In Brighton I feel like a ghost, superimposed over my old life. I walk down the street and see old friends, old faces, old and new building facades. People say hello and wave ~ what? You can see me?
It’s like a dream, but not a lucid one. I feel uncomfortable in my old flat – my clothes and belongings suitcased, in cupboard; unfamiliar posters cover the walls; I can’t find the salt. I’m pleased to feel so disconnected from it, I don’t want to feel at home here. I am a nomad now, this is just a visit.
I ‘m back in time for the Earth First! Gathering. It’s one of my favourite social events of the year and I’m not let down. The site is two beautiful rolling fields with a gorgeous twisting oak from which people learn to climb, hang hammocks and under which children play. I feel more at home in a tent now than I do in a flat. It’s nice to reconnect with friends on unfamiliar territory. The unfamiliar is what’s familiar now. Familiarity seems suspicious, like back-tracking, like regression.
I go on a wild food walk, learn about the financial crisis and an impending traveler eviction, nano-technology, prisoner support and discuss ways of challenging patriarchy – still finding time to have mind-expanding conversations with beautiful people. I leave feeling more complete than when I arrived.
The real reason I came home was to visit my mother. I hitch up to her house from site and get a lovely lift from a social worker woman who chats politics with me in a cheery manner and makes me tea in her house when we stop to pick up mail. She phones a friend, “I have a hitch-hiker here with me, but don’t worry, she’s harmless…no, I wouldn’t normally, but she looked so unthreatening…”
I send Mum a message to let her know I’m on my way. A text message in reply: “What do you eat now?” I’m still vegan. I’ve been vegan 4 years. “Do vegans eat eggs if they are free range?” *No.
Filey got frozen in time sometime back in the 1950s. There are Golliwogs on sale in the Post Office; “vegetarian” is a foreign word; coffee is cheap, but like muddied water. Still, the people seem to like it. Most of them were young in the ’50s and have come to live out their nether-years away from the big lights, big smoke, big noise of the encroaching world. That at least I can sympathise with, and a week here isn’t so bad. There are downsides of course: no anarchists, no soya lattes, the BNP stall going ahead, unbothered. I haven’t seen that myself – but I’ve heard.
There are a lot less people this year. A lot of the criticisms still stand: issues with hierarchy, liberalism, losing the radical edge… but there’s still a beauty to it. There’s still an excitement, an audaciousness that may sometimes be middle-class, but also comes from the thrill of those who’ve grown up as such breaking free of something…
A crowd is dancing around camp with a peddle-powered sound-system, gathering people, momentum and energy; handing out white biohazard suits and face-masks. The energy grows, the crowd grows, until we are a mass of dancing white suits… the bridge is stormed, the police can’t hold us… white-suited bodies run around the building, a window is smashed as people try to get inside. The police have adopted a laid-back, community policing stance this year – still playing it cautious after a man was killed at the G20 demo in London two years ago. They’re unprepared for a sudden and spontaneous mass-assault on the bank. They form lines quickly, but we’re quicker – running, rolling and dancing in every direction. Some people are arrested, but others pull them back, de-arrested. An uneasy stand-off is reached and a meeting is called on the bridge. Some think the bridge is ours now and we should hold it, others think too much energy is needed and it’s not so important. Opinions bounce back and forth until many grow tired and wander up the embankment on the camp side to watch. Those on the bridge still want to hold it, but energy is diminishing fast. Those on the front-line don’t know what’s going on further back and vice-versa. Eventually we stand down, an anti-climax. Why does it always have to end like this, with bureaucracy?
Camp is over. I leave as the last parts are packed onto lorries and it seems as though there are more people than jobs. I give my tent to an appreciative hippy and join him and some others for coffee and cake at The Forest Cafe, making use of their free wifi. It’s around two years since I was last in Edinburgh, one of the places I used to refer to as “my secret double life”. A few streets are familiar, but others are like strangers and my directional sense is scrambled. I have moved on. This city is a lost love. The Forest too – it’s nice to visit, but if I moved here now, my energy would go elsewhere.
Benjamin is a friend I met in Calais – an Iranian fleeing torture, an activist, one of the bravest people I know. Now he lives in Glasgow and as I’m in Scotland, I go and visit him. It’s great to see him alive and (relatively) well after such a long time. His life hasn’t been easy since we last met and it’s taking it’s toll on his health. Five days ago he was released from a detention centre from which he was to be deported to Greece. Fortunately, Benjamin has a strong support network and the deportation was stopped, for the second time. I think of all those without friends and support, sent to torture or death without anyone even knowing. He took part in a hunger strike while in detention and I know this was not his first. Self-harm seems to be the biggest weapon an asylum seeker has.
I arranged to stay with somebody else in Glasgow, just in case – but of course there was no need. Benjamin calls me his sister and insists I take the bed while he take the floor, despite my protests. He says it’s better for his back and no amount of arguing will budge him, so I take the bed with thanks. When our other friend P_ arrives a day later, Benjamin gives us his entire bedroom and goes to sleep in the lounge. Persian hospitality – from here we have a lot to learn.
I meet my father in Glasgow too. It’s a long time since we last met, but that’s hardly unusual. We have a drink or two then bump into Benjamin and P_ on the street. Benjamin ushers us into a pub and insists on buying a drink for Dad and me. It’s nice to hang out together. Dad regales us with tales from his train-hopping youth and P_, an avid blackrider (fare-dodger, train-skipper), is clearly impressed. Benjamin too, who says Dad reminds him of an uncle. I try but fail to imagine a Persian version of Dad. “Nice lads,” Dad comments after the others have left. I am very proud.
The night coach from Glasgow to London takes nine hours. Hitching would be quicker, but means losing another day at Small World, my old favourite hippy festival for which I have a free ticket as part of Climate Camp.
I’ve finally found an excellent way to hitch South out of London and after a train (to Bromley), a bus (246) and a walk (down Pilgrims Lane), I hitch down to Headcorn and make my way to the site. Many a familiar face is there to greet me and I have two excellent days being a hippy before the Fash show up in Brighton.
Three of us are trying to get to Brighton quickly for the English Nationalist Alliance Demo (against – not with them, obviously). Finding a lift isn’t easy and we arrive late to find a sea of yellow police jackets dividing anti-fascist protesters from the pub where the fascists are drinking. Despite their claims of being patriots, not racists, they are still coming out with the same slogans and at least one was seen Sieg-Heiling. A friend’s Eye-Witness Account.
I feel like a ghost in Brighton, but somehow not as much as before. After a couple of weeks I’m starting to settle back in – which means it’s definitely time to leave. I’ve had wild nights out, intimate nights in, sorted through old possessions, caught up with friends… Time to shove my suitcase back in the cupboard and step back out into the world.