It happened.

July 16, 2014 at 06:31 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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headlightsLife flashes before your eyes? Everything goes in slow motion? Those are the clichés, but in reality it all happened horribly quickly, with no time to think. The sudden realisation that the car was heading straight towards me. That it was not going to stop. The mad scramble to get out of the way. The crunch as it hit me. Feeling the bike momentarily pinning me to the ground. Desperately pulling me legs away from the rear wheels as they passed. Me getting to my feet and realising I was OK. All over in less then three seconds.

I was waiting to turn right from a side turning; the last turn into my street just a short distance from my house, positioned as you would expect towards the centre of the road. I was waiting for the ute coming up from the left to go past, then the road was clear for me to get home. He indicated right just before the junction, and as he started to turn in I thought his line looked loose. Surely he’s going to go a bit wider around me? Then the headlights were pointing straight at me, and the horrible realisation dawned. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the direct line, so it was the side of his vehicle that impacted me, pushing me away and outside the track of the rear wheels.

The driver stopped, and rushed out, clearly shocked. SMIDSY, of course. He kept repeating it. ‘I just didn’t see you, I just didn’t see you; just heard the bang.’

It’s strange; the recent spate of incidents involving cyclists being hit by cars has spooked us all a bit, and coupled with my new commute on much busier roads the thought that it could happen to me has been on my mind sometimes. I didn’t think it would be on a quiet residential street, metres from my house, though. Short of cycleways on every street those kind of local roads are always going to be shared by all kinds of vehicles.

I also, of course, in my over-analytical way, wonder what I could have done differently. I had the handlebars pointed to the right, ready to turn, so  my light would have been pointed away from the driver as he turned (although not so much it was not visible, I’m sure). And whilst I had reflectors on my ankles and bag, I wasn’t wearing my reflective sash; it went awol in the recent house move move I haven’t replaced it. Would it have made a difference? Possibly, although as he turned I was directly in front of him, fully illuminated by his headlights, yet by his own admission he still didn’t see me. That said, I will get a new sash, and perhaps even consider my headlight positioning in similar situations in the future. Not, you understand, that I believe that these things should be necessary, nor absolve the driver of any responsibility. Looking where you are going is after all probably the prime responsibility when operating a motor vehicle.

kneeAs for me, well, I have a bruised, swollen knee that is stiffening up; I’m sure it’s just a bruise to the muscle as the joint is fine, but I’ll get it checked out just in case.  Funny how you don’t notice these things until afterwards; the effect of the adrenaline I guess. Not sure how I’m going to ride to work in the morning; could be interesting.

I have no idea how the bike is. I wheeled it home, so I know the wheels go round, but I’ll have a proper look in the morning. Ironically its not actually my bike, but a loaner bike from the bike shop whilst mine is in for repair.

And I guess finally I have to decide if I go to the police. I know I’ve always urged others to do exactly that in these situations. When it actually happens, and you are OK, it’s less straightforward. The driver seemed like a nice guy, and was clearly shocked; I daresay he learned a lesson tonight. I doubt that a call from the cops will make any difference to how he feels or behaves in the future, and I also doubt the cops will be very interested in following it up anyway, from past form. But then again, it was blind luck that I wasn’t seriously injured or worse, and the driver was clearly negligent. And in any case, reporting it means it will be recorded in the stats, if nothing else.

For now, I’ve poured myself a glass of shiraz, talked it through with Mrs Dan and got a bit teary. Two little girls nearly lost their daddy tonight. But then I feel melodramatic and self-indulgent; I’m absolutely fine, all is well, and compared to others it was really a minor incident. Such is how these things affect you.

Tomorrow is a new day. If you need me, I’ll be riding my bike.

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Helmet unpleasantness and cycling marvellousness

July 14, 2014 at 22:29 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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I got called a d*ckhead by a fellow cyclist tonight. It’s only the second time this has ever happened (the first time was some years ago, so it’s hardly a common occurrence), and as always with these things I start reflecting on how it came about, and whether I should care.

The incident that triggered it tonight came about as I rode through North Sydney. I was lumbering uphill on the Radish, heading to a rehearsal with my viola and various other musical accoutrements onboard. I heard the gentle swish of a cyclist coming up behind me, and I turned, ready to exchange a cheerful ‘hello’.

