Every day I see outbursts of rage on the road. A pedestrian bellowing at a cyclist for running a red light. A concrete mixer truck weaving in and out of lanes, leaving fist-waving cyclists in its wake. All the while, motorbikes farting angrily. The thing that disturbs me is how easily I myself slip into rage. I liken it to the river of slime beneath the city in Ghostbusters II – a corrosive pink sludge rushing through the abandoned subways of my brain. I’ve uttered things under my breath, spittle flying, that I would never, ever repeat “in real life”. And that’s the thing: I behave as though the road is some kind of virtual world where what I do doesn’t reflect on who I really am. Would I snarl “YOU $#?!% £$%*!” if, for example, a friend was late to meet me, or if a certain someone forgot to buy cheese? Granted, these things are not as life-threatening as being undercut by another cyclist or clipped by a pulling-out van, but I wish there were some way to subdue or at least temper these outbursts of emotional slime.
Probably it would help to meditate on the fact that I am not the only one, though it sometimes feels like it.
by Aron Wiesenfeld via CGUNIT
I don’t think about much when I’m riding along, other than the importance of staying alive. But the other day when I was riding along I had this sudden almost painfully vivid memory of lying on a trampoline at my first house in Te Kuiti watching thistledowns (or fairies, as they were then known) speeding through the air. There were always fairies in the air in Te Kuiti. The memory was one of those ones where you can smell it: the plasticky burn of the mat, rusted metal on the springs. I remembered the howl of the five o’clock siren and the neighbourhood dogs starting up. Anyway, then the memory evaporated and I was back on the road furiously pedalling to keep ahead of the double-decker bearing down on me. I don’t know how or why that memory turned up. Maybe something derailed my neurons and instead of falling into the rage river they fell into the past instead.
Charley Chase rides a bike (via Rides a Bike)
Last week a cyclist got hit just down the road from my place. My friend Charlotte, who’s a doctor, was walking past on her way to the supermarket and saw a circle of silent people standing around him, with one woman trying to help the guy. But no one seemed to know what to do so she stopped to help. The cyclist was a guy in maybe his thirties. He had blood coming out of his ear – bad sign – but was conscious, and Charlotte assessed his injuries. When an ambulance arrived, the officers saw the blood and talked openly about how bad the cyclist’s prospects were. Presumably, the poor cyclist could hear everything. Ambulance workers in London must become immensely jaded by what they see. But does jadedness have to translate to insensitivity? It makes me think about the weirdness of living in a huge city. So many humans jammed together, yet often we have no idea how to behave towards one another.
Ronald Searle’s cat via Animalarium
Yet I would say that in a city it’s also wise to remain in your own world as far as possible. If you took on board all the madness and sadness you saw each day, you would likely go insane. For example, Ronald Searle’s cat is oblivious to all the garbage hidden under the flowers, and is notably more cheerful for it. But then I think, maybe that cat is part of the problem! Why doesn’t the cat look around him and pick up some of that rubbish? What is stopping the cat? You could argue that there are no rubbish bins for miles – which in London would indeed be a valid argument. (Rubbish bins are strategically placed to prevent people from leaving bombs in them.) But if every cat on a bike picked up one bit of rubbish, or made one small act of kindness … Anyway, here he is, having arrived safely home.
Assuming that reincarnation is possible, wouldn’t it be great if we got to choose our next life? I’d choose to be a portly cat with a bicycle, a gramophone, and tons of records. Or, failing that, Brian Jones (also assuming that every generation has its own Brian Jones), who somehow makes looking silly look cool. (I’m aware that some people may disagree with me here. But that will only make Brian Jones look cooler in my eyes.) Not that looking cool is important, but sometimes – well, it’d be real nice.
Brian Jones (via Rides a Bike)
I have a deeply uncool cycling-related confession to make. I go to a gym, and often I go to spinning classes. These are described as “fast-paced activity on specialised stationary bikes, with a highly energised atmosphere.” In reality spin classes are a form of masochism whereby an instructor bellows at you, mostly things like “Faster!”, “Turn it up or I will turn it up for you!”, and “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain!” For me, the brutality is cathartic and re-focussing – there’s nothing like struggling to breathe to cut through all your other problems. Afterwards, life is temporarily great.
But what I’d like to talk about is this woman I always see at Spin. She’s slender in a sort of grew-up-in-the-country way and has brown frizzy hair that she always wears loose so it waffles out around her head. She wears a baggy t-shirt and baggy grey trackpants, an outfit that makes her stand out somehow from the other gym-goers, most of whom have specially-bought lycra leggings and colourful sleeveless tops with sporty labels sticking out of them. (The crucial thing at the gym is the bagginess/tightness quotient – all over she’s baggy, whereas everyone else is either baggy/tight or tight/tight. What does it mean? Why is it important? I don’t know, but I know enough to abide by the rule.) Anyway, at Spin class, her hair frizzes all over her face and eventually becomes infused in sweat and wilts. But occasionally she stops pedalling and gazes up at the ceiling. Then she lolls her head around, pushes her hair back luxuriously and smiles ecstatically. She closes her eyes, lolls some more. The sweat on her face gives her an otherworldly sheen. I have never seen anyone look so happy in a Spin class.
Meanwhile, the pedallers on either side stare straight ahead.