Stop and search

We looked to our right and we could see some lights in the distance. We figured out that they were torches inside tents. It was about one in the morning after all, so it was fair enough that most people would be asleep by now.

Then, ahead of us, on the road, two human figures waved their hands to indicate that we should stop. Police.

We slowed down out of politeness and they grabbed our handlebars to make us stop:

“Get off your bikes and show us your luggage”.

More policemen approached us and two of them got hold of D. while another two dedicated me all of their attention. Just as I had done the four times I had had a puncture, I began by unloading the tent and other things I was carrying on top of the rack. One of those things were my bicycle locks – one for each wheel. The policeman leading the search grabbed them as soon as I touched them and put them aside on the pavement.

“Excuse me? Are you stealing my locks?”
“They can be used to provoke obstruction or to perform criminal damage, therefore I am confiscating them.”
“And what if my bike gets stolen as a result?”
“Well, I would have thought that you are going to camp with friends of yours. It’d be unfortunate if your friends stole your bike, wouldn’t it?”
“I am leaving on Sunday, just as people will be arriving at the camp. Are you going to give me my locks then?”
“You will be able to claim your property back after the camp has finished.”
“And what if my bike gets stolen in London as a result of you stealing my locks, officer?”
“Please unload the rest of your bike.”

D. was chatting away with the policemen searching him; I could not hide my anger and frustration.

The policeman grabbed a letter I had received that week. I had forgotten I had it there. My name and address was showing on the outside and the policeman took a note of it on his book. I was fuming, I suspected he should not be doing that and I saw in his face that he knew he was abusing his power, but my energy was at its lowest. Then D. saw it:

“Hey, you should not be doing that!”

And he grabbed the letter and gave it to me, but the policeman had already taken note of all he wanted. He wanted to see the rest of my luggage and he took notice of my marker pens. He confiscated them too:

“Sorry ma’am, they also can be used to cause criminal damage.”

By this time, D. was just as angry as me. He also had his locks confiscated and all his luggage undone.

While we were there, a van was pulled too. The driver was told to unload the whole load. Boxes and more boxes began to appear on the road, next to the van.

It was past two in the morning, maybe three, when we were allowed to go, with our luggage half rebuilt in our bags and racks. The van driver was still putting all his load on the road.

We finally got to the “Welcome tent” and a friendly voice gave us nice words and a rough indication of where the “London neighbourhood” was. But we were too tired to listen. We dropped our bikes in the first patch that was available in the camping space and, again using our bike lights as white and read torches, we put up D.’s tent as best we could.

The next morning, D. woke up in a very good mood, but I was still exhausted and a bit angry. I stayed in silence in the tent while he went out to greet our new neighbours and a while later he came back with a smile:

“Right! We are in the Scottish neighbourhood. Do you want to move to London?”
“Nah. Let’s stay in the countryside.” We laughed.
“Honestly, I can’t be asked to move the tent and everything.”

We had breakfast prepared by the Scottish kitchen and then joined the different tasks available. This was not the camp “per se”. The camp would start “officially” over the weekend and we were going to help out setting up the kitchens, the toilets, and the other different spaces needed for workshops and meetings.

We joined different construction teams. I started to help make the compost toilets and he helped with some food transportation. Most construction jobs had to be left unfinished. Like us, and like the van we saw stopped, every one had had equipment seized by the police, and needed materials were missing. Some people in some logistics team was “negotiating” with the police to have as much as this equipment returned.

By the end of our first day, D. and I had the strange sensation that we had been in this camp for about a week.