I am in That London with my Brompton for a flying visit, having been asked to help chair a round table (I still get Monty Python songs going round my head whenever I hear that phrase; no doubt eventually I will grow out of it*) for the Near Miss Project which is researching cyclists’ experiences of all those scary moments where your life and usually the tail end of a double-decker bus passes before your eyes which means you get to both help science AND have an audience for all those ‘and then you won’t believe what the driver did …’ stories that your nearest and dearest have long since stopped listening to (and if you missed being part of the Near Miss Project last year, never fear, they are recruiting again). This meant Bromptoning from Euston to Vauxhall yesterday, a trip which went reasonably well, adjusted for the fact that I decided to improvise a little in Soho and found myself unexpectedly heading northeast with the firm conviction that I was going south, something that could happen to anybody as long as that person has the sense of direction of a compass in a tin mine.
Today I had to navigate my way from Vauxhall to Baker Street & when I asked my hosts for advice on timings and routes the suggestion was ‘On a bike? Don’t’. Twitter was a little more gung ho, however, and between us we worked out a route over Lambeth Bridge (Vauxhall Bridge has a fantabulous wide separated new cycle track but it’s only currently accessible going southbound), up to St. James’ Park, through Hyde Park and then working my way north – or, you know, possibly south if I wasn’t careful – to Baker Street. Some of this I knew well enough from Disgruntled Commuter days, so I only went the wrong way a couple of times (it’s been a while), and having crossed the river safely I paused at one of the map monoliths to check I was more or less where I thought I was. A passing Bromptonaut, spotting a fellow owner, paused to ask if I knew where I was going and reassured me I was on the right track. We then fell into conversation (I admired his very nifty arrangement of water bottle holders on the back of his saddle), and, having tactfully pointed out the off-road cycle path just as I was about to fling myself into the maelstrom of angry taxis that is the Mall, he more or less took me under his wing and guided me the rest of the way to Hyde Park. Clearly either Londoners have mellowed, I look even more helpless than I am, or the fellowship of the folding bike trumps all rules about not talking to strangers. Either way I was grateful.
I could have done with my native guide as I made my way to King’s Cross after the event. Somehow my cunning plan of riding parallel to the Marylebone Road along quieter streets by Regent’s Park turned into me being decanted straight back onto it. The last time I cycled along that road I was 22 and foolhardy and heading to Paddington with an enormous backpack on my back to take up a last minute place on a course in Bristol. With no greater sense of direction than I have now – but considerably more courage and less sense – I had simply followed the main roads and, when I came to some big junction as the lights were turning orange, accelerated instead of stopping, not considering just how much slower a bike is through a junction than a car. Somehow I made it across alive with traffic coming at me from what seemed like every direction, horns blaring. It’s a moment that is imprinted on my memory though, for ever more.
There were no horns this afternoon, and no near misses either, although I can’t say the experience was exactly pleasant. I’ll be looking forward to getting home again, where the main hazard is buzzards rather than buses and the only horns I hear are my neighbours, saying hello…
* OK, maybe not