"You," said Matthew, his finger pointing first at me then at the crash helmet, high-visibility jacket and cycling clips assembled on the kitchen table, "are a hypocrite. You are nothing less than the Ruth Kelly of Shepherd's Bush."
Then he handed me the Yellow Pages.
"What's this for?" I asked.
"Well, Ruthie," he said, "I thought you might want to go the whole hog and become an all-out Kelly clone. Why not join Opus Dei? You'll find it in there under 'Cults, Sects and Miscellaneous Self-Flagellating Religious Maniacs'."
The catalyst for this outburst, it slowly became clear, had nothing to do with the decision six years ago to send Louis to a private school. (Matthew was in full agreement with this, by the way, saying that if our son ever does elect to become a crack dealer he can jolly well wait until he's 18 rather than begin enforced training at four and a half, which is the starting age in most Shepherd's Bush state-school playgrounds.)
No, the catalyst was, obscurely, my shiny, six-geared bike. I have had it a couple of years now but it has been kept in the garden under a cover and only brought out for holidays in Devon and the odd ride in the park. But as Matthew immediately worked out from the New Year purchase of the above-mentioned paraphernalia and presence of the bike in the kitchen, I have made a firm resolution to never drive my car when I can cycle instead.
I'd like to claim my motives are purely environmental, but in truth they are more to do with weight loss, a new fitness regime and the extension of the congestion charge which will mean that as of 19 February I will have to pay £8 every time I get the urge to spend a term's school fees on a Tibetan singing bowl from a Holland Park lifestyle boutique, or two pork chops from the world's most expensive butcher. And that's without the inevitable £50 parking ticket.
I will admit that Matthew does have a point. I am being a hypocrite (although not quite of the Ruth Kelly calibre) because I hate cyclists. I can meet a person, chat to them, befriend them, go on holiday with them if things should happen to work out that way. But if that same person should then turn out to be a cyclist I should instantly loathe them.
Matthew pressed this precise point before going on to remind me of an incident that happened, not long ago, in Covent Garden. Forced off the pavement by some Christmas revellers, I was walking along the side of the road when an aggressive cyclist headed straight for me, only swerving at the very last moment, intentionally frightening the living daylights out of me and calling me a name so vile I cannot bring myself to write it.
Having brought the full trauma back to me Matthew then summoned Louis down from what is conveniently known as "doing his homework" (PlayStation 2) to give testimony about the word that was screamed at me on Tuesday after I turned right in front of an oncoming cyclist in the Uxbridge Road.
"He called Mum the M-F word," said Louis.
"The M-F word," repeated Matthew very slowly as he turned to address the imaginary jury by the goldfish bowl. "And what, tell us please, was your mother's response to this?"
"She said, "If we weren't so late for school she'd follow the F****** and clip his rear tyre."
Thank you Louis, no further questions," said Matthew. "You may return to your PlaySt..., to your homework."
"Right then," he went on once the sound of virtual gunfire had begun once again to drift down the stairs, "I assume that's sufficient to dissuade you from this suicidal madness. You must understand that most motorists feel the same way about cyclists as you do, which is just as it should be. But there are some car drivers out there who will not be running late as you were, who will have all the time in the world in which to fulfil their urge to clip a rear tyre. So let's put the bike back in the garden and we'll hear no more about it."
But I was no more going to do that than Ruth Kelly was about to take her son out of his lovely new Palladian fronted prep school. Besides which I was already late for my first cycling in traffic proficiency course. So late that I had no choice but to load my bike into the car and drive to Ravenscourt Park where I was to meet my instructor.
"Always make eye contact with the motorist," said my instructor once we were out on the road. "That way you will know that they have seen you."
And so I did. I braked, smiled and waved at Matthew in his Audi A3. He was wearing a black beanie hat; headgear he clearly believed rendered him unrecognisable. As he cut across me, speeding off and narrowly missing my rear tyre I called him the M-F word.
Later he confessed that he had indeed followed me and without a trace of self-irony said, "It was to prove to you," that there are lunatics out there."
Then he pressed a wad of notes into my hand and, sounding like an Essex gangster, suggested that I forget all about this cycling nonsense and drive to Holland Park to buy myself a little something." Which, of course I did - cutting up a cyclist in the process.Reuse content