Snowy HE protest

London felt more like Moscow, or rather how I imagine Moscow as I’ve never been there, as I made my way from the bus stop to Malet St. There was a wind that made it hard to walk and drove the snow into my face, and I’d slipped and almost fallen, just “catching myself and my camera bag before either hit the couple of inches of snow on the ground in Byng Place”. By the time I was in Torrington Place it was hard to see the crowd standing there with a large banner, having to wipe my glasses and my camera lens and trying to take pictures. It slackened off slightly and between squalls I managed to get one picture that wasn’t ruined. I always hope that I’ll get a nice arty result from rain and snow on the lens, but somehow it never seems to happen, and in any case I don’t think Alamy would like it.

One book on ‘Bad Weather‘ is probably enough for the whole of photographic history, and it remains in my opinion one of Martin Parr’s better titles. I even paid money for it, though my first edition seems to have gone missing. Being unsigned might make it something of a rarity!

Once I was in the crowd they afforded some shelter from the weather and things were a little easier and I could make the occasional picture without snow on the lens. And even some in which people’s eyes weren’t covered by snowflakes. Fortunately the snow didn’t keep on for too long, though there were some short and heavy showers as the march made its way towards Westminster.

This was a protest by the UCU, lecturers in higher education, with support from their students, and some of the placards reflected this. They wanted proper talks with their employers about pensions and pay, particularly as the universities had announced their intention to steal much of their pension funds. And they were joined by some FE staff from the London area who were on the first day of a two-day strike over their pay and conditions.

If you’ve ever tried walking backwards on snow or ice, you may appreciate the problem I faced on photographing the marchers, where most of the time you are walking backwards at the same speed as they walk while taking pictures. Usually the main hazards of this are lamp posts and kerbs, but snow does add a dimension. Fortunately once we got out of Russell Square and were onto busier roads (they would have been busier but for the marches) most of the snow there was now slush and rather less slippery.

It wasn’t a particularly long march, I think about two and a half miles, and I walked the whole way, though there were some long sections where I took no pictures when the snow came on again. I’d dressed well for the weather – with long-sleeved thermal vest and longjohns over my normal underwear, a cashmere scarf, thick socks and a woolly hat, as well as my usual wind and waterproof winter jacket, but I still got cold. Better gloves would have helped – but photographers need to be able to use their fingers. I had a pair of thin silk gloves under a thicker wool pair, which still allow be to operate the camera controls, but I think I need to research for a better solution.

I don’t usually cover indoor rallies, but went into Methodist Central Hall with the first of the marchers largely to sit in the warm. I spent around an hour or so in there, and took pictures of the speakers, who included some well-known trade unionists and Labour politicians, so the time wasn’t wasted, though the light wasn’t too good and I could have got a little closer. But I got nice and warm by the time I had to leave to cover another protest outside a short distance away.

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs
HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs

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