It is the bystanders who helped lift a car off a cyclist at Spitalfields - and who saved me - that represent the real Britain

In recent years, it's been said the British have been replaced by a depressing narrative

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The Independent Online

Who needs Thor? Or Superman, Spiderman, Batman, or any of the comic book characters turned movie blockbusters when you’ve got Londoners?

On Monday night 10 men combined to lift a VW Golf off a stricken cyclist at Spitalfields, in central London. That’s about 1.3 tonnes they shifted. Pretty damn impressive.

Their swift actions meant that paramedics, who were awaiting the fire brigade, were able to provide immediate assistance to the victim and may have saved her life. Clare Pepper, who is 27 and has just bought a flat in South London with her boyfriend, certainly thinks so.

As I write this, I have just read a piece by Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail describing her “one woman war” (crikey!) on the “what’s in it for me society”.

She rails against litterbugs, people who don’t scoop up dog poo (ok, she might have a point there), but then we’re on to the “feckless minority who abuse the public”. The mums who researchers want to offer vouchers to incentivise them to breast feed, for example. Who are just bound to use the money to go out and buy huge flat screen TVs. Innit.

To be fair (sorry but I have to be) she doesn’t fire any salvos at Britain’s workshy youth, the disabled, immigrants, or any other favoured targets. But she’s ploughing a depressingly familiar furrow.

If it’d been me I might have included venal bankers and businessmen, wealthy tax cheats and the people who run the BBC. Right wing columnists often conveniently forget that it ain’t just at the bottom of society where we have problems.

But then you have those 10 strangers who tell a rather different story. Multi-ethnic, probably multi-lingual, probably from a wide variety of different social classes, who just lifted a car up.

The same sort of people helped me when I had a lorry on top of me. I think it might have required Superman to lift that thing up. So instead a wonderful chap called Paul got underneath, heedless of the oil that was dripping down, and the petrol fumes he was breathing in, and just talked to me until the fire brigade arrived. He kept me going.

Then there was the person, who with little apparent thought for their own personal safety had earlier jumped in front of the tanker. I’d already had two wheels running over me. Without him or her more would have followed and you wouldn’t be reading this.

The national myth holds that the British are a fundamentally decent people, but that seems to have been written out of the popular consciousness in recent years to be replaced by a rather depressing narrative. It holds that the country’s gone to the dogs, and is now dominated by feckless ne’er do wells, callous officials who nonetheless indulge them, greedy bankers.

The actions of the 10, of Paul, of the bloke or woman who jumped in front of that tanker, indicates that there is another side to that story and, in these fairly grim economic times, perhaps we ought to remember that. 

Unfortunately, as I write I read that a female cyclist has been killed on the Bow roundabout, a nightmarish construction that scares the life out of me when I approach even from the relative safety of my car.

I’m truly heartened by people’s heroism for assisting cyclists in desperate circumstances. But it would be better if they didn’t have to. And that will only happen when real action is taken to prevent London’s roads from acting as deathtraps. Won’t it, Boris?