Back up on ground level, we once again set off a good few ticks after seven. Boo hiss. But at least we went through the Kingsway underpass!
But - shock horror! - with no cops. I didn't see a single policeperson accompanying the ride - did my eyes deceive me? How could this be? Anybody know? We did have the cycling ambulanceman with us, though.
I'm very pleased to say that, as far as i could tell, the mass ran like clockwork. We kept together (mostly - we split into a fast and a slow pack after Buckingham Palace, and i bounced between the two for a bit), we corked - we even let pedestrians through! Brilliant! Pats on backs all round!
Although one thing that was evident was much more aggression from drivers, particularly black cab drivers. Recently, we've always had coppers around, and cabbies have behaved themselves. Tonight, though, their basic ferocity was fully in evidence. There were two main instances of this that i saw.
The first was on High Holborn, at the junction where i spoke to the ambulanceman - this was why i was stopped. The mass was coming along from the east; i think the advance bulk had passed through, and then was a thinner stream of us coming along behind. A black cab was sat in Grape Street (i think - i'm looking at a map here; one of the side streets off on the north, just before the junction), and i imagine had been waiting a while for the mass to pass. When it thinned out, he took his chance (we hadn't corked him), and came out onto High Holborn, turning right, and staying in the rightmos lane. Fifty metres ahead of him was a red light at the junction. Less than fifty metres ahead of him was a masser, riding slowly. The cab driver drove less slowly - he drove right up to within inches of the masser, tailgated him for ten metres or so, and then quite deliberately drove straight into the back of him. The guy went down, the cab stopped, and a crowd of us clotted around the scene. Luckily, the guy wasn't hurt.
I was to the left of this, in the second or third lane over, and a little way behind the cab; i saw everything happen right in front of me. It was quite obvious that the cab driver did it deliberately: the masser was riding at a constant speed, and the driver accelerated, hitting him. he had driven to within inches of him, which is simply not a safe way to drive.
So, we made sure the taxi wasn't going anywhere, took photos of the scene, registration plate, driver, etc, and some of us who had seen it gave the guy our details. The cabbie wasn't giving his details, though. Someone called the police, and after a while our friends in blue duly turned up and did their best to work everyone up into a frothing rage. Do cops get training in dealing with angry punters (other than with a truncheon)? Because these guys were to defusing confrontations as Guy Fawkes was to the bomb squad. Anyway, eventually, questions were asked, details were recorded and exchanged, and the lead copper declared that he was recording this as a no-injury collision, and they weren't going to follow it up. Apparently deliberately driving into a cyclist doesn't count as careless driving or anything. He came out with, essentially, the usual crap about 'our word against his'. During this i had a long chat with the other copper, who seemed very nice when he wasn't trying to start a fight, but completely clueless about cycling, and indeed road safety generally. Still, i'm sure if i wanted an electrician shot dead, he'd be just my man.
I also talked to the masser who was hit, his two friends, and a courierish guy who also stopped. I didn't quite get the victim's name. Nice lad. As i said, he wasn't hurt, but his back wheel went under the cab's, and was pretty bent. I had a look at it: the hub looked like it should be okay, and the tyre and tube should be fine, but he's going to need a new rim, (it was a Bontrager, the poor thing!) spokes, and brake disc. Basically, he's going to need a new wheel. I couldn't see any damage to the stays, mech, etc, but he needs to take it to a bike shop to get it checked out. He's got the cabbie's insurance details; he didn't really seem to understand about how insurance works, but i'm sure he knows someone who does.
I suggested we bend the wheel back into shape so he could at least roll the bike home, so we found a fence and did a bit of ghetto truing - an essential urban cycling skill, and the second time i've had to do it on a mass! He and a friend set off walking for King's Cross to catch a train home. I sincerely hope he didn't decide to try and ride - he had rather a touch of teenage invincibility, so i worry he might have.
Anyway, one of his friends had received a signal that the rest of the mass was at Buckingham palace, so he, the courierish guy and i set off. We got there a few minutes before the mass set off again - i just had time to wish Des Kay well with the Lords and ride a lap round the top of the Victoria Memorial.
After that, we started to get spread out, between the main body at the front and a long tail of slow riders. I'm a speedster myself, so i was half tempted to go a bit sheepdog on them and get them moving, but i ended up bouncing back and forth - going forward, helping cork or just waiting, and being caught up.
Taxi incident number two came as we rode down Theobald's road. A stream of traffic was trying to come in from the right, i think from Red Lion Street (again, i'm looking at a map and guessing), and had been corked. There were only a few people there, so i looped back and joined them.
At the front of the queue was a taxi driver. He wasn't very happy about being stopped, and insisted we move. We didn't, of course - the mass was still passing. He got rather upset, and started shouting. He then started edging his taxi forward - he went from being a foot away from us to actually pressing his right fender into my leg and starting to push me over; there was another guy beside me, and a few people around us, and we made it clear we weren't going anywhere until the mass had passed. It did, and i was set to go - but he was still pressing into my leg, which meant i actually couldn't get on my bike and move off. If i had, and he'd edged forward any further, i would have gone straight under him. Bit of an impasse, cue much shouting.
Eventually, he stopped his engine, got out of his cab, and came up to me and tried to shove my bike out of the way. Because he'd stopped, i was actually able to move, and was quite happy to do so, so in a way, his move was quite successful! There was a bit more shouting, with neither side really wanting to let the other have the last word (although i was silent - i just wanted to get home and have my dinner), and a disgusting drunk old fat man walked over and started shouting and shoving a lady masser about, but eventually we disentangled ourselves and rode on.
By this point, i was getting tired and hungry, our numbers were down, and i decided to call it a night. We hit the junction with Rosebery Avenue, where i turn left. The mass defaulted to heading straight on, but a few people were shouting to go left: i mentioned that i was in favour of that because i wanted to go home; the girl beside me said she wanted to go left because she wanted some doritos, which i found quite puzzling.
It was only after i'd sped away into the night that i realised she'd said 'burritos', and must have been referring to the really good little burrito place at Angel. I could have kicked myself, because i could really have gone for a burrito right then.
And that, as they say, is that.