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London May Day Critical Mass 2006


Yesterday I got up at 7am and took the train to London for May Day. I picked up Pedals in South London (leaving my own bike in the garage) and rode it (with DJ/co-pilot) to the South Bank. It had been raining steadily when I woke up but I was optimistic, and by the time we arrived at the meeting point under Waterloo Bridge about 11:30 the rain had stopped and the sun was shining intermittently. There was no pre-planned route but there were plenty of possibilities. At noon there were two other events due to start, the TUC March assembling at Clerkenwell Green and Beating the Bounds assembling in Trafalgar Square. I assumed people would also be wanting to stop somewhere for a picnic, and there was considerable interest in crashing the police street party outside the Bank of England. By the time we left there were approximately 140 bikes with about 20 of them being ridden by our usual friendly police escort.

We set off travelling East along the South Bank, crossed Blackfriars Bridge and headed up to Clerkenwell Green. On The Road There was a heavy police presence and we could see the head of the march lining up but we didn't stop (apparently the Autonomous Bloc was forming up at the back so they would not have seen us). We carried on up to Kings Cross then along the Euston Road, down through Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus before arriving at Trafalgar Square at about 12:30 for a toilet stop. There was no sign of the Beating the Bounds crew so they must have set off promptly (later I heard that there were only about ten of them but apparently they were under heavy police surveillance so they would have been hard to miss). At this point I was hungry and decided to proceed to the nearest park to eat.

There was great moment when we arrived at St James's Park and people started cycling exuberantly round and round the bandstand Magic Roundabout - I wish we had been able to play the Magic Roundabout theme music:-) It was now about 13:30 and it had turned out warm and sunny. Lots of people seemed restless so we split up at this point. A fairly large group cycled off, accompanied by half of the police escort, while I settled down to chill out in the park for a while. In the end we were down to about 20 people but by 14:30 we were refreshed and ready for more action - and we still had Pedals.

We set off for the Bank of England and as we passed Trafalgar Square the head of the TUC march was just arriving. Not wanting to get caught up in it we headed off down Northumberland Avenue and turned left onto Victoria Embankment. Arriving at about 15:00 we easily located the party, which was taking place on the pedestrian area between Cornhill and Threadneedle Street. I set up Pedals to take over from a much smaller soundsystem and donned an old black crash helmet to complete my riot cop outfit. It was quite surreal dancing May Pole in police fancy dress outside the Bank of England, on a bank holiday, surrounded by police. There was even a bizarre version of dancing round the May Pole.

By the time the party ended our police escort had dissapeared so when a group of about twenty of us set off for Trafalgar Square we finally had a chance to ride unescorted - yay! We must have got there about 17:00 and after a couple of loops of the roundabout we pulled up on the South East corner and immediately started drawing a crowd Trafalgar Square of people who were in the mood to dance. After a while an official came up to me (with three cops hovering in the background) and asked me to turn off the music. This did not go down well with the people, who persuaded me to turn it back on. I went and told the guy that I was getting ready to go but that in the meantime I would keep the system on because that was what people wanted and we were not doing any harm. He didn't hassle me again but I didn't push my luck, deciding that it would be good to end the day back at our our original picnic spot.

We headed off after telling a few people where we were going and did a detour via Buckingham Palace before returning to the bandstand in St James Park. More people started arriving on foot, including lots dressed as police, and then three van loads of the real thing who hung around for a while taking notes before leaving without making a fuss. Half an hour later a Royal Parks Police car pulled up and out stepped two cops, one of whom had a serious attitude problem. I turned the music right down and while he got sucked into an argument with a bunch of people I was paying attention to his collegue who was getting instructions via radio. He interrupted the call to ask me who we were and I told him we were just out celebrating May Day. He relayed that information and whoever he was talking to must have told him to leave us alone because he tapped his collegue on the back and signalled him to get back in the car. As they beat a hasty retreat people were laughing and jeering - must have been the closest thing to a victory they had experienced all day. But Pedals had been running for many hours and I didn't want to drain the battery so I only stayed a little while longer before riding it back to South London. All in all a very successful day out I thought. Ian Gregory 2010