This is an account of the Critical Mass ride to deliver bikes to the refugee camp in Calais on the August Bank Holiday, 2015.
The ride to Dover was quite shambolically glorious. We set out on the two-day trip from London on our donated rickety bikes, loaded up like packhorses, through sheeting rain and unknown countryside. None of us had been to the Jungle before.
Somehow, all 80 riders made it to some small Chinese restaurant on a roundabout near Charing by midnight, and the kind hosts fed us and allowed us to store our bikes in their yard whilst we camped in the field opposite.
Pulling into Calais on Sunday, there was a new quiet anxiety to our assembly, one caught up in the gravity of the situation we were about to cycle into.
Over 3000 people and 80 bikes: distribution was obviously going to be an issue. John, the Jungle bike mechanic for the past 8 years, suggested those seeking asylum in France should take priority, and that it be done through a lottery, for fairness. Controversial amongst the riders, many felt they didn’t want the refugees to feel they weren’t welcome in the UK by only giving bikes to those seeking to stay in France. It was decided to postpone the distribution decision until the meeting after setting up camp in the Jungle. With hindsight we can unanimously say this was a terrible decision, and a very steep learning curve.
It was clear word had spread of the British contingent bringing bikes to the camp. Cycling in, crowds of people, largely men, shouting hellos in English, Arabic, French, surrounded us; the excitement was palpable.
Tents popped out of the foliage, we passed a make shift restaurant and shop, - stocked with rice and fizzy drinks. “Migrants” are not allowed in the local supermarkets. The amount of legs in plaster was noticeable, injuries from attempting to jump trains and the police response.
On reaching our camping spot we locked bikes together, as had been recommended, whilst we met camp occupants. One Sudanese man lifted his T-shirt to show me the extensive bruising on his stomach from a police baton. “British police don’t do this” he said, “ French police treat us like animals.”
A friend who’d been in a support van that went to drop off donations at a storage place in Calais told me that the warehouse was pretty full, but what was lacking was the resources - largely the people – to distribute them. With the recent spate of van heading over from the UK in the last few weeks, this is even more the case.
Returning on our bikes from a supply run to town, we passed a constant stream of young men, waving and smiling at us as they headed out to try their luck with the border.
Back in camp things had escalated. Excitement had heightened; reaching our spot we couldn't see the meeting, but swathes of people caught up in eager activity; an occasional bike wheel in the air.
Later we discovered that during the meeting piles of bikes locked together had been taken, a few fights broke out: bikes pulled apart whilst still locked. Riders went off attempting to find their bikes so they could unlock them, to save them being torn apart.
A crowd of 20 had gathered around our 4 bikes. We were going to give the bikes, but tomorrow, I explained. The futility of what I was saying hit me. I unlocked our bikes and got out the way whilst the cluster fought over them, staring in shock at this mess. How idealistic had we been to imagine this could have gone differently?
Everyone was struck by the horror of situation we had created. We’d dangled a big fat bicycle-shaped carrot in front of thousands of people to whom a bicycle would mean so much more autonomy and opportunity, and expected them to sit back and wait for us to decide who was deserving enough. Unsurprisingly this didn’t ride.
Bikes gone, we grabbed our sleeping stuff from the leaving vans as the skies darkened.
We’d barely unzipped the tents before the heavens opened. A couple got shoddily erected before the torrential rain was too much. Invited, we dived into our neighbours’ tent, 8 of us alongside its 6 Kurdish Syrian occupants.
Taking off our shoes we squeezed up on mattresses. I brought in my offering of soggy baguettes, Brie and plastic bottle of wine. Our tents abandoned to the monsoon rain, we got to know our hosts.
They were two doctors, a lawyer, an engineer, a carpenter and a student from Syria, men aged between 23 and 31. Hassan, a doctor with good English acted as translator. Despite language barriers we flitted easily between laughter and deep political discussions. They told me that they would go out a for 2-3 nights to ‘try’, often walking 20 km, then spend a few days resting before trying again. One told me proudly how he’d twice managed to cling on a train, and twice been caught by police and Jailed. Mostly though, they said, Syrians weren’t held so long when arrested, the Sudanese and Eritreans who were detained longest.
