Cogan’s Travels: The Day of the Big Meeting
by John Cogan
The number 20 bus from Houghton le Spring to Durham is an extremely civilized transport of delight. However, on this particular Saturday it had a distinctly different feel! For one thing there was the fullness! People were everywhere! Then there was the smell. Not the route’s normal mix of perfume and baby oil but something more domestic. Wafting into your face was the chaotic aroma of damp clothing (due to inclement weather), dog and anticipation. It wasn’t strong or really repulsive, just noticeable. The unusually full bus limits the choice of seats so the free seat was Hobson’s Choice. The man I sat next to kept bending forwards to ferret about in a large, plastic bag for life. With its battle-scars it looked to have lived a more interesting life than me. When my companion dived into the darkness of the bag from its depths came the campanile-like sound of glass clinking against glass. One by one, bottles of an indistinct type appeared accompanied by an enormous piece of metal. At first, I thought it might be a Figure-of-Eight, similar to the ones I’d used when climbing. That was a device to help you manage the rope when you are descending from a summit. But no! Just before I was tempted to ask him about his climbing experiences I realized it was an overgrown bottle opener! Easier to find, I suppose, when ferreting deep into a Bag for Life. Across the bus aisle a couple shared a late breakfast whilst the woman in the front seat dealt with a Gregg’s sausage roll so skillfully that it was almost balletic. Not the usual Saturday journey but this was no usual Saturday. It was the day of the Big Meeting!
Getting off next to Hild and Bede we can avoid the confusion of road works and slip-slide our way down the hill to the riverside and the Baths Bridge. A faint curtain of lazy rain desaturates the scene and any lingering smell of damp grass is lost to the all-pervading aroma of food. Immediately on entering the Racecourse there are a string of chrome-plated caravans offering all manner of fast foods.
The crush on the Racecourse seems to be more intense than the last time I was at the Big Meeting. As I don’t have metal-capped elbows it was impossible to force my way through the crowd let alone see (or hear) the platform speakers. What was noticeable were the proliferation of newspapers and leaflets being proffered by various groups. Amongst the legions of proudly paraded banners both old and new were several from local Primary Schools and a couple reminding everyone of the Battle of Orgreave. All the while, from all around came the thrilling and evocative sounds of traditional brass band music with musicians, like police officers, seemingly getting younger and younger.
It was also noticeable that there was tremendous support for Jeremy Corbyn MP. From banners and placards to newspapers, from badges to tee-shirts and everywhere you looked there were Corbynistas.
As always, the bands played and people marched. At times I wasn’t sure if the bands were marching just so they could march. I confess to being confused by the logistics of the day. Still, there was an almost biblical feeling as the partying crowds that had drifted across Elvet Waterside, parted to allow the bands and the banners to pass through. Once through this maelstrom of happy people, the crush closed like a set of curtains whilst some detached themselves to follow the banner, happy to take part whilst drinking from plastic beakers and adding their voices to whatever was the song of the moment. The pied piper of South Hetton working his magic.
Making my way to the Cathedral I was accosted by a couple of friends who were gushing with praise for The Jeremy. Being a polite sort of person I accommodated their enthusiasm only to miss most of the banners emerging from the North Door of the Cathedral. Still, on a day like that of the Big Meeting I suppose you have to accept whatever comes your way? At the end of the day being able to share a table with David Trout and Joanne Coates (there would have been more but the other two had promises to keep and miles to go etcetera) and drink a vintage sparkling water was a bonus. Photos attached, which is really the reason for writing this episode of my travels.
John Cogan ARPS