing the car industry before she was led out of the cathedral by police officers. About 100 protesters, spearheaded by Angel, managed to hijack what should have been a celebration of Coventry's historic links with the motor car. A collection of classic cars such as a Jaguar E type and a Hillman Imp was overshadowed by the protest.
Joanne Browning, whose baby daughter Alice was killed while travelling in the back of a car, said: "Why are they celebrating a machine in church? Are they going to have another ceremony for the washing machine? The car industry is totally irresponsible as it builds faster and faster machines with a casual disregard for safety."
The start of the service misfired when smoke from the 1897 Coventry Daimler driven down the aisle to launch proceedings all but choked the car worshippers.
When the service did get started, it was obvious that the church authorities had already realised that in this age of collective angst about the pollution and carnage caused by the car, they could not celebrate it simply as an unequivocal benefit to humanity. So the Provost, the Very Rev John Petty, started off with what was pretty much an apology for the blessed vehicle, asking God's forgiveness for the "environmental pollution from exhaust fumes, the relentless encroachment of new roads into our countryside and the appalling toll of death and injury".
The assembled captains of the motor industry clearly bristled at this speech but were more taken aback when, in the nature of an officially sanctioned protest, Coventry University students put on a short play. Making music by banging an assortment of car parts together, they sang "the car has another dimension I'm almost too modest to mention, it's a boudoir for lovers who smooch on the covers and sometimes destroy the suspension".
The industrialists were finally let out after an hour and a half only to be booed by the protesters outside.
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