Peaking out: the entire sandy ground was turned into a lake, our tents all completely flooded. Tent-less, we now experienced a little of how fragile existence in this place actually is. Our hosts insisted we stay with them.
Exclaiming at the intensity of the raging storm, Hassan responded, “you should have heard the one last night.” Eventually, exhausted, looked after, we fell asleep, lying like sardines.
Monday morning we awoke to heavy skies but a break in the rain. Using some plastic bottles and anything else, a fire was finally lit, and a pan of water boiled for tea. Lipton with lots of sugar was shared out amongst us.
Off to fetch firelighters for our hosts, at the entrance we were met with a brick wall of Police Nationale: in full riot gear, pepper spray and shields in hand. No one was allowed to leave the camp. This didn’t surprise camp occupants. People trudged through the rain in flip-flops to sit and wait.
Bikes distributed, everyone was more relaxed. However huge areas of camp now underwater, people were busy trying to spade water out of their tents using anything they could find.
As we left, one of our friends joked that he could climb into my rucksack. Yes, I said, maybe even two of you.
It was an emotional exit from camp, marked by squeezing between riot police. As we waved goodbye, our friends kept waving, despite the pouring rain.
In Calais, I met 3 nurses from the UK on their way to the camp to set up a foot clinic, to treat foot injuries before they got really bad. Meeting one of them back in London, she told me they ended up doing a full on first aid tent, as there was so much need.
Back in London, writing my experiences in the wee hours of the morning, I glanced at my phone to see a text: “Hours passed since the UK Border, Jamal.” 4 of our Syrian friends made it through the border that night. They have registered with the authorities and are in the process of seeking asylum in the UK. They have been “dispersed” to Manchester, Cardiff and Liverpool. We are going on trip to see our friends from Jungle, I’ll be very pleased to see them again, this side of the border.
Calais Migrant Solidarity
Critical Mass to Calais FB page:
come and join the Focus E15 Mothers and share your story
raising awareness and building the campaign- weekly stall every saturday outside Wilkinson in Stratford, 12-2pm - street stall, petitioning, leafleting & open mic. COME DOWN...
come to this:
Saturday 19 April - Focus on the Future - event of food, fun and football outside Focus E15 from 2.30pm. come down!
THE BIGGER WE GROW THE LOUDER WE BECOME
Focus E15 is a hostel in Stratford that provides a home for over 200 young people who need it. Newham council cut funding for the hostel and Young mothers from the Focus E15 mothers and baby were served with eviction notices and told that they would be rehoused in places outsde of london such as Stoke on Trent, Birmingham and Manchester. These mothers have been fighting to stay in their community, near family and support networks in East London. And its one hell of a fight. Newham council and Newham mayor - Sir Robin Wales (Labour, suprisingly) consistantly ignore and deflect or in Wales' case outright reject these women's claim to stay in their borough. Over ten of the mothers have won the fight to be housed in the burough, but this victory is bitter sweet - they are housed in private accomodation, usually run by slum landlords and the conditions are appauling. the young women have plenty of stories of mice, rats, coackroaches, damp, vermin, and no inclination from their landlord to anything about it. These are also very temporary contracts - they have no idea or power over how long they may get to stay in one place before they are made homeless again- the contracts are maximum of a year. these are no conditions to live let alone bring up children. The campaign is wider than these parents and this hostel, the campaign is aimed at everyone who is facing the threat of repossession and eviction and homelessness. the message is :
WE must STAND TOGETHER, raise awareness & FIGHT what is happening.
