It's new year and whilst some are fortifying themselves with to do lists and exercise I feel like I'm trawling through the undergrowth. A murky place where, nightly, I'm taken back to the moment on October 7th last year when I was thrown off my bike and dragged 30 feet under a car in rush hour traffic. I feel the weight of the car's bumper and bonnet on top of me again, the blood streaming in to my right eye from the deep gash on my forehead. But mostly I feel the icy terror of not being able to move, of not knowing whether these moments trapped under the front end of a car would be my last. And then on waking more nighmarish thoughts, my skeleton crushed under the wheels of a bus, a delivery van, even a decapitation. Me in pieces scattered, limb and bone, across a morning street. Last night I gave my final statement to the City of London police. They took me to my bike, a cage in a damp underground car-park, where abandoned bicycles slowly rusted. One bright green, red and white frame was knotted in on itself as if it had been made out of wax and not an aluminum alloy. It's rider had not survived. The cop who took my statement told me that most bike fatalities are caused by lorries. He also told me that he'd only had to deal with two serious accidents last year. One of them being mine, and that he was amazed at how few injuries I had sustained.
This could explain my flashbacks, I had a strong sense of being close to death. I wonder if for 35 years I was cycling on London's potentially lethal streets in permanent denial. Perhaps I just had an exaggerated confidence in my ability to avoid accident or injury. Not everyone is as lucky as I was. I wrote the paragraphs above before the tragic death of former British boxing champion Gary Mason in a cycling accident. I signed this petition today and I'd encourage you to do the same.
As a teenager I craved a sense of freedom and independence and knew that with a bike I could get to and from anywhere at any time of day or night without having to rely on anyone else. It was the truest form of feminist transport I could find. Riding across the Thames at night I was a pioneer, never losing my love for the sense of flying it gave me, seduced by a fluid dance of girl and machine. Cycling was everything to me.
A friend has lent me a 24 speed hybrid, light as a feather with gear changes that purr and breaks as quiet as a lover's whisper. But my heart shudders at the thought of riding it. I've been on it twice, along quiet local streets, nothing like the London-wide trips I was used to taking. My heart racing like a sprinter, every docile car I see chugging it's way over speed bumps is a dangerous tank. In truth my heart is a little bit broken, it's the first fight with a lover after the honeymoon has ended.
Cycling for so many years I had forgotten the silent joy of reading a book on the top deck of a bus, or a long journey on the tube. One of my favourite novelists is an Irish writer based in New York City called Colum McCann. I'm reading his most recent novel 'Let The Great World Spin' which uses Philippe Petit's death-defying tightrope walk between the Two Towers as a central image. Without even mentioning 9/11 the book is about the tangle of life and death, the collapse of the towers and the victory of the impossible against all odds.
Petit is an exceptional man, his philosophy on living summed up by his comment "Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge - and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope."
In seeking balance one has to fall. Perhaps for all those years I was flying on my bike I was living my life on a tightrope. I just did not see it was there until I tumbled from it.