Mark Steel: I can see why drivers shout at prams

Sunday 23 October 2011 03:02

Here's an incident I recalled, while reading about this paper's campaign for safer cycling. I was on a bike, at a set of lights in central London, when a gargantuan lorry pulled up beside me. One thing you learn about these lorries at a set of lights is to make sure the driver's seen you, so I gave him a smile, which is normally greeted with a semi-wave. But this time the driver put his window down and made a fascinating statement. He said "I pay road tax. You pay FUCK OFF."

So presumably, what was going through his mind was "On the one hand here is an ideal scenario for me to make my point about the iniquities of our road-funding policy, whereby this cyclist is deemed exempt from contributing, despite the fact he uses the road as much as I do, albeit on two wheels as opposed to my 186. On the other hand I can't WAIT to tell him to fuck off. OH NO, now I've merged the two thoughts together and it's come out all grammatically incoherent."

Another flaw in his thesis is that I do pay road tax, as do all cyclists if they have a car. And in any case it seems a strange thing to get angry about. Maybe these people sit in the pub grumbling "You know who else gets away with it, these spongers in pushchairs. I saw one today, I went 'OY. When you pay road tax THEN you can cross the road in front of ME, you WANKER', he went 'Baaa waaa mummy I'm scared'. Isn't that typical, we're mugs."

After a while the anger becomes fascinating. Sometimes a driver will lean out of the window and scream "GET OUT THE WAY", when you're innocently at the side of the road, and if you were in a car you'd be much more in the way. And you wonder how exhausting it must be to scream at everything that is, technically, in the way. They must knock at random doors and yell at whoever answers "If these houses hadn't been built I could have DRIVEN through here, now GET OUT THE WAY."

One of my favourites was a man with a very red face who simply yelled "Cuuuuuuuuu..." and hadn't got to the end of his word when I turned right and out of earshot, and probably yelled "uuuuuuuu" all day until he had an injection and could say "nt. Oh thank goodness for that doctor".

The puzzling side to this rage is that thousands of people are injured by cars, whereas it's almost impossible for a motorist to be injured by a pushbike, yet they complain about cyclists as a menace. Maybe it's an equal opportunities issue, and they feel that as cyclists are likely to be healthier, drivers should even up the life expectancy by being allowed to pull out in front of them while texting their mum and looking on the back seat for a Twix.

Most drivers can tolerate the frustrations of the roads and remain considerate, but the anti-cycling sentiment seems to be growing, maybe as part of the growing trend of acceptable bullying, the ethics of The Apprentice in which there's an encouragement to think "I've got more than you so GET OUT THE WAY."

It's still a glorious means of travel, due to a reason more important than those usually cited such as cost, health and speed across town, which is that cycling releases a chemical in the brain that makes you feel utterly smug and superior for the rest of the day.

Maybe that's what annoys some people, as they sit in motionless lines of traffic. Which is why cycling's image is so different from when it was seen as a sweet-natured pursuit of children and maids around village greens. So if children's stories from back then were updated they'd go "Mrs Mablethorpe was cycling to Picklewitch Farm with Beryl Badger in her basket to pick up some delicious eggs. 'Ding-a-ling' went her bell as she passed Mr Jiffybag the postman. 'GET OUT THE FUCKING WAY, MABLETHORPE', yelled Mr Jiffybag, and threw a lovely round juicy orange at her head."

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