CNPS numbers spotted 1 (885) - not good enough. With three or four days off in Spain ahead of me I am beginning to seriously doubt I can finish in time.
I didn't feel 100% this morning again. I woke up too early and couldn't get back to sleep and knowing this was a bad thing with a long coach journey ahead of me only made it more difficult to nod off. I was tempted not to go on the coach, possibly working out a way to meet everyone there on Monday, but decided that the trip was going to be part of the experience; it was, after all, important that I got to know a few of the other protesters.
I didn't know what to expect or how extreme in terms of animal rights they would be. I was a vegetarian myself for 15 years and am very much against the nasty and vindictive cruelty to animals that is demonstrated by such ultimately pointless activities as fox hunting and bull fighting. But I'm not a vegetarian any more and I wear leather and although I'd like to live in a world where the animals that are used to produce food and clothing are treated as humanely as possible, I think there are more important things to worry about. I'm a bit too long in the tooth to get too worked up about these things any more. I certainly think that scientists experimenting on animals in order to cure terrible human diseases is justified in most cases. I guessed I might be the only person to think this on the trip. I wasn't going to say it out loud.
That was the thing: I didn't know whether I would be travelling with people who were just opposed to bull fighting (which I would imagine is a broad church that would encompass many meat eaters) or whether it would be the kind of militant vegans who free monkeys who have been infected with rage and thus turn everyone in the country into insane zombies - incidentally the scientists who infect monkeys with rage are some of the few that I don't agree with. They were clearly just doing it for a bit of a laugh and should have had more stringent safety plans in place to deal with possible escape.
I decided that I would do my best not to offend anyone, so I kept my stupid "28 Days Later" ideas to myself and decided I would not eat or wear meat on the trip. Which meant leaving my favoured leather jacket at home for starters, but also wearing trainers and taking off my belt. The problem with this was that my trousers kept falling down, but I didn't have a plastic belt so decided to live with it. I also took vegetarian sandwiches for the coach trip (considered trying for vegan, but Sainsbury's Local had nothing that would qualify). I figured I might have gotten away with a bit of ham hidden away in there, but I didn't want to get anyone's backs up. I'd managed to not eat flesh for 15 years, surely now as a recovering vegetarian I could go for three days. Evenso, I had a last lunch of a ham bagel.
As with all of my challenges so far, I was very apprehensive before things began. As with all my challenges I started thinking about not actually doing it and going home. When I arrived at Kings Cross and saw the others waiting for the bus I was even more inclined to flee. They looked pretty normal (mainly), but the reality of what I was about to do was only just coming home to me. I was going to be away for three or four days with a load of people I knew nothing about and who I probably only stongly agreed with on one issue - the wrongness of the Running of the Bulls. Hopefully they would be cool about this, but what if they weren't? What if we all fell out in the first 30 minutes? I was going to be on a bus with them for at least another 18 hours after that!
As always when faced with a group of strangers I retreated into myself a bit and went and stood at the end of the line and didn't speak to anyone. I suppose I was trying to do a little reccy as well and work out what kind of people they were. They were mainly young, but with a sizeable minority of older people (a couple of whom you would have to describe as "eccentric" on first appearances). They were a few white people with dreadlocks as you might expect, but on the whole they looked fairly normal. This didn't stop my shyness or my feelings of dread.
I met the leader of the group, Sean, who was a likeable tall and slightly goofy looking fella. He introduced me to the women standing next to me, who were similarly friendly and we chatted in a slightly awkward way. I suppose I had thought that everyone else would know each other and I'd be an outsider, but there turned out to be a few people there on their own,a nd although some had obviously met before, there were plenty of newbies. A couple of people seemed to be wearing leather shoes. I cursed my slipping down trousers.
As I stood talking intermittently to my new friends, a bird shat on one of them. That was a bit ungrateful, I thought. After what we were about to do for the animal kingdom you would think they would have treated us with a bit more respect.
It was time to board the bus and not wanting to impose on the women who had been pleasant enough to me I decided I wouldn't sit with them. They'd be polite for ten minutes, but the whole bus journey might be too much. People started chatting a bit, but I was still too shy and feeling a bit ill and tired again and soon drifted off to sleep. I was dreading the effects that this marathon trip would have on my none too solid health and wanted to preserve my energies for the day of the nude run.
But this meant I wasn't mingling or meeting the people as I had intended. I think there was a part of me that was trying to check them out, to see where I stood, and how extreme they were. Everyone seemed very pleasant and affable and there wasn't too much in the way of pontificating. Though there was talk of demos and arrests and one guy had a pretty funny anti-fox hunting T shirt on ("fighting the in-breds since 1973"). Later on I would hear that one of the older women had complained that the bus was hitting mosquitos and thought it was inappropriate that their carcasses should be on the windscreen. She suggested we hold a funeral for them. But the others were laughing behind their hands at her a little.
I still felt out of place and too shy to join in with anything, but it wasn't going to be as bad as I thought.
Well, not in that way.
I was, however feeling more ill by the minute. My mouth was really hurting and I was finding it hard to eat and I was really, really weary. I wanted to sleep now in case I couldn't later.
We crossed the Channel in the train (the bus actually drove on to the train - it was incredible) and then went to wait for some other activists in Calais. Whilst the others bought booze for the trip or went for some food I stayed on the bus trying to snooze and was conscious that I might be looking like I was trying to keep apart from the others. I hoped that time would take away my shyness and my growing irritability over being sick.
Just before midnight the coach started the long, long drive south and I wondered if I should have stayed in bed after all.