Last night was the last Monday in June. To anyone on two wheels that means one thing – Cassington. If you have any motorcycling soul, you’ll be there to inhale deep of two-stroke oil, 20w50, petrol and the aromatic scent of warm, well-ridden old bikes.
If you have any charitable soul, you’ll drop a few quid into one of the collecting buckets too. That’s because Cassington’s primary school and a few local charities always organise a serious BBQ, a couple of bike parks and somewhere to dump your helmet and leathers as you stroll around.
This year’s event was even sweeter than usual. It wasn’t the sun, or the old friends, or the remarkable machines that rolled in from across the country. It was the sheer damn triumph (see – a pun) of common sense and community.
You see, the local Council wanted to smother the event with pages of dull grey forms, regulations, guidelines and ‘what if?’ An example of the sort of thing:
“…responsibilities included a provision of the risk assessment, proof of relevant insurance cover, proposed traffic management for the event and payment for the costs associated with all safety aspects of the event.”
Apparently the Council had looked at some photos of last year’s event, reasonably anticipated a few thousand bikes and decided, rather like milk monitors, that “something must be done”.
Sadly, rather than letting the event go on unhindered as it has for years without problems, it meant trying to strangle the whole thing with the sticky, tangly red-tape of the bureaucrat. This tape is insidious stuff. It clings and wraps and multiplies and chokes and the only things that hold it (temporarily) at bay are hard Council-Approved facts of the Right Sort. “It’s always been OK in the past.” That’s no good. “Common sense.” Not a chance. “We’re not children, you know!” Nope. Where’s your Risk Assessment form?
Rather than recognising an event like Cassington as a benign opportunity for people to get together, raise money for charity and enjoy themselves, it’s treated with grim-eyed seriousness. “Ah, but of course,” the bureaucrat will cry, “WHAT IF?!?!” And with those two words, he binds up and denies the rest of us the pleasures we’ve enjoyed – without incident – for years.
And ‘What If?” is a powerful thing. There is always the potential for a small child to put a hand on a hot exhaust or for someone to step in front of a bike. Shit happens, chaps. But your regulations, rules and restricting our experience of life doesn’t stop it. Despite your best efforts, shit still happens and always will. But part of life is simply accepting that any experience worth the candle (fire hazard) carries risk. Dealing with it is part of having a life worth living and not an infantilised, ersatz existence starved of pleasure, learning or enjoyment.
As one of the marshalls said to me, “Council said ‘no’. Community said ‘yes’.” I think this both explains and illustrates something important. Councils, by extending their remits way beyond what is reasonable, needed or justifiable, are now at odds with the communities they serve – but in reality, rule.
It’s not because they’re stupid, nasty or horrible. Most of the council officials I’ve met are decent people who give a damn, care about what they do and want to do a fine job. It’s simply because we’ve decided, as a society, that we’re too scared of “What If?” to face up to it, give it the bird and just get on with living.
So I’m delighted to say that shit didn’t happen last night and that “What If?” got the bird. Instead, good people enjoyed bikes, drank beer and ate fatty food on Cassington green and, most importantly of all, raised their faces to the sunshine of friends, shared experience and life.