“And a rovin’, a rovin’, a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown tyres [sic]”
It is about this time of year that a young man’s blood starts to quicken, his sap to rise, his vision to lift, his feet to itch and his legs to twitch, if they are able. Gloomy states of mind are cast off. Boots are polished, constraints removed. Woe betide anyone or anything which gets in that young man’s way.
Barriers have their uses as conduits for the smooth flowing of peloton traffic, to keep the roads open. Yet as a means of corralling punters, of kettling crowds, barriers show gross disrespect for the passionate, animated responsibility of Joe Public and his mates. ‘Twas not ever thus.
Mountainsides are the very best place to watch a grand tour. You don’t believe me? Ask a Dutchman. A football match looks terrific from a terrace with scuffed, shuffling boots and a hoarse throat. It’s about the freedom of movement, the sense of ownership. Yet all it takes is a couple of punch-ups between a few fans for politicians to quake in their brogues and wobble their jowls in outraged indignation. They, who cannot envisage not sitting in some comfort to be a spectator. So the chain ring fencing went up in the late ‘70s. For our own well-being and protection, we were informed. For the efficient playing of the game, it was announced. Yeah, yeah… We all know how that manoeuvre worked out.
Some people carry nostalgia a long way. When the old terraces of Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium were being re-assimilated into deluxe seating, a bloke of my acquaintance paid good money to purchase the wrought iron balustrade upon which he had leaned his season-ticketed considerable bulk season after wretched season. He replanted the barrier in his front garden. It was his wont post-retirement to rise early, take his mug of tea out to his hallowed spot, there to lounge and watch the morning traffic take other poor sods off to work. And the floor to heaven security fences? They didn’t last.
Music gigs are another example of docile containment for the “common good”. Dirty great empty spaces in front of the stage make it difficult for performers to connect with their fans – giant TV screens not withstanding. Monumental reinforced steel barriers, resembling the anti-tank defences embedded upon our southern beaches during the Second World War to repulse a Nazi armoured invasion. Yet did the nightly stage storming of The Specials gigs ever contribute anything less than delirious fun? (I’ll spell it out for you: F-U-N). Did the laying on of hands by Elvis to the front rows at Vegas ever bring other than blessings? Such contemporary safety arrangements are entirely inappropriate for folk in flip-flops at festivals.
“Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho
And the walls came tumbling down”
Sometimes they’re going up. Sometimes they’re being torn down. Berlin. The Gaza Strip is a thin slice of life; it’s salty and hard; it’s as stern as a knife. It kinda depends which side you’re on and where you are. Rio de Janeiro; Cairo; Taksim Square, Istanbul; or good old Portobello Road, London, England. Why, that Notting Hill Carnival is so jolly. Some friendly copper dancing the calypso with some red-hot mama – she’s wearing his helmet back to front. What larks! Neat one-way barrier systems ensure well-behaved passivity. ‘Twas not always so. My pal Paul Simonon tells how he and Joe Strummer of the fledgling Clash, back in that baking summer of ’76, got willingly caught up in the righteous anger of the crowd. The black community took strong objection to severe harassment by the forces of law and order. Words became deeds. Bricks became confetti. Anger was inflamed, cars were overturned, set alight and used as barricades for protection. The white boys lived there, knew the pain, so they joined in. Then they wrote it up in “White Riot”.
Stonehenge was a pivotal place of pilgrimage for centuries beyond count. It was a focal point at which the light could be sensed, the ancient stones caressed. It was decided in the ‘70s by English Heritage that such radicalism could no longer be tolerated. A fence was erected, roads blocked. The monument could only be safely observed from a suitable distance. The mystery was apparently contained, no matter what loss of ambience. A threat from a bunch of hippies ? Such stuff and nonsense.
Eddy Merckx felt no such danger from the mob wherever and whenever it hemmed in his magnificent and relentless flight to victory. Why, even a right hook to his kidneys from some psychopathic punter on a gradient in the Auvergne failed to slow his majesty or dent his spirits. He is a shining beacon for us all.
“Let me ride thru’ the wide-open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in”.
Johnny Green is the Author of "Push Yourself a Little Bit More: Backstage at Le Tour de France