It was a woman bowling along on a smart road bike, looking quite marvellous. Before I could say anything at all, she shouted out, ‘Where’s your helmet?’, and sped past.

Oh dear. How tiresome. Still, it happened that I was picking up speed anyway as we’d reached a downhill section, and I caught up with her. OK, to be honest I probably sped up a bit in order to do so.

As I pulled alongside, I said hello, and I attempted to explain a little about my reasons for riding bareheaded, but she didn’t seem interested in chatting. Mind you, the pace we were going wasn’t really conducive to conversation, especially when riding a 35kg cargo bike so I was probably gasping and wheezing a bit.

She pulled away again after telling me I was ‘giving us all a bad name’. This is a line of logic I am particularly interested in, and as it happened I pulled up next to her at the next set of lights. However, my next attempt at conversation was met with something that ended ‘…d*ckheads like you’, although I missed the beginning as she was pulling away down the hill, and I in any case was turning off.

So now I’m torn. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, and a cyclist too. Hurrah. But did I do something very wrong, I wonder?

I guess one interpretation is that she called out a comment that self-evidently did not need a reply, and then I pursued her through North Sydney, my attempts at friendly conversation coming out in a series of gasps that was perhaps unpleasant and even threatening. If you’re reading this, and that’s how you felt, then I’m sorry, cycling woman.

An alternative is that she felt it was quite OK to shout abuse at a someone else on the road, confident that she was going to be so much faster than me that there would be no further interactions – which as it turned out was not the case.

Or perhaps normally she would have been happy to have a conversation, but the darkness, lonely streets and my out-of-breath demeanour spooked her. I don’t know.

All kind of sad, really, on lots of levels. Sad that we have these divisive laws that create stupid arguments. Sad that we make value judgements about each other. Sad that there was a moment of unpleasantness that could have been avoided by either party so easily. But, there is a flipslide. We were both riding bicycles. And that is quite marvellous.

Brave New World / 1984

July 12, 2014 at 20:42 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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1984 bravenewworldTwo iconic books written in the first half of the twentieth century, exploring dystopian visions of the future. They are often bracketed together. although the different historical context is interesting; Brave new World was written before the Second World War, at a time when matters of eugenics, conditioning and genetic improvement were of some general interest. Following the horror of Nazism, such ideas lost both their respectability and credibility, and published in 1949 1984 reflects a world much more concerned with the menace of totalitarianism and state-sponsored violence.

I have been meaning to read both of these books for some time, so when the opportunity of a long plane journey presented itself I downloaded them both to while away the hours on the flight. I say ‘quite some time’; I first became aware of 1984 in 1984, when I was about ten years old. At that time my schoolteacher was Mr Boyd, and one of the other children in the class came in with a poster they had drawn of our teacher with the caption ‘Big Boyd is Watching You’. We were all terribly impressed, although I have to say I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Clearly my classmates were more literary than me. Still, over thirty years on I can finally appreciate the joke…

A huge amount has been written about these books; they have been analysed and dissected endlessly. So rather than waffle on about the plots or the literary allusions, I’ll just focus on a couple of points that struck me.

The first was how readable they were, and how undated. This was a surprise; they are both essentially science fiction, and reading old science fiction is sometimes a horribly clunky affair where the author’s  technological naivety (by modern standards) gets in the way of the enjoyment. That was not the case for either of these books; the worlds depicted remain fantastical and wholly believable.

The second was the language. Both books are rich with invented language which is a delight to read and also adds a terrific amount of colour and verisimilitude. I could ramble on here about how this is kind of self-referential, as in 1984 especially the idea of controlling language to control thought is central to the book, but I’ll resist as I’m sure others have already done it better than I could.

Of the two, I think I enjoyed 1984 slightly more; mostly because I felt the end of Brave New World was a little weak. Aldous Huxley evidently agreed, as in his introduction (written some time after the book was first punished) he laments the ending and suggests at alternative. Actually I think this alternative would be even worse, and I think the much more bleak outlook in 1984 is stronger.

So the ultimate question is, of course, who was right? Are we heading for Huxley’s or Orwell’s dystopia? Check it out here, and if you get distracted by the (often NSFW) links on the right hand side, well, consider it game over…

 

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