Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Sunday, 14 March 2010

15,000+ bikers fly the flag.

Today was a truly remarkable day.

Something that started as an idea for a local bike club event grew, and grew, and caught the imagination of bikers from throughout Britain and mainland Europe.

Carefully organised by the Afghan Heroes charity, and to avoid annoying other road users, around 15,000 bikers gathered throughout the day at Hullavington Airfield. Their departure, for their 'ride through', was organised in groups of around 500 bikes - for a similar reason.

Mrs R has used some of today's free time to look through news reports and freshly uploaded videos, and has chosen a few highlights. She's fairly sure anybody watching these will feel two emotions - pride and an overwhelming sense of sadness, she'll explain why in a few moments.

Richard Payne's report on ITV West Country Tonight from Friday is a very nice preparatory piece, it's well worth watching - it includes interviews with some bikers (one who travelled from the continent) and also explains that there is a group of Royal British Legion riders at every repatriation, something that Mrs R and family weren't aware of.

So what did Wootton Bassett do with 22 miles of motorbikes (and a good few scooters) of all shapes and sizes? Did they behave in a curmudgeonly way and turn their backs on the noise and smell - as predicted by Neil Burden in last Wednesday's CiF?

No, they blimmin well didn't.

What they did was line the streets, they waved flags and cheered the riders through their town - and they said, "Thank you," too. They did all this without rioting, they did it without overt crowd control, they did it reservedly, in the "British Way".

The BBC carries a news report and a video, also has a few pictures - the first of which deserves to be on the front page, all on its' own - it doesn't need words.

ITV also carries a video report, but unfortunately managed to avoid filming any motorcyclists and mentioned that motorbikes use smelly diesel. Sadly ITV West Country's report of today's event is lacking any commentary, but this could be due to sound problems or over-demand. Sky also carries a report and a video. National and local newspapers also carry reports, too many to list.

So, what does Mrs R recommend?

This first short video is quite nice. It gives a good idea of how well organised the riders were on their way to the rally and shows the reaction of motorists - who waited patiently, or pulled over so they could use their cameras.

If you've got time to watch all of this next one it'll give you an idea of the numbers of bikers involved - it shows just one group, presumably 500 bikes. It's filmed from the roadside away from the centre of Wootton Basssett.

"Awesome" is probably the most apt description, you'll hear that word spoken quite early on in the video.

Phew, what a day, and what a thing to do - on Mother's Day, a day to celebrate being a Mum, but a terribly sad day for those Mums whose sons or daughters have previously been brought home in a cort├Ęge through Wootton Bassett, all 271 of them. It's quite humbling to think that one of those Mums started a charity - and made today happen.

Mrs R finds it hard to imagine the numbers - around 15,000 bikes, many with a passenger. Each bike will have meant a £5 donation to Afghan Heroes, although some gave much more because they collected cash from workmates, neighbours etc. First estimates are that at least £100,000 has been raised - voluntarily, without pressure - it's a wondrous amount for a small charity.

When you think of today's event, consider the following :-
  • 15,000ish bikers - on the roads, 'controlled' by a few Police outriders and personal discipline, nothing else.
  • 15,000ish bikers - gave up their weekend and paid £5 so they could ride through a small market town, and then go straight home again. No party, no celebration, no concert.
  • Apparently extra Police were drafted in to monitor road junctions etc, it would appear that some of them gave their time freely.
  • The population of Wootton Bassett - watched a 'ride through', for hours and hours. Yes, they've lined their pavements many times before, but today there was not a crush barrier in sight, no shouting, no catcalling - just flag waving and cheering.
  • A few yellow-jacketed Bobbies were outriders, others unobtrusively lined the route, in case there was a problem, but nothing else - just good behaviour and a sense of gratitude, and a sense pride, a sense of patriotism, and a 'good day out'.
  • Bikers waved flags, some of them were huge - Mrs R saw the Union Flag, the Cross of St George and the Welsh dragon. (No doubt St Patrick and St Andrew were represented, but Mrs R didn't spot them.) .
Mrs R thinks that today decent people reclaimed their right to fly the flag.

So, what went wrong?

Well, nothing! It was perfect, it was British people at their best, rallying to a cause and doing 'the right thing' in their own way. It was terribly sad, because the country has, so far, lost 271 fine people and there are unpublished numbers of terribly maimed troops too. Today was all for them, and the people of Wootton Bassett.

So let's recap, yet again.

Today at least 15,000 British people gave up at least a day of their lives to take the time to drive through Wootton Bassett as a mark of respect, and to also raise money for a charity that supports British troops. They gave their time, and probably took themselves away from their own families on Mother's Day - to acknowledge the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives or who have been maimed whilst protecting democracy in Afghanistan.

These 15,000 people didn't get out of bed this morning and decide to to 'go for a bike ride'. The event has been long in the planning and has been well publicised amongst the biker community, in magazines and on forums. It was also mentioned on the BBC - as long ago as January. Every participant had to register, many were turned away.

Today the media were out in force, with their cameras and journalists recording this one-of event, because it was a milestone in public display. It was peaceful, quiet, yet also noisy, fun and vibrant.

Let's look at something else for a moment. According to this site there are, or were in 2006 ...
... almost 40 – 50,000 Afghans live in London, the majority of them having come for political reasons
Wikipedia gives a bit more information, and some statistical data too, for the whole country.

Now let's backtrack, again. All the bikers had to register and get a pass, they had to give their name, address and so on. Their passes were checked today - none of them were allowed to be anonymous.

The media was out in force at Hullavington Airfield - filming and interviewing riders, passengers and organisers. There were also reporters and camera crews in Wootton Bassett itself, to record the reaction of the crowds. The British media is always very quick to make sure they balance news reports, and to help celebrate our newly diverse culture.

Mrs R will let you draw your own conclusions - but don't let anything spoil what happened today. It was a wonderful thing to see, and made we Rigbys proud to be British.

Let's keep flying the flag eh, it's worth it - but let's do it the way we're used to doing it, with dignity and with pride.


Furor Teutonicus said...

and mentioned that motorbikes use smelly diesel.


There is only one motorbike I have heard of that uses/used diesel, and that was last seen as a feature custom bike in either "Back street heroes", or AWOL, around 1990. I HAVE heard there was a Frnch firm (Peugot if I recall) that had a diesel prototype M/C, but other than that, whoever said that is a totaly thick twat.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Now to get any replay;

Mrs Rigby said...

Well, that's one way of putting it, and I had no idea there'd ever been even a prototype diesel bike, thanks for that.

Replay? You never know do you? Maybe somebody will organise a ride in London?

Furor Teutonicus said...

Interesting idea. In June or July.

Have to be carefull not to clash with the "Bulldog bash" though.

Every biker must take a piece of army surplus kit, and then it could be dumped on the steps of 10 Downing Street so Captain Queeg Brown can send it to the troops.