Bikes and Badgers

I hadn’t been on Critical Mass in London since last year’s Olympic Critical Mass and with a good weather forecast for the last day of May I was quite keen to attend. I also wanted to go to a couple of events on Saturday so when a friend in Highgate asked me to have a look at her garden and offered a bed for the night I decided to make a weekend of it. On Friday afternoon I gave my fixie a good clean and packed a few things in a rucksack then caught the train to Kings Cross. I was early so I stopped off in Brunswick Square to chill out before heading down to the South Bank where a good crowd had gathered. I never normally wear a helmet but I have a GoPro camera that I wanted to try out so I had bought a basic lid and stuck one of the supplied mounts to it. When the Mass seemed nearly ready to leave I hit record and strapped it to my head, hoping it was pointing in more or less the right direction. We started out by going round the IMAX roundabout and across Waterloo Bridge before diving down into the Strand Underpass and emerging on Kingsway. After that we just basically kept going straight up Southampton Row and Eversholt Street into Camden and on to Chalk Farm. The first turn was a right onto Prince of Wales Road, at which point I decided to drop out because I was relatively close to where I would be sleeping. I pulled over and waited for a friend who only appeared after several hundred other bikes had passed. I got some reasonably good footage with the GoPro but there are lots of boring bits so if I am going to upload any of it I will have to do some serious editing first. We rode back to Camden Lock together to get something to eat at inSpiral then I said goodbye and cycled up past Kentish Town to Highgate. I got there about ten thirty and found my friend somewhat the worse for wear after an ill-advised Thursday night bender, so we just had a cup of tea before crashing out.

On Saturday morning I had a look at the garden and drew up a plan before heading off down to Millbank to join the National March Against the Badger Cull which was organised by London Against the Badger Cull and due to assemble at noon. I got a bit lost so by noon I was only in Trafalgar Square, where I ran into the first rehearsal for Trooping the Colour. That was only part of the reason for the large police presence though, the other being a planned BNP march and counter-protest. Anyway, I got through OK and as I reached Millbank I came across a group of about 40 people walking in the opposite direction, many of whom were wearing badger costumes or masks. I tagged on and ended up outside DEFRA where a petition was being handed in. I saw Bill Oddie being interviewed and caught a glimpse of Brian May through the pack of journalists surrounding him. Brian has provided a big celebrity boost to the anti-culling campaign. Initially I thought this was the extent of the protest but soon realised that I had just joined a small delegation to DEFRA (which was not on the route of the main march). So we headed to the Tate Gallery, where a crowd of at least a thousand had assembled. I locked up my bike and had a wander round while speeches were being made. One of the things I saw was an ugly little black dog wearing a sign that said something like “Ex-badger baiters against the cull”. A friend once told me that no dog could take a badger in a fair fight and clearly this poor creature had been through the wars, with a mutilated muzzle and large chunks of its lips missing.

Obviously I wouldn’t have been on the march had I not been opposed to culling but I am not going to argue the case here, the Wikipedia article Badger culling in the United Kingdom is a good place to start if you want to learn about the issue. If you are opposed to culling then one easy thing to do would be to sign this petition if you have not already done so. The Labour Party has announced it will table an Opposition Day debate on Wednesday 5th June. The wording for the motion reads: “This house believes the badger cull should not go ahead”. The Badger Trust have asked that people contact their MP in advance of the debate, stating in their own words the views they hold on the pilot trials.

The march proceeded according to plan and there was a good atmosphere the whole way to St James’s Park where it officially ended. A Krishna devotee had pushed his food trike from the start and was now set up in the park so I got a plate and sat down in the sun to eat. The crowd quickly thinned out and I realised that a lot of people must have headed over to Parliament Square, perhaps to continue their protest where it would be more visible, or perhaps to reinforce the anti-fascist contingent facing off the BNP. I stayed in the park chatting to some people I knew from Veggies who were supplying cake to those in need. I had also planned on attending the grand reopening party of Freedom Bookshop (following the firebombing earlier this year) but that was a ride out East and I was warming to the idea of cycling home rather than shelling out for another train ticket. So I set off but made sure to go via Parliament Square to see what was happening. The police outnumbered the BNP by a huge margin and, as I had expected, there were a number of people dressed as badgers or at least wearing cardboard badger masks. I overheard a tourist asking a police officer what was going on. The officer patiently explained “Over there are the BNP, who are right wing, and over there are the anti-fascists, who are left wing, and they hate each other so we are trying to keep them apart”. I couldn’t resist asking him what side the badgers were on and he patiently explained that they were from a different protest. He thought they were probably left wing but said something like “the badgers are not the problem” – which is sort of what I had been saying all afternoon. Later when I was back home I came across a wonderful headline Far-Right Extremists Chased Through London by Women Dressed as Badgers.

I rode through Camden again, past Kentish Town to Archway, then followed the A1 North before taking the A1000 up through Finchley and Barnet. Just after Monken Hadley a small road leads off to Kitts End and when it hits Dancers Hill Road there is a sign directing cyclists along National Route 12 of the National Cycle Network. There is a rough bit where the route goes through a small tunnel under the M25 but then it is smooth path and quiet roads almost to my front door. I wish I had timed myself but I am guessing it was around 2 hours to do about 22 miles and I think that will be my preferred route now.

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