“I think the experience of driving in London will make me into a better pedestrian,” says Tristan.
“They’re all fucking insane. It’s like they all want to get killed.”
“Yep. Your job is to not kill them.”
London driving. It’s a peculiar type of assault course. Tristan drove us across town in the sightly troublesome car. We had barely left Twickenham when we saw the first deathwish of many. I almost take it for granted these days, but seeing it through the eyes of a new driver really puts it into focus. A cyclist. On a busy public road. Over forty years old, so perhaps old enough to know better than to roll along the road with no hands on the handlebars, fully absorbed in a mobile phone screen, trusting to balance and to lack of oil in the front wheel joint in order to not fall over and roll under a bus. While Tristan swears about it, the cyclist, now with one hand on a handle as the phone finds a pocket, undertakes us to then overtake a bus that has started indicating right to rejoin traffic. This time they were fine. I hope they’ll be fine every time they do something that stupid. But they weren’t even the worst I’ve seen this week. Kids doing long wheelies on Tower Bridge Approach, and more people than you’d ever believe cycling with a mobile phone.
On Park Lane earlier this week I drove past a man lying on his back outside the Hilton. A woman was kneeling over him, waving expansively to the traffic, encouraging us to pass by rather than stop to look. His moped was a bit further on, as grounded as he was. And the momentary snapshot that my brain holds of him, prone in his helmet, carried the feeling that his body looked too flat, like it had collapsed under its own weight – no more involuntary muscles holding it up, no more air in the lungs. He isn’t the first probably dead biker I’ve seen on the streets of London, flat out very possibly for good, snipped off in a moment. Even without an engine, even without undertaking cars and overtaking buses as they pull out – even then you take your life into your hands on the London roads. Cycling with a mobile? Just don’t.
The roads are busy again now. And lots of people haven’t driven for months. People do all sorts of crazy shit…
On which subject, I pulled up outside Melody’s only to have my door opened by a drunk young woman, Southern Comfort fumes coming off her in waves as she begged me to take her to her friend’s yard. It was easier to just say yes and drive her, even if getting directions from her was a masterclass in translation. By the look of it she’d had a shit night. Thankfully I speak excellent Drunk after studying it for years. I tried to put her mind at rest, even though she basically had my door open before I could stop her. I dropped her outside Barnes Stadium and she staggered off, hopefully to a warm yard. Hitchhiking is rare in London, and most of the cars are taxis anyway. She’s lucky she got someone unruffled, patient and sober.