please sign and share the PETITION
watch a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JO7mSrW4ifQ
Three Concrete Houses NEWAVAILABILITY: H-3CONHSE This set of three concrete houses are a great little ornament for anywhere in the house, and being cast in concrete makes them so on trend.H 9 x W 6 x D 6 cm
my mum found this in a catalogue. I think this is quite an amazing microcosm of gentrification. artists and creative workers take up place in an impoverished or neglected area, the designers soon follow and then the developers and then it dies. the residents are priced out of the area and the concrete home - the social housing - is now the sort after property of the bourgoisee. 3 concrete ornimental houses for 20 pounds (plus delivery? seeing as how its a catalogue)
a solo Glaswegian RAVE! the dark, damp atmospheric tunnels underneath waterloo make an earry industrial setting for this one woman piece. it works brilliantly. with a live dj - Edan interacts with the way you do in a club when you are loving the music. all 'Eckied' up, Edan's confessions of lovely pals belies something dark with in. the piece successfully moves between physical pieces to dance music and the booming music to which she is having it, only emphasises her isolation. stepping outside of the performance space for a breather, Edan comes and stands in the audience and offers revellers a drink of water- and chats (one sidely - audience arent expected to interact though i'm sure it would work if they did) some of the sadness comes through. Edan's eventual descent into an attempt to set herself on fire on a alter to god (for the sins of people in the UK complaining about our privilaged lives while millions die). it fails as her 'pal' never gave her back her zippo. the piece is really succesful in portraying the loneliness, the attempt at escapism and really the post traumatic stress that solidiers returning from tours often experience. it also reminds us of how lucky we are. it was useful for me, to see a piece that didn't have very ,much text, but used music and some sound effects to transport us from free party in glasgow to afganistan and back. I would like to experiment with using soundscapes in this way.
Boris Johnson: Super-rich an oppressed minority like homeless people http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2013/11/18/boris-johnson-super-rich-an-oppressed-minority-like-homeless
it doesnt seem possible that the MAYOR could actually BELIEVE that does it?
Daniel Kitson's one man show involving him narrating a story into 46 parts recorded on to 46 analogue machines. these, which are in a huge pile at the back of the stage at the beginning of the show, are one after the other distributed about the stage and connected by Kitson to the power source - just in time for the next part of the story to start. Kitson spends the near two hours running between the table of machines at the back, laying connecting cables and waiting at the central down stage power desk for the cue to flick the switch onto the next device. Kitson warns us - though his autobigraphical narration in introduction and regular occourances - also recorded, that this could go wrong. some of the machines are very old, audible in the quality of sound when they play. at times the sound starts too low or high on one device and Kitson rewinds and starts that section of the story again. its funny, I knew nearly nothing about the show beforehand, (my lovely mum booked it on a whim) and had either of us been told that we would sit in a dark warm theatre for two hours with just the narrated story by a man with an almost monotone voice i don't think i would have been enthused. well im blooming glad I didnt know that as it was beautiful. The story itself, wooven of two seperate narratives involving tape recorders and lonesome individuals - quite how Kitson paints himself is, touching, tense, elequent and funny. The stakes were high - we knew it could go wrong at any moment - one of the machines could fail at any point. these high stakes meant we, the audience were invested in what was happening- we willed the machines to work, and when there was a wobble the tension was even audiable from the audience - like watching a tennis match. What made it really rather special was Kitson's drole tones informing us that all of these machines, would, after the few shows, be dispursed back in the multiple means that they had come to him - through ebay, gumtree, freecycle, charity shops, antique shops, markets, bootsales and house clearances. Thus the story its ints entiterity in this form is only for these few performances, experienced and still existing only in the memories of the few hundred people who went to the show. The beauty of this struck me...
The Met have announced plans to make 'rough sleeping' a crime in 6 London boroughs... Operation Encompass will be in effect in Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster, alongside Croydon....
We are opposed to this latest attack on Homeless people and will protest at City Hall to tell Boris Johnson and the GLA to call off this hideous campaign criminalising some of the most vulnerable people in our city... Already there have been arrests of people whose only crime is to be homeless due to the lack of Shelter spaces and suitable accomodation...
We ask people to support our opposition by attending and circulating the information amongst their networks and groups...
The biggest crime of all is the fact that people are homeless today....
London Assembly (Mayor's Question Time)
Wednesday 26 February 2014 10.00 am -
for info etc: beatonthestreet @gmail.com
We also plan local actions in each of the boroughs affected... details to follow
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/714164025295447/723883994323450/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity