Weekday Evening

February 2, 2015

Written in November 2014. Times have been busy.

There has been a change in circumstances. I am no longer exiled from my native Croydon, and the Surrey Hills from which this blog takes its name are now once more an easily accessible stamping-ground rather than a distant and formative memory. So why no posts? Why no pictures?

In early October I fell off my bike on a wet and oily road. I wasn’t going very quickly and the bike, apart from some scuffed bar tape, was fine. Later on the same day, however, I noticed that my left wrist, which I’d landed on heavily and awkwardly, had swollen alarmingly and hurt to bend back. A subsequent hospital visit and x-ray confirmed that I’d snapped off a tiny piece of one of the tiny bones that make up that joint (the lunate, for the anatomy fans out there). I wore a cast for six weeks, and my cycling was confined to a very short commute as a result. Currently, I’m rehabilitating. This post is about one of my attempts to get back to cycling regularly.

I work in South Croydon, a few short miles from the M25 on the Southern edge of the metropolis. Work finishes at 6. The concert I wanted to go to was in Hampstead, which is not in Central but quite definitively North London. It started at 7:45. The distance was not the real issue, of course. The difficulty of cycling in London on a winter’s evening has nothing to do with topography or adverse weather. It is never cold, or windy, in this city in December like it can get in Aberdeen, and very rarely is it as rainy. This particular evening was not dry, but there was no standing water on the road, and the drizzle did occasionally stop, before renewing itself as a shower, before fading to drizzle once more.

The great difficulty is the traffic. Every road is filled with cars trying to get to where you are going faster than you. You are all going to the same place: a red traffic light. Now in London on a weekday evening, the exhilarating thing is that when you reach that red light, there will be anything up to half-a-dozen cyclists revving their neurophysiological motors in anticipation of its turning green. Then you will all be unleashed to speed onwards through the headlamp-glare and the shopfront neon, over the potholes and white lines to the next red light. Where, regardless of speed, you will probably all reassemble, in ones and twos, in order to repeat the process again. You will overtake the same pony-tailed young woman on a vintage mixte. You will be overtaken by the same determined middle-aged man on an aluminium road bike. You will all end up in the same place.

Camberwell Green, turn left, on down to Vauxhall Bridge and its phenomenal one-way system, network of outgrown roads turned into a giant roundabout threading its way around and under a Victorian railway line. Constant noise, lights moving all around you, looking over your shoulder, judging when to cut into streams of cars. Blue flashing lights, sirens, try to get out of the way, don’t stop. Trackstand after trackstand after trackstand. I don’t yet know this city well enough to know the back roads without traffic lights, but they get clogged and you have to give way and it’s no faster. Victoria, another giant one-way, another railway, Victorian of course. This is still a nineteenth-century city, traffic jams are a nineteenth-century problem. Hyde Park Corner. I’m told that before traffic lights it was the best racetrack in London. It’s still pretty furious, lanes lose definition and you just find your way in between vehicles to take the direction you want. Marble Arch, turn off Oxford Street and thread through backstreets, Regent’s Park. A bit more open roads now, a bit less traffic. Long stretches that could be fast if I had form, traffic lights that don’t stay green long enough, and I’m too out of shape to sprint. Swiss Cottage. Fork right, uphill. Last effort. I arrive early, obviously. There was no need to struggle so hard. Pulse returns to normal, adrenalin stops flowing, return to being a normal person, go about your evening.

Returning, around midnight, there is barely any traffic, it’s all much easier, much more laid-back, you just turn the pedals and let your gentle effort carry you gently home.

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