Wednesday, 8 January 2014

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"

IT was my first day back at work yesterday and at the end of the longest holiday of my adult life, I felt strangely nervous about returning to the daily routine. Even my feet were a little daunted. After almost a month in comfy shoes they soon protested against being forced into the rigidity of the smart(ish) boots that pass for formal footwear in my wardrobe.
 
I opted out of cycling to work. The country lanes where I live are flooded in places, no problem in my Land Rover but not ideal for the bike. To make matters worse, more rain was coming down as I set off, angry drops bouncing onto my windscreen.
 
The hours in the office passed without incident, as they always would. The forgotten copy deadlines of my sleepless nights hadn't materialised. No empty white spaces. Nobody shouting. All I ask out of my working life.
 
It was on the way home that things turned surprising. Firstly, there were lots of cyclists obviously making their way home from work. Seriously, lots. Normally there is just me, a man in overalls and a really irritating bloke who I can't catch. Last night I passed around eight or nine cycling out of the town and into the unlit lanes.
 
All but one of the riders were well prepared for what I took to be their commuting resolution. Great lights and high visibility jackets. One, though, was dicing with death. As I came upon a sharp bend, flooded to three-quarters of the way across and with oncoming traffic searching for dry land on my side of the road, I spotted out of the corner of my eye, something moving. More than moving, pedalling. A cyclist, clad entirely in black, riding without lights. Even his bike was black. He was a veritable cycling ninja.
 
I managed not to hit the Milk Tray man and by signalling, ensured that the following drivers also missed him. The rest of my journey passed without incident, except for the three dashboard warning lights that have been flashing for weeks.
 
One my return home I collected spaniel number two, put her in the back of the car and set off for the vet's surgery. Poor Flossie, the most accident prone dog, sustained a wagging injury and is currently wearing a tail guard. "There are some dogs you only see for their booster shots and at the end of their lives," mused the vet. "And then there's Flossie."
 
Back home again and my mobile was flashing. Four missed calls. The house 'phone had been called, too. Before I'd had time to check my messages, there was a knock at the door. A former neighbour was on the step, rushing forward to hug me: "Thank goodness you're OK. I was convinced you were unconscious in a ditch!"
 
It seems that, some minutes after I made my own journey along the lanes, an accident occurred. Motorists making the same trip afterwards found themselves diverted along even narrower, wetter lanes, their path blocked by numerous flashing blue lights.
 
The messages on my mobile had all come from people using the same route, who glimpsed members of the emergency services attempting to recover something or someone from a gulley at the side of the road. With no more information forthcoming, they jumped to the conclusion that a bicycle was involved and that the rider formerly on that bicycle, was me. Finding the house 'phone unanswered merely turned their fears into certainty. One of them had already called my husband.
 
Now obviously, my first thought was gratitude for such concerned friends. I wondered, too, whether one of the novice cyclists had indeed been involved in an accident. Perhaps the man in black had run out of luck?
 
Later, though, I felt increasingly guilty. Am I really worrying everyone that much? Do they think that every ambulance is transferring me to hospital? The 'If found on the ground, please put me back on my bike' T-shirt probably doesn't seem so funny for my nearest and dearest.
 
I love cycling and I can't imagine giving it up. But with news reports highlighting terrible accidents to riders and the unequal reality of a collision between metal and Lycra, is the true cost of pedalling not the carbon frames and technical fabrics but the heart-in-the-mouth anxiety of friends and family?

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