It’s funny how life’s little scenes can be symbolic.
This evening, during rush hour, I heard a shouting match taking place across the street. A cyclist was effing and blinding at a driver and accusing him of cutting him up. The driver got out of his car and the two of them went head to head, at which point the driver started throwing punches. So I sprinted over there and pushed them apart, whereupon the driver started threatening me, before quickly realising I was basically doing him a favour.
The cyclist carried on screaming obscenities so I turned to him and shouted (in my boomiest cockney accent: people in Cambridge are unnerved by cockneys for some reason) “shut up, or speak in a civilised way”. Then the driver piped up again, so I said the same thing to him.
After a few minutes, they both calmed down. In the end, the driver apologised to the cyclist, citing the bad weather as an excuse (which was almost fair enough: it was hammering down, and the cyclist was wearing all black with a dim headlight), and offered his hand, which the cyclist shook. Then they went their separate ways.
What struck me most of all was this: neither the driver nor the cyclist thanked me, or even acknowledged my presence when the confrontation was over. I’d have thought the cyclist would have been especially grateful given that, in effect, I negotiated him an apology and stopped him from getting beaten up.
As for the symbolism, well, I’ve worked my heart out on Cycle Lifestyle for over four years, always trying to be moderate, always trying to adjudicate between the confrontational views of cyclists and drivers, and much of the time – to be honest – it feels like a thankless task. Never mind the fact that the general public thinks that cyclists are boring or annoying at best and irresponsible risk-takers at worst (despite Cycle Lifestyle's efforts to challenge these beliefs); it is much more frustrating that even the major cycle advocacy groups are weirdly just as likely to be obsessed with death and danger as the non-cyclists are, and just as indifferent to this magazine.
I find it consoling, in a way, that Cycle Lifestyle's London Cycle Map Campaign – which is designed to increase harmony between road users in London, and which has also been ignored by the major cycle advocacy groups – has clearly influenced the government’s recent Central London Grid proposal. But, then again, the government, too, hasn’t acknowledged, let alone thanked, our campaign.
I must confess that I wonder why I bother sometimes. The rest of the time, I wonder why others don't bother. There is something about contemporary life which seems to bring out a shouty malignant apathy in people – from do-badders to say-gooders and most of the population in between – while Britain, not surprisingly, seems to be getting less and less democratic by the day.
After the altercation, I went into a shop where I ended up recounting the incident to the owner; he had heard the commotion but didn’t know what had happened. When I told him I had intervened he replied: “you should have just filmed it on your phone and posted it on the internet”.
You can draw your own conclusions.