May Day: Waving not drowning in Cambridge
The simplest of activities — walking down the street, buying a coffee, browsing in a shop, protesting against climate breakdown — were given a new lease of life in Cambridge on Saturday, May 1st.
Two years ago these things were normal, but the long months of the third lockdown have ensured that they’re now appreciated and valued as never before. May Day 2021 Cambridge-style was a whole lot of fun, and that’s before we are allowed hugs. What an orgy in the streets that’s going to be when hugs are permitted — after either May 17 or June 21, depending on what media you expose yourself to.
After parking in Norfolk Street I dropped in at The Serpentine Swap, where I had left some clothes to be repaired mid-week. There they all were, beautifully mended for a modest fee, and I thanked the clothes retailer supremo that is Rachael Victoria profusely for the repairs which effectively mean I have a whole new wardrobe.
Espresso Library was packed out on to the East Road pavement, Parker’s Piece had a game of football going which seemed to involve teams of about 18 each, Regent Street was thronged with people including some of the Extinction Rebellion campaigners who staged a ‘Rebellion of One’ protest, which involved activists sitting unaccompanied in roads across Cambridge, joining others across the East of England and the rest of the UK. There were three arrests.
Speaking to some members of the climate action group as they left the protest, which brought traffic on Downing Street and in other parts of the city to a standstill, the talk was all about next week’s elections. The hot topics were doughnut economics — is this the post-growth economic model which might save us? — and the OxCam Arc, a corridor between Oxford and Cambridge where one million homes are apparently due to be built. In particular, there was a sense of sadness as much as anger that respected organisations including the RSPB and Natural Cambridgeshire have been roped in to support the Arc. The RSPB says nature has to be at the heart of the new project — how can nature be at the heart of a land clearance operation for one million new homes, mused Tony Booth. Note was also taken that six XR activists were recently found not guilty of criminal damage despite a judge saying they had “no defence”.
Over to Burleigh Street, where the queue to get into Primark is almost one hundred yards long, with fewer than half of those waiting were wearing masks, and frankly social distancing had been abandoned. Let’s have a big welcome — maybe on Burleigh Street but it could just as easily be Market Street or elsewhere — to lockdown #4 shall we? We can only hope and pray that the vaccination programme will work.
Over on Parker’s Piece the Kill the Bill protest was getting ready to demonstrate against the new Policing and Crime Bill which is making its way through Parliament, supported by Black Lives Matter campaigners. The new legislation hands increased powers to the police, but the proposed laws “clearly violate international human rights standards, and they constitute a savage attack on the right to peaceful assembly”, say legal experts.
From Parker’s Piece I head down Mill Road, and stop in at Kan Zaman, the Lebanese restaurant and shisha lounge (the terrace at the back is open). Turns out Kan Zaman opened in January, which is why I’d not been there before: you have to admire anyone opening a restaurant in January 2021, it’s terribly life-affirming somehow, and the wrap I buy is awesome.
Heading back to the car I get lost in the cemetery, then hear a hubbub, which turns out to be the back garden of the Cambridge Blue — absolutely rammed it was, the high spirits drifting out across the fallen in the grounds of Mill Road Cemetery where the dog walkers and the picnickers mixed it with tomorrow’s rap stars blasting out of soundboxes among the benches in the centre circle.
Back on Norfolk Street, I drop in at Adelia’s Norfolk Street Bakery.
As a once-was-regular, I am in awe of Adelia, whose work rate is as ferocious as her wit. She tells me she had been open throughout the Great Unpleasantness, apart from the first month. She also received a small business grant which helped her cause. I apologise profusely for not having been in for more than a year. The coffee is as good as ever.
It’s fantastic to be out but it won’t last, and that’s something that makes it all the sweeter. Roll on the hugging season.