Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Clarion Glasgow Rides Again

The Bike Station who provided bikes and maintenance support. 


The whole group together. 

The high road to the canal; the low road along the Kelvin. 

Fresh air and peace and quiet. 

A ride that catered for mixed abilities and experience. 

Through the bluebell woods. 

For many years we have taken part in the Jack in the Green spring Festival in Hastings on the May Day bank holiday weekend. With links to the Celtic celebration of Beltane it became very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as the Works Guild tried to outdo each other with more and more elaborate costumes. The tradition of parade goes back to Carnivalesque when the usual rules and hierarchies of society were subverted, turning the world upside down, challenging social structures. As well as releasing the spirit of spring from the cold clutches of winter, the festival, which was revived in Hastings in the 1980s, brings the most unlikely of people together and encourages interaction and free expression while being part of a united group. The town's controversial Tory MP Amber Rudd was seen walking in the parade - she wasn't dressed as a chimney sweep - the original main performers until the Act which stopped boys climbing chimneys was passed - she was dressed in 18th century finery. Many people oppose her low value for money road building scheme that is ruining countryside in Combe Haven Valley as well as causing distress and disruption to residents of Sidley. Her claim that the low value for money road will ease traffic and improve air quality on Bexhill Road has been proven to be inaccurate by the Campaign For Better Transport. They state that new roads lead to more traffic and pollution. At the same time there has been little investment in public transport and cycle paths that were installed through grass roots campaigning have been destroyed by extreme weather and are unusable. When it came to light that the land, which is owned by Trinity College Cambridge, has vastly increased in value since the road build started, the true objectives became clear. Have we as a society got used to the carnivalesque escapism of getting out of our minds then going back to grudgingly accepting poor standards of living? How many in this day and age demonstrate the beliefs of socialism which offered from it's beginning an alternative to a life of drudgery by educating, agitating and organising? 

One of the reasons I decided to leave Hastings and come back to Glasgow was because I became aware of the huge investment the Scottish Government and local councils have put into renovating the vast canal system and creating new opportunities for walking and cycling safely. I want to be able to show my six year old the benefits of regular outdoor activity and for us all to enjoy this as a family.  We now often cycle two miles to school and back through Kelvingrove Park. It is a great way to start the day and my son's teacher has noted he is better at settling and focusing in class. Much of the "bad behaviour" boys become labeled with is just a need to burn off excess energy. We were amazed one day cycling home from school to see a fox and her cubs playing on the bank and a duck with her ducklings. There is no better celebration of spring than nature itself. 

And we have not been deprived of our yearly spring parade. This year I was honoured to be asked to design the poster for Glasgow's celebration of the International Worker's Festival. I loved walking and talking in the march with guest speakers, journalist Owen Jones and Kerry Fleck of the Belfast and District Trade Union Council. A bit like the Jack in the Green parade but the green is exchanged for red, it was raining and the marchers filled the O2 Academy to hear powerful speakers highlight issues that are affecting the workers and most vulnerable in society; those who have always had to fight for the rights that we take for granted today. These rights have been won by many years of Socialist Campaigns and tragically many are being reverted by the Coalition Government. This was an engagement with the problems of society rather than an escape from it and all the more empowering for it. Three food banks a week are opening in the UK, the poor pay a higher tax rate than the rich, by 2015 1.4 million jobs will be lost to the public sector, unpaid and zero-hour work has risen, an MP claims £37,000 for a second home while the bedroom tax has led to people committing suicide, bankers (who caused the financial crisis - not the poor) have had massive pay rises while 70% of nurses had no pay rise at all, a welfare cap will push as many as 345,000 more children into poverty. If ever there was a time to face the realities of the way our country is run it is now. 

I feel more hopeful now that I am back in Glasgow and have been surrounded by people who are actively involved in all sorts of grass roots campaigns (many of which as I previously noted are supported by the Scottish Government) as well being aware of the strength of and support for the Unions here who have won campaigns even in the current climate. One of the highlights for me was going on my first group bike ride with the newly revised Clarion Cycling Cub, which was organised by the Glasgow Trade Union Council. We came together to have our bikes checked by the Glasgow Bike Station who were volunteering their services. They also had bikes for people to borrow who don't have their own. Unlike most cycling clubs which involve cycling fast on roads, have predominantly male members and involve lycra and leg shaving (yes men shaving their legs!) this was a mixed group of women and men with a range of abilities and experiences. So two routes had been planned: one along the Kelvin and back and another continuing to the canal path and on towards Kirkintilloch. In the spirit of all the May Day events there was plenty of humour and we set off with someone joking that we were splitting up already and not to mention the war (in reference to a German colleague) as a lone piper marked our leaving with a cheery tune. 

Past bluebells and the pungent scent of wild garlic along the river Kelvin it was not long before we were out in open countryside leaving the city’s traffic and noise behind.  We were able to travel at a good pace on picturesque cycle paths without being near any busy roads. It was a pleasant and relaxing ride for seven and a half miles until we got to the Stables pub in Kirkintilloch and were choked by fumes from something being burned in a nearby field. So much for fresh country air! So we didn’t stay long and set off back to Glasgow for more May Day festivities. Riders naturally paired up and chatted along the route. I spoke to a Glasgow City councilor about vegetable growing; family cycling and the Hastings road protest I was involved with. The Clarion Cycling Group was set up as a socialist group and we demonstrated this by all travelling together, waiting for those who had fallen behind and sharing ideas and beliefs. One of the points Owen Jones regularly makes in his writing is the necessity for discussion and sharing opinions. This is how we step out of our personal worldview and embrace diversity. Somehow it felt effortless while cycling along the canal. I’m looking forward to our next adventure. I might even shave my legs. 

Find the Glasgow Clarion Cycling Group on Facebook

My blog post and photos of Hastings Jack in the Green Festival

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