What a surreal, embarrassing, terrifying, amazing and ultimately exhilarating day!
I set off from Liverpool Street to Hyde Park in much lighter London traffic than I have ever before encountered – not a lot seems to happen on Saturday afternoons in the City – and made my way to Hyde Park Corner, arriving a little before 2.30. I couldn’t believe the sight that met my eyes. The place was absolutely awash with Orangemen – bowler-hatted, dark-suited, sash-wearing, craggy-featured unsmiling Orangemen from a plethora of Loyal Orange Lodges, complete with pipe-bands, drums, mock weddings of William and Mary and banners, one of which bore the coat of arms of the Ulster Special Constables, 1920 – 1970. Weren’t they the infamous “B Specials”, whose violence perpetrated against Civil Rights marchers sparked the “Troubles”? And somewhere in the middle of all this anachronistic sinister sectarian nonsense someone was trying to organise a bike ride. Welcome to multicultural Britain!
Gradually the Ulstermen filtered out across Park Lane to the deafening sound of drums, fifes, skirling bagpipes and twirling batons and shortly Charlotte appeared. She was riding her Thorn, her hair even more of a beacon than usual. We nattered coyly about this & that, not daring to mention the other, when Liz and her friend Greg joined us and also Mercury (aka Phil). We were being ushered close to the official start of the ride, where more and more cyclists, mostly male, were donning their birthday suits. None of us took the plunge to begin with, but a few minutes before the off, I summoned up the courage to remove my top & shorts, knocking my glasses off as I did so. There I am in cycling shoes, socks, Pearl Izumi gloves, spectacles and Tilley hat, reliving a regular nightmare of mine in which, starkers, I run a gauntlet of jeering textiles. I can’t remember the order in which the rest of it happened, but shortly, there in solidarity were Charlotte, Liz, Greg & Phil, wearing even less than I was (remember, I had a hat and spectacles). Oh thank you, thank you!
We were all quite bowled over by the numbers. Forget the BBC’s 700: this was bigger than any Critical Mass I have ever been to. At one point the whole of Piccadilly from Park Lane to the Ritz was full of naked or near-naked cyclists, 2000 at least, all stationary, unable to move because of some log-jam or other. We were, of course, very slow and this added to the embarrassment factor. Ordinary tourists, shoppers and other passers-by were lining the streets to try to get a view of us and out came the camera phones. The police took charge fairly well, stopping up side roads to keep the cycling traffic moving, and by the time we reached Whitehall we were able to give it a bit of a blast, moving in excess of 20 mph. This was the exhilarating bit: who needs wicking tops when you have the cool breeze caressing naked skin? There was a short delay at Downing Street as a few of us turned our bare buttocks in Mr. Blair’s general direction, and then we were off again. South of the river, by Waterloo, back over Waterloo bridge and then not that far from Jermyn Street (“We’d all like to buy a shirt please”). Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and I remarked to Charlotte that I was suddenly reminded of one of the more repeatable couplets from Eskimo Nel:
“Eighty tits is a gladsome sight
To a man with a raging stand.
It may be rare in Berkeley Square
But not in the Rio Grande”
Well, today was one of those rare occasions.
By now the ride had spread a little, and Oxford Street came and went and we were in Park Lane. Now we really got some speed on and we were heading back under the arch into Hyde Park. By this time, of course, we were inhibition-free and were actually enjoying being nude and perfectly relaxed in each other’s company and we were as reluctant to put our clothes back on as we had been to take them off in the first place. However, beer and food wait for no naturist so we donned a layer of lycra and hied us to Mayfair where we enjoyed an ice-cream and I had a pint of Lancaster Bomber. Then it was another exhilarating ride, led by Liz & Charlotte, as we dodged the bendy buses all the way to Islington where the barbecue awaited us.
Simon, be warned: you might have more than you bargained for on your next Friday Night Ride to the Coast.
This little beauty turned up on Flickr. It’s also in “Caption It”.
We had been held up at some lights and Charlotte suggested racing along Whitehall. Liz took her at her word. This is the pursuit.
I’ve called it “Chasing Comet’s tail”.