It’s a strange feeling to revisit some of my old Canvas columns. Last week I was trying to write a short piece for Essential Services, a new magazine by former Metro editor Henry Oliver, about writing a column and why I decided to stop writing mine. I went back and looked at some of my old pieces and mostly it’s like someone else wrote them. This one is from February this year, a few weeks before lockdown.
I’m standing outside my old flat, waiting for an Uber ride to my new flat. I feel bad about the Uber, but I’m tired enough to let myself off the hook of ethical conduct – which in itself is a worrying thought. Maybe the tireder we get, the more evil we become. But the bus wasn’t due for another forty minutes. I am carrying a vacuum cleaner, a mop, some sponges, Jif, and about 700 cables in a bucket. I can’t remember what any of the cables are for. It seems important not to throw them away. Cables will always hold an aura of preciousness to me, because they used to be so hard to get. Now I feel overwhelmed by them.
This is the last bunch of stuff from my old flat. I have been cleaning the ceilings there and worrying about landlords and money and the future.
When I get into the car with my things, the driver says, ‘Take it easy!’ I think, maybe he has a point. Maybe easy is right there and I just have to take it.
We are going up a twisty narrow hill and the driver seems uncertain. I don’t blame him. It’s a stingy bit of road with lots of sudden blind corners, like it was designed for a psychic stunt driver. There is a car coming fast towards us. There is also a cyclist just in front of us. The driver pulls out anyway to pass the cyclist, but the road is too narrow with the car coming the other way. The driver clips the cyclist and the cyclist falls off, with a dull clank, onto the road.
My blood goes cold and I open the door and jump out. ‘Are you okay?’ I say. The cyclist is a young woman and she is dragging herself and her bike up off the road. There is no obvious blood but she looks upset. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I keep saying. ‘He shouldn’t have done that.’ It is terrifying not knowing if someone is okay and the reason that they might not be okay is because you called an Uber to take you up a hill that cars shouldn’t even be allowed to drive up. ‘I’m okay,’ she says, but her expression is one that I recognise from being knocked off my bike and almost knocked off my bike by cars a number of times, when they haven’t seen me, or have seen me and decided to just drive into me anyway. There is some anger in the expression, and shakiness, but also bewilderment, like: ‘Did you just forget I was a person? Did you think that maybe I was a supermarket trolley trundling along the road, instead of a person, and it didn’t matter?’ I sometimes have this sense – and maybe this is unfair, but it’s just my sense – that certain drivers see cyclists as body-shaped piles of debris moving around in the air and if you drive into them it will scatter the debris gently, like a leafblower scattering leaves, but it won’t cause any real harm.
The driver does not get out of the car. He sits there idling. Eventually I’ve established that the cyclist is okay, so I give her my cellphone number if she needs a witness and tell her I’m sorry again and then get back in the car. ‘Did she lose her balance?’ says the driver as he continues on. ‘It looked like she lost her balance and shouldn’t be on the road.’ I want to ask the driver if he has lost his mind. Instead I say, ‘No, you didn’t give her enough space.’
I feel myself puffing up, the way I sometimes do when any conversation turns to drivers v. cyclists. It’s like the Hulk, but instead of muscles popping out, it’s like Lycra pants suddenly appear on my legs and a helmet pops onto my head. ‘I’m a cyclist,’ I huff, ‘and often people don’t give me enough space either. You have to be more mindful when you are passing.’ This outburst over, I subside back into my ordinary form.
The driver repeats his assertion that the cyclist lost her balance. I give up and hug my bucket of cables.
We continue on and the hill grows ever more full of itself. The hill is verging on prima donna, now. I think about the cyclist and how someone’s day can be turned crappy while someone else’s day rolls along just fine, and how if there was more basic thoughtfulness and care then they both could continue to have fine days. It takes a long time to reach the new flat. It’s been ages since I lived in a different neighbourhood. Finally I am out. Rattling and staggering, I carry the vacuum cleaner, mop, sponges, Jif, and my 700 cables in the bucket through the door, and they are going to power my new life, and the sun is out and I feel incredibly lucky.