Monday, 29 November 2010

Chilly climate change collaboration co-ordination

On Saturday morning, I spent a freezing four hours on Brighton seafront (sorry, Hove (actually) Lawns). I'd been alerted a week or so earlier to an ad on Gumtree for people to get involved in something very secret - the ad revealed that it was something to do with Earth350, the giant art side of climate change awareness group 350. I replied to the ad and received a very mysterious reply thanking me for volunteering to help co-ordinate the group! Had I? Well, apparently I had. It gave me a time and location and two very strict instructions - 1) Wear all black and 2) DO NOT REVEAL THE LOCATION PUBLICLY!

The general idea was that 1800 people were to make up the outline of King Canute attempting to hold back the sea, and the image was to be photographed from a plane. The clear (?) deep meaning was the futility of trying to control nature. The image itself had been designed by Thom Yorke of Radiohead (no, I wouldn't have known who he was either).

So like a pair of secret squirrels, Dade (one of the official photographers) and I headed for the seafront on Saturday morning. I peeled off at the Peace Statue to meet the other volunteers - as usual a random bunch of both locals and "outsiders". We were given a briefing which, to be honest, didn't tell us much other than the very Bond-esque use of codewords over the radio for emergencies, punch-ups (!) and lost children. We were then shepherded up to the main area and given very fetching blue ponchos for later, and hi-vis vests for now. For one horrible moment, I was reminded of being back at Gatwick on the airfield but the feeling passed quickly and fairly painlessly.

We finally found out that basically we were there to try to control the 1800-odd volunteers and interested passing public, directing the volunteers to where they needed to go to be assigned a space in the picture, explaining to the public what was happening, giving them the website address, telling them that there were enough volunteers thanks, and ensuring no-one from the press talked to anyone they shouldn't!

Suitably attired in our lovely stewards' hi-vis vests, we trailed after the co-ordinator, being deposited one at a time as a kind of human circumference marker. Some of the stewards were placed a disappointingly long way away from the action - I came very close to being one of them but successfully stared at my feet and shuffled about for long enough for someone else to be picked on. A very friendly music student and I were finally placed right by the edge of the picture. All this by about 10.45am, with the public participants not due to arrive until 11.30am and the actual photo not being taken until around 1pm!

The top temperature for the day was forecast to be around +2 with a chance of snow - brrrrrrr. My 2 layers, coat, scarf, fingerless gloves, one pair of socks and furry-lined boots quickly proved themselves inadequate (and yes, as most of you know, I don't particularly feel the cold!) So there was a lot of bouncing around, jumping up and down, swinging of arms etc to stave off hypothermia. Some of the earliest participants to arrive really should have dressed more suitably. One guy near me was wearing just a T-shirt and fairly thin trousers. The blue poncho he was given in order to be part of the picture really didn't afford him any protection from the rather brutal elements and he had to stand there for the best part of 90 minutes! Once the participants had started to arrive, there was at least the distraction of trying to direct them to where they needed to be and watching the whole thing take shape. The people in charge, who appeared to be a mixture of 350 staff (activists?) and a team of choreographers, plus the press and film crew were busy ushering the poncho-clad volunteers into the shape although, to be honest, from ground level it was almost impossible to tell how it was looking.

Finally, all was ready - the stewards were told to remove the hi-vis vests, replace them with the ponchos and blend in with the picture. There was a quick run-through, then a horn sounded, the plane appeared overhead and we all dutifully turned  and pointed out to sea. We had to hold the position for a good five minutes until another horn signalled the end. There was a rather unimpressive self-congratulatory round of applause and that was that. The stewards took up their final positions along the street, attempting to stop 1800 people from all trying to cross the main road at once - an exercise in futility if ever there was one. We then discovered that we were also to do a quick sweep of the lawns, removing any obvious litter (presumably based on the "Take only photographs, Leave only footprints" ethos of ethical tourism), then we collected and sorted the discarded ponchos and we were done.

Dade and I wandered back home, accompanied by a rather pathetic flurry of snow, not entirely clear what the finished product would actually look like but glad that we'd taken the time to be part of something unusual, if nothing else.

I didn't even take my camera, so for a different view of the event and some great photos go HERE