October 9, 2018

Part 2: We are the World Record Holders for the Worlds Longest Group Hug! a positive protest at inactivity on the homelessness crisis in the UK

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The Hug

Lets get it out the way 1st, i know you’re already wondering. Toileting. We decided to submit our record bid to Guinness who actually require that anyone breaking an endurance record takes a 5 min break every hour.. i guess at some point their records got a little messy so they introduced that. During the day that meant a run to the nearby pub, at night i had a pop up tent with a little camping toilet in it.

Arriving at Westminster Tube station dripping sweat from rushing around with the heavy box, i felt like a watery zombie. I put the box down and pulled a muscle in my back. The others were running late so i spent the next 40mins considering the pulled muscle, and every single hour that i hadn’t slept the past week.

Major disaster 1: Half asleep i connected the battery to the inverter ..backwards blowing all 5 fuses. Not to worry i built redundancy into my planning and had a 12v cigarette socket that could also recharge our cameras.I plugged that in and tested it.. nothing. Wiggled it every direction imaginable, still nothing. It worked 2 days ago when i last tested it, it must work.. but nothing.

Convinced that there was no way i could see it through physically, with almost exactly half of the witness slots not yet filled, and now with no way to recharge the camera batteries or power the 15tb hard drive i’d got for the occasion, i slumped to sit on the step behind me, convinced it was time to contact everyone and cancel it all.

Sustainaclaus (Philip McMaster) from The Republic of Conscience was the 1st to arrive, he was visiting London to run a few Xmas events to remind people to keep pressure on politicians to meet the Millennium Development Goals which all countries signed up to, but most are keeping their heads down and attempting to ignore. I bumped into him just a few days earlier and he wanted to help, so much so that he set up some cardboard boxes and slept out next to us by the road for the night.

The image of Santa (Sustaina) sleeping on the streets added real power to our imagery and his support was an invaluable help. He stayed with us for almost all of those 36 hours!

Camilla and Tom, the two other heroic huggers arrived soon after and our 1st 2 witnesses. With a little company to occupy my mind i decided to begin and just see how i’d get on.. and that was it, we simply entered into an embrace and the World’s Longest Group Hug. It felt kind surreal, like it was nothing, but with the gravity in the back of my mind of knowing we’d begun and if i didn’t get everything solved i had let everyone down and wasted their time.. and i should really stop being so impulsive with projects and only do them if they are planned properly. Now the real work started.

We had embraced and couldn’t let go, but i still had to find around 15 volunteer witnesses, the first 6 hours were filled but after that, especially overnight it was a like a bleak desert, and at night what if someone no-showed??? Then i had to find a solution to our camera battery and sudden lack of a hard drive to store footage on when the sd cards needed formatting.  What did i have around me to work with.. well I had my trusty x220 laptop with 2 hard drives and about 8hrs of battery life, 3 power packs, plus the phones of most witnesses. At some points there would be an excess of people so we could send someone to the cafe to charge batteries, and i had members of our community, both at the hug and online.

I set about directing the people around me who could use their hands to use my phone and laptop and tell people what had happened and write desperate pleas to the Focallocal community, and in any other online group they could find for people to come with all the things we needed. Extra batteries, extra witnesses, hard drives, etc. It felt a bit like being on a huge ocean tanker moving towards a port, a slow-motion disaster unfolding inch by inch as each record ending event edged with looming malice impendingly closer and closer.

I’d like to name each and every hero who came to our rescue by requesting a few hours off work, dashed out buy a hard drive for us to use, passer-by who called up a friend to bring a battery pack from their house, or ran around the local shops telling them what we were doing and asking if they’d donate food and coffee.

Or Jay who just happened to be passing and hearing how much we needed support rushed home to get his camera’s and external hard drives and stayed with us filming for the last third to finally remove the endless stress of our batteries and cameras almost running out.. or a replacement laptop after being left in the rain and breaking, or my phone getting broken when pushed into a sign to hold it.

Each time to be rescued by an act of heroism, again and again. Or to the weather, the week before it was deep snow and icy winds, that night was cold, but entirely bearable. I guess many people were sleeping out during it so we couldn’t really complain if it had been. ..or to Jay’s girlfriend for letting him spend some of the night and next day with some nutters hugging outside parliament.

Then there’s those who dropped in to improve our signage and contact the media who all threatened to show but then flaked. Honestly i simply can’t, it wasn’t just 5 people. It was 30 or more. Each time we were about to fail someone would turn up with some epic effort to keep us rolling forwards!

note: If anyone is a wizard and can clean the Go-pro footage up to make the clock visible, then we can submit it, although it looks too poor to recover. You can see it, and the witness statements here. The record was always secondary to meeting politicians and raising awareness, and we all know we smashed the previous record.

Part 1: Build Up
Part 3: The End

Also published on Medium.

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