Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 3 July 2008


I'm an odd sort of joiner-in. I've worked at organising organisations, I spent a good few years as a political activist, I'm interested in the social internet, and I'm here, aren't I? But I'm ambivalent about parties and big communal celebrations. I've never been to a festival (not my sort of music, and you don't need wellyboots at the Wigmore Hall); and in any crowd, even if by any criterion I'm part of it, I somehow feel like the MP whose only appearance at Westminster was to "abstain in person".

So it's no great surprise that much though I like my own family, the phrase "family fun day" doesn't really appeal, so I wouldn't have been very attracted to either of local events today, at the city farm and city airport (not even if they got together so that pigs might fly).

Likewise, today's big event, London Pride was the day for my team, but I'm just not the demonstrative kind. I had an added interest in one float, since some colleagues were very involved in preparing the float for NHS staff, marking the service's 60th birthday, this very day. Now that is something we can all be proud of.

Last year, Pride was only a day or two after the foiled bomb plots, and the rain on the day added a certain grimness to the determination to show we carry on (and how). This year we had better weather, and the added frisson of wondering what our new Mayor would say or do. Never known for verbal continence in the face of modern conventional pieties, how would he cope with having to utter welcoming words to a crowd of homosexuals at an event that his office spends taxpayers' money to support?

As it happens, he led the parade (you can catch a glimpse in the video clip below) and even made a few attempts to blow a whistle. He's game, I give it that: and it must have occurred to him that it's now almost taken its place as a conventional summer ritual, somewhere between a village carnival and Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself seemed bigger than I've ever seen before - it took an hour for the floats and the bulk of the larger banner-waving groups to pass, and I would guess there were a lot more people following on. The Mayor and various organising bigwigs seemed to be in a special gaggle at the front, and after a gap, the uniformed service groups, then the various charities and community and campaigning groups, unions, political parties, religious and corporate groups and social, sports and leisure groups of all kinds, someone offering free hugs, and even one lone enthusiast in a Bond Bug. More floats than I remember from previous years (time was, the police insisted more than a handful just wouldn't be safe), but none that I could see sponsored by the commercial gay pubs and clubs for once - unless they were in the bit I didn't wait a second hour to see. The familiar gallimaufry of drummers, dancers and drag queens, of course; a solitary Hare Krishna finger-cymballed his way through the crowds on the pavements, but was rather ignored (is that considered good for the soul, or should I say karma?).

The parade isn't the only part of the event, of course. In Trafalgar Square, the main stage hosted speeches and singers (I've always been fascinated by the signing for the singers) and stalls for the various community organisations, and different stages and events were set up elsewhere in Soho.

Once again, it seemed the video button on my camera was more in use than the still photos:

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