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Diary

Diary

The dark side to cycling in the city

3 July 2004

12:00 AM

3 July 2004

12:00 AM

After Wednesday’s Tube strike, most Londoners will have decided again that the only solution is a bicycle. But there’s a dark side to cycling in the city. Since I bought my first bike a year or so ago I have been astonished by the outbursts of spittle-flecked fury pedestrians unleash upon cyclists. Any minor deviation from the letter of the law — a quick pedal on the pavement, a whizz through Hyde Park — induces instant Tourette’s syndrome in passers-by: ‘You stupid f—–ing cow! Get off your f—–ing bike!’ etc., etc., followed by a furious rant about how, literally, lethal bicycles are. Last week I crept cautiously through a red light on Oxford Street, craning left and right to make sure the coast was clear — no traffic, no pregnant shoppers, no old ladies pushing tartan wheelie-bags. I had, however, been spotted. About 15 feet further on, a man stepped into the road in front of me and shouted, ‘C—–, I saw you! C—–!’ ‘What’s wrong with you? Why do you care?’ I asked, hopelessly. ‘C—–,’ he said again.

It’s the by-law enthusiasts’ expletive of choice. I recently wrote a short piece asking why we react with such violence to minor affronts, giving as an example a man who saw me biking on the pavement and spat in my face. I received several letters in reply. The latest, from Anonymous in Hemel Hempstead, begins, ‘Dear bubble-brained c—–. You make me sick. Frankly you got off lightly. If it had been me, I would have broken your jaw.’ I spent Friday on the phone to the Metropolitan Police, who have promised to find out if any pedestrians are ever injured by cyclists.

I saw a pigeon die at the weekend. I was on a bus, waiting at a red light on the Tottenham Court Road, so I looked left out of the window at a ledge covered in bird-deterring metal needles. As I watched, a pigeon came in to land, wings wide, feet stretched out in front. He touched down, and was just rocking forward into a standing position when one of the needles poked into his chest. Pigeons can’t take off backwards, so he fell forward and was spiked.

To cheer myself up, I went to a Sunday service at the evangelical Anglican church, Holy Trinity Brompton. Some of my best friends are happy-clappies, so about once a year I try and fail to sit through an HTB service. This year I lasted 15 minutes. For the first 10 minutes I successfully opened my heart to the power-point projectors, acoustic guitars and expressions of ecstasy. I even held out my hands and swayed, all the while terrified that I would have a religious experience and have to go to HTB for the rest of my life. Then the priest approached the microphone. ‘I think you’ll agree with me,’ he said, ‘that God is a great guy and deserves a round of applause. C’mon, everybody, let’s give God a big clap.’ Saved again.


Looking through the letters to the editor this week, I was depressed by how many Spectator readers are still writing in to defend Ukip. I know they speak to the soul on the subject of immigration and the EU, but Peter Oborne is right; Ukip is a party of creeps and bores. When I was working on the then Peterborough column of the Daily Telegraph, every day brought a new fax from Nigel Farage MEP insisting we print stories about the launch of a Ukip car sticker or pound-sign badge. Hourly telephone calls from Farage ensured that we were all narcoleptic with boredom, terrified of the phone and self-medicating with miniatures of gin.

Abetter reason not to support Ukip is their chief strategist, Dick Morris, the man credited with the party’s recent success. Morris, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, now raves about the genius of George W. Bush, which tells you what a stand-up sort of guy he is. And while you’re trusting him to ‘save democracy from bureaucracy’ and maybe even considering voting Ukip in the general election, Morris has got himself another job. He’s helping a woman called Lia Roberts campaign to be president of Romania. One of Morris’s and Roberts’s winning policies is that Romania must join the EU.

On Monday morning I noticed that football is, in fact, coming home — if only for my mum. Every summer, starting in June, footballs of every colour and size, all pocked with fox tooth-marks, gather spookily in her garden. I still haven’t worked out whether or how the foxes bring the balls in, but the score so far is impressive: one gold Adidas ball; one leather Mitre football; one white leather ball printed with the word ‘Beckham’; one yellow plastic football with black pentagons; one similar but red; one deflated Nike ball; one semi-deflated Reading FC football; one enormous transparent beach ball filled with tiny multi-coloured balls; one blue plastic ball with Little Mermaid motif; one blue with cartoon cat; one hard yellow rubber dog’s ball with central hole; one mangled green ball made from a sort of gel; two tennis balls; one cricket ball; one undersized white rugby ball; and one with a Spiderman on it, stuck 10 ft up the hedge.

My mother says that I’m not allowed to use the word ‘closet’ again. Apparently it’s a member of the set of unspeakables such as ‘toilet’, ‘pardon’, ‘serviette’, ‘settee’ and, oddly, ‘mirror’. She says this kindly, but I can tell she is a little disappointed that I didn’t know by osmosis.

Every morning I check the American Department of Homeland Security’s Threat Advisory website (http://www.dhs.gov) to find out how scared to be. This week it says, ‘Elevated! There is a significant risk of terrorist attack! Please ensure that your Disaster Supply Kit is stocked and ready!’ According to the DHS, your kit should include: ‘a flashlight’; a ‘whistle (to signal for help)’; ‘a can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)’; ‘infant formula and diapers (if you have an infant)’; ‘garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation’ and ‘moist towelettes for sanitation’. Alternatively, if you’ve seen the film The Day After Tomorrow, you’ll know that all you need to survive any major disaster is a small yellow tent.

Things may be bad, but at least I’m not Dame Mary Page. Biking through Bunhill Cemetery this week, I stopped to read the inscription on Dame Mary’s memorial. She died in 1728 aged 56 and ‘in 67 months she was tapped 66 times, had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation’.


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