Music for the worried generation

I was at the London climate march this weekend. It happened alongsize some hundred other marches across the world, including one in Poznan before the UN conference. Not that you would know from much of the mainstream media—BBC 6 Music was bleating about some hug-a-hoodie march in the morning before it started—although their web versions did grudgingly acknowledge it actually happened.

At the start it was hard to gauge numbers as the march snaked off out of sight, but there must have been at least five thousand people in Grosvenor Square alone. By the time we arrived in Parliament Square—from near the back of the march as we had first estimated it—these had perhaps half-filled the area; half an hour later the speakers spoke to a square that was almost full, the rest of the space taken up with latecomers and non-marchers. This squares roughly with the organizers’ estimates of 10,000; predictably, the police estimate was more like 5,000. The police are practically proverbial for underestimations, and it’s either a means of social control by making large public gatherings seem disappointing if you weren’t there, or a simple consequence of the fact that thick, bullet-headed neds are not known for their mathematical skill.

At one point we were right behind a group of people playing, oddly, Dixieland jazz. I started trying to think if there were any chants we could make up, partly to try to bend the band away from their noodling, and had two half-formed songs to the tune of If You’re Happy And You Know It, when—completely unexpectedly—the band started playing that very song. Seized with a sort of Quaker-like zeal, I burst into a few verses of:

If you want to kill your kids, then fly a plane!
If you want to kill your kids, then fly a plane!
For the sake of fifty quid, if you really want your kids
To despise the things you did then fly a plane!

If you want to kill the earth, then burn some coal!
If you want to kill the earth, then burn some coal!
If the prospect of the earth overheating gives you mirth
‘Cos you don’t know what it’s worth then burn some coal!

The two punchlines are interchangeable, as you can probably work out for yourself. “Take a plane” may also have been more suitable, but I can’t help the fact that I was entirely lost in the moment. I followed it up with a climate-change-themed Exercise in Song, but spent too long polishing it and had only finished it by the time we were already listening to Levellers-lite agit-folk.

Did it make any difference (the march, not my songs)? I don’t know. But the fact that Nick Clegg MP, John McDonnell MP and Caroline Lucas MEP were all calling for civil disobedience suggests that the democratic process itself has come to a pretty pass. It also gives unofficial sanction to such attention-grabbing antics as numerous Santa Clauses invading the e-on offices or Greenpeace pulling a bank job: if it doesn’t make them legal, but it at least makes them socially acceptable.

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5 Responses to Music for the worried generation

  1. Quinn says:

    “The police are practically proverbial for underestimations”

    True enough, though for some reason the fact that demo organisers have a vested interest in overestimating numbers rarely gets a mention. Still, perhaps I’m just a thick, bullet-headed ned.

  2. sbalb says:

    I can probably accept the self-undermining—if not strictly self-defeating—nature of mentioning something that rarely gets a mention, as long as you don’t mention it again. But, that aside, the assertion is just plain false. It’s a standard piece of “common-sense” estimation that everyone brings into play whenever they see that the figures are different. It’s a lazy option for every mediocre journalist hoping to inject his Reuters-transcribed prose with a note of “balance” in the hope that it’ll excuse him from the onerous task of actually doing any research of his own. And it’s also on the lips of any senior police officer whenever their dubious counting techniques are ever called into question.

    Apart from all that, it has absolutely nothing to do with the original point of my post: I wasn’t discussing the possibility that any of the figures were inflated, but drawing attention to the fact that, compared to my own personal experience (of now some three or four marches), the “official” estimates handed to journalists for them to reprint like Xerox machines invariably belittle the actual attendance. The likelihood of the organisers overestimating the number of people there, like the humidity of the air in Parliament Square and the price of a return ticket to Wrexham, were not mentioned because they had nothing to do with what I was trying to explain.

    And I don’t think either of us is a thick, bullet-headed ned, although I do play a tempestuous and irascible restaurateur with a heart of gold on digital television.

  3. sbalb says:

    At first I thought it was a link to this, which I was just looking at. But I wouldn’t be surprised by any attempt by the police to get more buns and cake instead of having to actually be better at their jobs, any more than I’d be surprised by a difference between the figures they pass to the press and the ones they justify their vast expenditure with.

  4. sbalb says:

    (Having said which, I think McLeish is probably incorrect. I long for the day when environmental protestors and police collude, rather than accusing them of “theatrics” and “play acting.” I wish my friend had got that photo of two police in e-on branded helmets.)

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