IF, this Sunday, you are planning to mark the vernal equinox by a peaceful, soul reviving stroll amid the bucolic beeloud glades of the Warrington area, you are in for a surprise.
Instead of wallowing in an idyll of tranquillity, fractured beautifully by the occasional blackbird, the snort of a hermit's pig or the whistle of the local vodka distillery, you are likely to stumble upon an extraordinary scene of cheerful and chaotic muddiness and battiness.
All this week fervent, soggy peace campaigners have been putting the finishing touches on their camp outside the US army base at Burtonwood near Warrington.
Similarly frenetic activity has been taking place in four other peace settlements which seem to dog US army bases over here with more tenacious fidelity than any camp followers.
You may well be wondering why people, who have come to the eminently sensible conclusion that peace is nicer than war, should hit upon such a patently loony way of making their point. Their motives should not be taken at face value.
Having twirled my divining rods and thrown next door's cat in the air barbaric creature that I am, but the pet shop was clean out of sacred serpents I can now reveal the hitherto unmarked and sinister import of these canvas capers a secret unsuspected even by the campers themselves.
It is all a question of suppressed religious instinct.
Those Hampstead pacifists earnestly preparing for what they call a "Spring Equinox Peace Festival" are victims of an ancient British failing the inclination to go round the bend at the equinox. They are not so much crypto Marxists as cryptoDruids.
They need to be taken gently aside and told in tones of clarity
and non-violence that it makes as
much sense for the peace movement to ape the druidical year as
for Ayatollah Khomeini to be named leading ecumenist of our time.
The druids were bloodthirsty thugs less cuddly than even the Orange order of Liverpool. The
only reason they did not point Trident missiles at the Roman
army was because they did not have them otherwise they would have been used with the same carefree abandon as huge wicker cages of people were set alight to provide ashes to guarantee the fertility of the soil.
We have been lulled into a false sense of security about druidism, comforted by images of kindly quaint old men like bleached out Father Christmases with spotless robes and burnished sickles admittedly given to tree vandalism but otherwise possessing no obvious vices.
Every year we stand solemnly by while Welsh bank managers, plumbers and glass blowers swathe themselves in sheets until they look like crosses between Egyptian mummies and preVatican 11 nuns and then sing in Welsh presumably to hide their embarrassment.
These ear-grating activities bear less relation to the realities of druidism than hamburgers do to food. They may be evidence of nostalgia for a bardic tradition, now lost, or of a hankering for a simpler life removed from the complexities of income tax and the threat of nuclear destruction and breakfast television but they present a sinisterly incomplete picture of a poisonous and violent paganism.
The early Christians had no such delusions about the true nature of druidism and loaded their mistletoe addicted adversaries with as many anathemas as they could spare.
But the druids were a devious bunch and made several valiant efforts to infiltrate and subvert the infant church in Gaul, Scotland and England.
One has to admit that they achieved some remarkable successes. They so addled the easily confusable St Beuno that in his dying hours he electrified all his attendants by claiming to have visions of "the Trinity. Peter and Paul and the Druids". It was as if Mr Brezhnev had died with the words of the American constitution on his lips.
Fortunately for Scotland St Columba was less easily duped.
When he first set foot on lona he was welcomed by two druids disguised as monks. They infor med him they were the local Christian bishops and that lona was not big enough for the three of them.
Columba, who was not a great one for ecumenical dialogue, remained unimpressed and the pseudo-bishops fled the island. St Adamnan records that Columba was an old hand at outwitting Druids.
He used to challenge them to magical trials of strength and then would resort to the only sort of cheating available to Christians he would pray. At times even the sight of St Columba was enough to make strong druids weep and remember appointments elsewhere.
In Ireland St Patrick adopted a similar no-nonsense approach to druid infiltrators who left off their rather loud tell-tale speckled cloaks and bird head-dresses to pass themselves off as catechumens clothed in white which was not normal druid garb no matter what the lads at the Eistedffod may say.
The saint did not waste time with words, which were never really his strong point, but simply called down divine fire to burn the imposters to repentant ashes.
There was nothing St Patrick liked more than taking on the druids at their own game. This unfortunately means he will never be considered as a patron for any good neighbours scheme.
There was a celebrated tussle at Slane when St Patrick's paschal fire so got up the nose of the next door druid that a fearful contest ensued.
In a fit of pique the druid plunged the countryside into snowdrifts. Undaunted. St Patrick melted them by a sign of the cross.
By this time King Loegaire became alarmed at the prospect of a continuing silly weather competition so he gently suggested that Patrick and the druid should throw their respective holy books in the river and the winner would be the olavner of which ever book was least smudged.
St Patrick. who by his own admission was not a great bibliophile, agreed quite happily to throw any of his books into the river but the druid, who had clearly not been given any book tokens at Christmas, was not so sure.
Ever obliging, St Patrick suggested an alternative competition which the druid unwisely accepted. A hoUse was specially built with two lockable rooms, one of dry wood and the other of green wood. The idea was that the house would be set on fire with the druid in one room and St Patrick's loyal but dopey sidekick St Benignus in the other.
The survivor would be declared the winner. The druid naturally enough expressed a preference for the green wood room. St Benignus happily ambled off to what looked like certain death in the room made from dry wood. The fire was lit and like St Columba, St Patrick cheated by praying louder than the crackling of the fire and poor Benignus lived to be martyred another day.
So what should you do if you come across any misguided twentieth century crypto-druids in your rambles this Sunday? Clearly the Columban-Patrician approach is too muscular in these days when every church hall has to be fitted with hot and cold rastafarians.
Instead I recommend subtlety or in other words the Eligidan method culled from the sermons of Eloi the ingenious bishop of Noyons who was so polite to
druids even when haranguing them that he was suspected of having druidical leanings himself.
When you happen upon the peaceful campers, hail them enthusiastically and congratulate them on having revived equinox festivals. Then lick your lips menacingly and ask when divination by observing the convulsions of victims stabbed in the midriff so much more reliable than tea leaves is due to begin.
Or you could try a more positive approach, encouraging the campers with warm smiles and praising them for their initiative in choosing mid-Lent Sunday for such a significant festival, thus showing solidarity with the women's movement by selecting Mothering Sunday.
As a parting shot you could ask in a voice of sweet reason why their festival labours under such an aggressive equinoctial label and if any peaceful hackles begin to rise, non-violently suggest that their owners invest in a penguin edition of Caesar's Commentaries so they can see for themselves how bloody, shameful and pagan is the part of our heritage which they have chosen so ingenuously to revive.