When an MP gets taken for a ride
Thursday 11 July 1996
Well, whatever the reason, the Government gets interested in bikes once a year and says that it is going to do something to help. To get people bicycle-conscious.
"Did you know," says someone to someone," that 90 per cent of journeys made on our roads are two miles or less? Perfect biking distance!"
"Wow !" says the Government. "Got to pursue this one! Let's have ... National Cycling Week next week!"
And this is where Jerry Coulterville comes in.
Jerry Coulterville is Tory MP for South Norton. Or maybe it's North Sutton. Or maybe even West Easton, or East Weston.
Let's say he's MP for Middleton. And when he joined Parliament in order to make Britain a better place (gosh! How long ago that all seems, eh, Jerry?), he put down as one of his main interests bicycling, because he had just come back from a holiday with his teenage children and they had made him do a lot of biking, which he had quite enjoyed, it being a flat bit of France and they being good at maintaining bikes.
So he had become Jerry Coulterville, the bicycling MP. He was always being quoted by bicycling organisations such as Friends Of The Mudguard as the bicycling MP, and occasionally, hugely embarrassed, he would be photographed biking to Westminster, or even arriving at the House of Commons on his bike.
"Can we just have you wheeling your bike up to the doors of Parliament?" shouted the photographers. "Then we can see the doorman welcome you on your bike and give his regular smile!"
"Morning, Mr Coulterville," said the man at the door. "Never seen you on a bike before. What's the bleeding lark this time? Have they banned British bikes in Brussels or something?"
"Don't ask," said Jerry Coulterville. "And if the photographers ask you, say I come in by bike every day, come rain or shine. Got that?"
A fiver changed hands.
The doorman thought he had got that.
Jerry Coulterville's reputation as the bicycling MP had survived another day. It wasn't what you might call a huge reputation. Other MPs got into the news more easily. They got into the news by being Eurosceptic, or sending their children to tactless schools, or being found in flagrante, or accepting money to ask questions, or dying just when the Government's majority was paper-thin, so on the whole Jerry Coulterville was glad to be just the bicycling MP.
Then one day last week his phone rang at home. "It's the Today programme for you," said his (non-cycling) wife.
"Jerry Coulterville here."
"Mr Coulterville, as you probably know the Government has announced a new Cycle Conscious Policy..."
"Of course," said Jerry, who knew nothing of the sort. Fancy the Government telling one of its own MPs what it planned!
"We wondered if you would come in tomorrow morning and talk to us about the delights of bicycling in London."
"Delighted," said Jerry Coulterville, who had always wanted to go on Today to talk about bicycling, but had never been invited before because they always got a senior politician whom the press described as the Bicycling Minister. A Bicycling Minister had precedence over a Cycling MP. "So you're not inviting ... Sir Gregory?"
"The Bicycling Minister? No, we only wish we could have got hold of him, because he's very good, but he wasn't available, so, alas, you were our only option. But glad you can make it, Jerry. You'd have to be here at 7.15 am at the latest. Do you want us to send a car for you?"
Jerry Coulterville was about to utter a grateful Yes, when he remembered just in time.
"No, no, no!" he said. "What an idea! I shall be cycling there of course! Lovely ride that time of morning."
He lived in Richmond. He had an idea that it wouldn't be too bad a ride to White City and TV Centre.
"OK," said the researcher. "See you at Broadcasting House, tomorrow morning, 7.15."
"Portland Place. Just off Oxford Circus."
Oh my holy derailleur gears! thought Jerry Coulterville. It's a radio interview! I'll never get from Richmond to Oxford Circus by bike!
Will he? Won't he? Don't miss tomorrow's nerve-wracking episode!
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