28 September 2010


London Race
I picked up the new novel by Ben Elton - Meltdown - at the airport last week. Nothing to do with cycling, but there is a great passage that describes the culture of fear and lack of rationality inherent in modern society, not least in London.

"Monica [...] considered the genuine nightmare that awaited every driver who ventured on to the streets of London between the hours of seven and nine-thirty in the moring, as the usual heavy traffic of one of the world's busiest cities was supplemented by an extra half-million or so cars (often HUGE cars) each containing one one mum or nanny and one small child.

Now that both Jimmy and Monica appreciated the full horror of the school run, Jimmy couldn't help wondering why they didn't walk it. It was only a mile and a half and it would probably be quicker on foot. He had in fact suggested this idea to Monica but she had refused to even consider it.

'The streets just aren't safe', she insisted. 'What if Toby rain out into the road? He could be knocked down.'

'By a parent driving a child in a four-by-four?' Jimmy asked.

'Yes actually,' Monica replied angrily. 'Some of those mums drive like they're invading bloody Poland. It's incredible. I saw a cyclist go down last week. Horrible.'

'So we protect Toby from being knocked over by a frazzled, furious parent in a Range Rover by BEING that frazzled parent in a Range Rover?'

'Look, I don't care,' Monica said, the light of battle in her eyes. 'All I know is that if Toby's inside the Discovery, he is totally safe and if he's outside it he isn't. You can't argue with that equation, Jimmy! I'm sorry, but end of story. We may be poor but we're not going to let poverty kill our kids. He goes to school in a car. You don't compromise on safety. Ever.'

Monica, like every other parent in the same situation, presented this point of view with an almost evangelical zeal, her eyes ablaze with moral certitude, as if merely by conjuring up the word 'safety' she had trumped any and all other arguements.

'Monica!' Jimmy protested. 'That's the argument the police use when they close an entire motorway because somebody's having a piss on the hard shoulder. You have to quantify the risk!'

But Monica was not prepared to quantify the risk and so Jimmy joined the school run along with every other parent and nanny in London.

They screamed at taxi drivers. Taxi drivers and bus drivers screamed back. Tatooed and dreadlocked anarcho-cyclists banged bonnets. Leather-clad motorcycle dispatch riders chased leaping pedestrians through tiny gaps in the acreage of steaming, fuming metal. The very air throbbed with frustration and fury as Londoners young and old began their working day in the worst possible mood to do good business."