I Thought You’d Left!

It’s hard to know where to begin with this new blog, since beginnings and endings are not so clear. I thought I had finally left Brighton when I hitched my way up to Cumbria for the Earth First Summer Gathering. I said goodbye to my firends, put everything I would need for three countries into a backpack and emptied out the rest of my room. My flatmate took a picture of me, grinning despite the weight on my back which was almost bigger than me.

I made it to the site in eleven hours, in seven lifts – quicker than some people’s coach journeys, and was greeted by friends from Brighton asking, ‘what are you doing here? I thought you’d left!
The gathering was in the wettest inhabited valley in the UK, with a temperate rainforest, waterfalls and rivers running over the mountains that enclosed us for five days of action planning, workshops, water-skills training and general wetness. Thankfully there were barns nearby that could be cleaned out and converted into workshop spaces when the marquees gave up the fight and collapsed under the torrential rain and monsoons. It was nicer than it sounds.

Towards the end of tat-down a lift was announced to Mainshill, a protest site just South of Glasgow, where activists have occupied the land of a proposed open cast coal mine. The site is beautiful and really large – something like 60 acres of fields and woodland. The Scottish Climate Camp had been held there a few weeks previously and people had obviously been putting a lot of work into defenses and infrastructure. Although piles of tat left-over from the camp still dot around the site, lunched-out and unloved.

I bumped into some friends at Mainshill, including Mike from Brighton (“oh, I thought you’d left!”), who decided to hitch to London with me the following day on a whim.
If I thought my hitch up to Cumbria was fast, our journey from Mainshill to London was to break all records: seven hours, including the hour we stopped to eat lunch at a service station! We had three lifts in total, all really nice people and we only waited a few minutes for each one. Once in London though, our luck dried up. After finding Pogo Cafe closed and Rampart apparently unoccupied, we resorted to throwing dice to divine our activities. Unfortunately the die decided not to allow us a slap-up meal but to send us on a wild goose-chase around East London, which eventually saw us back at The Rampart with a friend of mine who has been living there and who came to my leaving party a couple of weeks earlier (‘I thought you’d left!’)

It was very quiet there. We were both very tired and there were mattresses available to sleep on, but for some reason we decided to go to a friend’s house in Brixton, which turned out to be completely full of people awaiting The Climate Camp Swoop due to happen the following day. That was our plan too, so I laid out my sleeping bag on the last available bit of floor space and got a few hours kip before someone’s alarm went off and people began moving around and stepping over me to get out of the door.
I found Mike comatose in a hammock in the garden, fully clothed with a tarp over him. He was initially unwilling to leave said hammock, but eventually arose and after a lot of faffing we managed to leave the house, accompanied by a friend from tree-planting in Hebden Bridge who had been sleeping in the same room as me without either of us realising.

The South London meet-up point was at Stockwell, so that’s where we went. We were late and there was no sign of any obvious campers at the station, but a Channel 4 film crew pointed us in the direction of a nearby park, where we found around fifty soon-to-be-Climate-Campers mulling around chatting, eating their picnics and playing some kind of large energetic game that apparently involved a simulation of some of last year’s police-camper interactions, with lots of running, pushing, shouting and occasional laughter. Eventually the call came and a girl stood up and announced that we would all be heading back to the tube station and on to Greenwich. Everyone got up and slowly made their way as directed, some of us feeling a little like a flock of sheep. We managed the tube journey without any difficulty, despite a DLR employee asking to speak with a representative of the camp because she was concerned we wouldn’t get off (!?!) A little walk uphill from Greenwich station a cheer went up as tripods came into view along the skyline on Blackheath Common. Climate Camp on the common – an audacious move!

This year’s ‘swoop’ tactic seemed to work quite well, meaning that hundreds of campers arrived on the common from different locations at a similar time. This meant lots of extra hands to help unload lorries, erect marquees and secure the site with a ring of Heras fencing. I wasn’t there for the site-take in previous years, but I have been to a lot of camps and festivals and I imagine this year’s Climate Camp was one of the fastest set-ups in history.

Unlike previous years I didn’t go to many workshops. Instead I got involved with Tranquility and some defense stuff, which seemed to suck in all of my time and energy over the first few days. ‘Tranquility’ is not the name I would have chosen, but having been called that for three years running it is now an established part of the camp. Tranquility basically involves conflict resolution, mediation, de-escalation and some really horrible jobs like attempting to enforce the noise curfew, which has been agreed by consensus before the camp at a national gathering, usually without the people who are more prone to making noise and without the influence of alcohol, which seems to change everything.

I’m getting used to feeling the first effects of burnout now and I would like to tentatively say that I’ starting to get the hang of knowing when I need to back off from things and give myself some space. So it was that Sunday night saw me out on some strange kind of ceilidh date with Pete from the Comms  tent. There began a beautiful romance. We parted ways towards the end of tat-down as I caught the camp cold and decided to head back to Brighton for a pit-stop, despite thinking I had already left for good.

The following day an exhausted Pete drove down to get me, despite having stayed up most of the prvious night delivering tat around London in his van. We spent one more night in Brighton and I managed to see The Cowley Club’s shiny newly polished floor and painted shutters. Everywhere I went I was greeted with ‘What are you doing here? I thought you’d left!’

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