I’ve been going a bit faster lately, for one reason and another. (One reason was an unusually vitriolic altercation with a bus driver yesterday, which left me quivering with rage, and riding at crazy speeds was the only way I could get it out of my system. Another reason was the White Cube post-run (Hoxton Square, Wharf Road, Mason’s Yard, Hoxton Square, Wharf Road), which hit my Xda at 3pm today, when I had to be in Streatham Hill for 4.30. (I made it with ten minutes to spare, and was quite pleased with myself.)) And I’ve noticed that it drastically increases the number of near misses I have, even though I still stick to all the rules, am within the speed limit, stop at (most) traffic lights, etc.
It’s always other people doing stupid things, of course – but riding faster means I have less time to avoid them. A woman (avec iPod) stepped out without looking on Southwark Bridge Road, and I pulled a pretty impressive skid (unintentionally, I might add – you don’t expect to skid with a freewheel), and missed her by inches. Look out for that blue paint, by the way – it’s going to be a nightmare in the rain.
And god, there was an even worse one on Shaftesbury (heading east, between Wardour and Dean). A typical – and terrifying – three-second pedestrian encounter.
Second 1: Woman steps casually off traffic island (with very small child in tow), forgetting to check for oncoming traffic, then turns head, sees fast approaching cycle courier, and starts running across road, giggling, because, after all, dashing into the path of oncoming traffic whilst holding a toddler by the hand is probably the funniest thing in the world, isn’t it? And it’s not like anyone’s ever been killed or injured by traffic in central London, is it? And bikes don’t really hurt when they hit you, do they?
Second 2: Woman realizes she might have misjudged the pace of fast approaching cycle courier, pauses in the middle of the road, and ponders her next move. This is the most dangerous bit – no matter how much pedestrian psychology you have hardwired into your nervous system, you can never predict which way they’re going to jump. Cycle courier brakes for all she’s worth, imagining decapitated toddler and written-off bike (“…and oh yes, the road, I remember that from last time – surprisingly hard, if you go into it fast enough…”).
Second 3: Both parties almost at a halt; cycle courier executes a sharp turn and whips round pedestrian, usually with a withering glance or a choice mouthful of abuse.
And this time I surpassed myself. I have a little repertoire of abuse always to hand (it started out as staircase wit, but moved to the tip of my tongue as I got more used to dealing with situations like this), and sometimes spend the millisecond after I’ve avoided a high-speed collision contentedly rummaging through my wit for the most appropriate put-down. But today I didn’t even think. I just opened my mouth, and out it came, hearty, heart-felt, throaty and resonant:
“For fuck’s sake, you IDIOT!”
It was perfectly delivered. Sometimes I accidentally shriek, or stutter, or miss the moment, but this was loud and clear enough for everyone on Shaftesbury to hear. She shouted something inarticulate in response. I carried on. She wasn’t the first person I’d shouted at today, and she wouldn’t be the last.
But where did it come from? My usual comments have all been tailor-made to cause the maximum impact whilst carefully retaining the moral high ground. I’ve never sworn at a pedestrian before. What came over me? Or, rather, out of me? I’m slightly worried that this incident, and that row with the bus driver, and the idiot on Southwark Bridge Road, and all the hundreds and hundreds of other little incidents over the past few weeks are building up in my system. Usually I just let go of them – because you have to. There’s usually very little you can do, after all, and there’s no point holding onto the anger. You cycle it out, or you find someone sympathetic and rant, or you just take a deep breath and carry on. But none of that seems to be working at the moment.
God, I need a holiday.