Andy and I jumped on an early train in order to take part in the cycle protest that was to precede the main marches and demonstrations against ‘Climate Chaos’.
Arriving at 9:40am and with a supposed leaving time of 10:00am from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a couple of miles away from the station, we quickly hopped on our bikes and swung into the city traffic. No wonder bike couriers flourish in big cities – it’s very easy to get about the place very quickly, if you don’t mind letting slip things like lane etiquette, stopping at traffic lights, keeping off the pavement, etc…
After overshooting a couple of junctions and improvising somewhat with the idea of one-way systems, we rolled up at the rendezvous on the stroke of ten. Luckily things took a little longer to get organised, as is often the case with large conglomerations of people, and it wasn’t until closer to 11 that we made our way, en masse, out onto Kingsway, amidst thousands of tinny bells a-ringing and horns a-honking.
Hundreds of cyclists poured from the little alleyway onto the wide, empty street of Kingsway, while bike-mounted police officers brought the traffic to a halt. Free-wheeling down towards the Aussie embassy, I was content to drift, enjoying the hypnotic whir of hundreds of pedal-powered wheels rolling along the road – punctuated with localised bouts of bell-ringing and whoops of glee from the sun-bathed cyclists – as the traffic came to a standstill around us. The glorious morning sun filtered down and the experience was of passing through a surreal, alternative, yet sadly temporary version of London; infinitely more peaceful and beautiful than its normal self.
Most of what can be seen above is a single contraption, bestowed with the name ‘Rinky-Dink’. It’s a marvel of inspired and talented D.I.Y. engineering. The big green climbing-frame trundled through the ranks of cyclists like a beast out of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Professor Branestawm’s combined childhood fantasies, incense-sticks burning and folk music erupting from somewhere within its abdominal region. Two men pedalled at the front, while one old man reclined on a saddle at the back, pedalling away at a flywheel which, in turn, generated enough power to operate a fascinating array of electrical equipment. Everywhere there was wonder: solar panels, diagrams, lightbulbs, wind turbines, pieces of old bike welded together and painted green, flags, and adornments and decorations galore. And the message was overwhelming: look what we can create if we put out minds to it! And what could you do, given that determination?
We descended on Trafalgar Square at about 2:30, and I was reunited with 3 old university house-mates for the first time since graduation in 2005. Not a lot changes between people who have been together in that environment, no matter how much time has passed.
The gathering in the Square was very much a let-down compared to the impact of the bike protest. We had shut down central London and sent the message we came to give. That same message had been strong in the air at Grosvenor Square, where the bike protest came to an end and we had congregated before marching to Trafalgar. But here, amidst a sea of tourists and passers-by caught up in the occasion, and with no further action to take, we were fed a line-up of popular rock bands and big-mouthed celebrities in a manner depressingly similar to Saturday morning television. The crowds pacified, the cause obscured, the point missed. Who was there to listen, and how were we meant to say anything?
We left briskly, and the final 20-minute dash through the traffic-laden streets, hopping up kerbs and over junctions, dodging between cabs and buses, was enough to remind me why I’d rather be on a bike than behind a wheel.