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Cop 21. 9th December 2015. Paris.

We arrived exhausted at our hotel, it was late, the hotel was budget but clean and friendly. We had booked the hotel before the bombings so we would be near Le Bouget the Conference centre where the decisions were to be made on the future of our planet. However, since then, it had been decided to change the plans . There were good reasons for this as the central area of protest was the muslim sector and it was thought that they may be implicated and punished if we went ahead in this area with our climate demonstrations. We had been awake since 5.30 and our journey had consisted of car, train, coach, ferry then taxi. We were further away from the action than we wanted to be but it had been too late to change our hotel. Our heads hit the pillow and we were both asleep until the alarm rudely woke us at 7.30am French time

Thursday 10th we woke up with optimism and a sense of the unknown. Our meeting venue had only been given to us last minute as we were arriving in Paris. So,at least we knew where we were going that day. Breakfast was the usual self service affair with bread and croissants. The hotel manager had assured us we could have the disabled room for the rest of our stay which meant Neil was saved from climbing a flight of stairs. Normally, Neil uses a wheelchair but this expedition was the first long journey using his walking frame. A challenge, but it was already proving its worth in its versatility in various scenarios. Having limited mobility in France is as difficult as it is in London. Le Metro has many steps and few lifts. The manager called us a taxi but this was proving very difficult and 20 minutes later one finally arrived at the hotel. I showed the taxi driver the address and she acknowledged it as if she knew where she was going. I was optimistic and began to relax and take in the Paris sights. However, my faith in French taxi drivers was quickly diminished as she kept asking repeatedly for the address. Meanwhile the meter clocked onwards and upwards unrelenting whilst our destination became an unknown entity. As we moved through traffic jam after traffic jam then we spotted the designer shops and then L'Arc de Triomph ,Neil and I knew we were literally being taken for a ride.

I had been lazy about my French so far so I decided to reach into the archives of my brain and pull out some future and past tenses. As soon as she realized I was communicating in her lingo she turned the car around and miraculously found the Metro which was near our meeting place.

She charged us 60 euros, I wanted to argue but we were already really late so I swallowed my angst and we found our meeting place on foot a mere 5 minutes away. As we entered the secret rendezvous building the morning session had just finished. Luckily, I found some old friends of ours and they told us what was going on and all the plotting and planning that had been discussed. The air was laden with the aroma of lentils and industrial sized blenders echoed through the plasterless walls. It was a hive of activity with young people sporting dreadlocks and hairstyles of various colours hurried to and fro with a mission or two. Rickety tables and chairs piles of tat adorned the large room separated by plastic vertical sheeting. Buzz words were tear gas as this had been used a few days earlier. Mallox its antidote was repeatedly overheard and folk questioning where one could obtain it. When the English had been walking the fluffy marches around our cities, the French had not been as accommodating to their activists and had resorted to tear gas so now , the big action on the 12th was being regarded with some trepidation. This day of action may turn nasty. Tear gas is an effective weapon for dispersing crowds. They used it on us at Copenhagen on us and despite all the resolve in the world to remain in your spot, its disorienteering effect overcomes and controls your basic instinct to turn and run. The meeting we attended in the afternoon asked the question if anyone would run if they were gassed and no-one put their hands up. This is why I am always sceptical about meetings of this genre. I feel these young people can be rail roaded into actions. Having seen a no show of hands one of the facilitators nearly got it right trying to gauge the amount of commitment in the group. He asked if a secret ballot or a temperature check would be more realistic. This was so ludicrous as both a temperature check and a show of hands is equally as transparent.

Meanwhile, the helicopter rumbled above our heads. Legal briefings followed but Neil and I decided to mingle and discuss strategies and catch up with our friends from previous protest years. It was lovely seeing familiar faces some we had not seen since Copenhagen. We drank tea and ate out of enamel plates. The building began to empty out and as it did it began to become colder so, we decided to leave. We returned to our hotel, ate and glad of a comfy bed we slept until early the following morning.

