It was only a flying visit to a spot just up the road, but it felt like a trip into another world. Family members had spotted the Hackney Downs anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination camp earlier in the day and the Hackney Gazette had reported it already. But the rain had slowed, I needed a walk and, well, you’ve got to look and learn, haven’t you?
I counted 20-odd tents, sodden with precipitation, clumped at a corner of the public park next to a pathway and close to two schools. A cluster of damp residents was visible and as I photographed their banners and messages (“Come Say Hi!”, read one, which also solicited donations: firewood, “batterys”, bread…) one of them tried to find out who I was.
He said he’d been up from Cornwall for three weeks, and asked why I was taking pictures. I told him I was a journalist and if he and his allies didn’t want to be noticed by people like me, why were they gathered there, advertising their cause, in the first place? I pointed out that, in any case, almost all Covid restrictions had been lifted, so there wasn’t much lockdown left to resist.
This was met with a scoff and a speech about governments having no business telling people what do to. I asked, diplomatically, if, in that case, should the state leave me free to take out a gun and shoot him dead? The gentleman seemed unimpressed.
By now, some of the others had wandered over (“where are you from, why haven’t you asked our permission…?”). I handed over a business card at arm’s length: I’m double-jabbed and not “cowering” before the virus, Sajid, since you ask, but neither am I keen to be breathed on up close by people who are apparently so convinced that Covid-19 is an elaborate con they are prepared to bivouac in my back yard to make their point.
After that, I took my leave, pursued by some light barracking. The possible health risk aside, I hadn’t felt threatened by the campers. There was, though, something unsettling about them. The feeling was similar to when a herd of cows takes an interest in you as you walk across a country field: you don’t fear attack, yet their bovine unreachability is quite disturbing.
What exactly are the campers hoping to achieve? Similar settlements have already been moved on from Shepherd’s Bush and Clapham Common and it is hard to imagine they’ll be allowed to settle Hackney Downs for too much longer. “We’ve had the police and council round here already,” complained the man from Cornwall. Well, I never.
Perhaps they’ll draw a few more converts, but most of us who live round here will give them a wide berth, much as we would a leper colony. When they’re eventually moved on, expect displays of martyrdom but no gratitude for small mercies. After all, had they not pitched up among metropolitan liberals, they might have been run off the land already.
Update, 17 August 2021: As the Hackney Gazette has reported, the campers were evicted late last week.
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