Friday morning and we are starting to know our way around Paris. We told the receptionist about the taxi driver ripping us off and he informed us that unless we have a receipt there is nothing we can do about it. So, lesson learnt always ask for a written fare so you can dispute it later. There is a delegate from Portugal staying at our hotel he shares our taxi to go to Le Bourget, the Conference centre where the decisions are being made. He is pessimistic about the outcome and does not believe the countries will go far enough to save the planet. As he is fighting on one level in his posh conference centre we head for our home spun grassroots centre. This is where the real decisions will be taken , through people power. Today there is a a change in atmosphere, everyone is coming together more, friendships are being forged connections are linking. A meal is evolving ready to feed thousands of folk, activists sit and read, some solitary, some engaged in passionate discussions about the climate. A helicopter circles above. The atmosphere is upbeat and laughter rings out as role plays are in action in another room. We drink more tea then head for the ZAC centre. This is an alternative arts venue. A meeting has just begun and the itinerary for Saturday is finalised and told to the masses. We are informed that the organisers of D12 are still in discussion with the Police but they were optimistic the demonstration would go ahead without tear gas or Police intervention. It was to be a Non Violent Demonstration. 2 tulips each were handed out and a red umbrella to everyone there. There was to be a kissing wall and no escalation of violence from our movement. There were cheers and clapping and the mood was buoyant. The Centre had a cafe so we queued for ages for some food. We finally made it to the serving counter only to be told the restaurant was closed. We opted for coffee instead.

Then, it was back to our hotel exhausted and excited for what would be in store for us the following day. Ordered some Take Away and fell asleep, I felt as excited as a child on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, the big day this is when the people of the world would see thousands of us on the streets. Affinity groups with their own agenda from Keeping fossil fuels in the ground to Another World is possible. Neil and I were early and already activists were wandering along the pavements. The idea was to look nonchalant then take the road. This was Avenue de la Grande Armee one of the main routes in Paris. Police were placed strategically all along it and at every side street white police vans were parked. Few cafes were open but we desperately needed a coffee. Everyone seemed to have the same idea including polar bears and angels so much so, that the cafe could not cope with the numbers so they locked the doors, we were kettled in a cafe.

Outside the police were randomly searching folks bags. We decided to leave the cafe,the owners unlocked the doors and we all tumbled out onto the street. Samba bands were playing, we put our red scarves on and a fog horn blared and we all put up our red umbrellas. We had taken the road, and kettled ourselves. The Police stood by and watched. The free food stall was doing frantic business and going down a treat. I spotted Natalie Bennett she would have been in the middle of the affray if anything had kicked off. I went for some food but they had ran out having nourished hundreds of activists.

We chatted with friends and wandered around. Took many photos and finally placed our banner between two red lines smothered in tulips. Everyone was still milling around and partying. However, time was nearly running out. Everyone was slowly dispersing and they were leaving the road. It was time for another coffee so we headed for a cafe where we happened to sit next to another friend of ours. What a small world it becomes when one is demonstrating on environmental issues.

Refreshed from our beverages we made our way to the Eiffel Tower where the party was continuing with gusto. More photos and many by the Tower. I toyed with the idea of hanging our banner up on this iconic monument but realised it would look dwarfed by the sheer enormity of the tower. It was a fantastic atmosphere and we were left to do our own thing. Time flew by and it was beginning to get cold and dark. Neil and I decided to call it a day and we returned to our hotel.

The conclusion we came to was it was by far the best demonstration we had ever attended and we may have plans to attend the Moroccan Climate talks next year. Who knows what might happen as news is now flooding in that the Tory Government plan to frack National Parks in yet another U turn. This will be an interesting 2016 ahead of us and together if we can all

WAKE UP

we shall win.

This article was written by Annette Hudspeth. Author of Mummy Bears Vegan Guide to Cooling The Planet.