There never seemed much point in having a car when we lived in London. What with the traffic, the lack of parking, the congestion charge and the rampant car theft, getting rid of it and jumping on our bikes seemed like the obvious choice. We rarely missed it either. We enjoyed navigating London by bike and actually found it far more accessible by two wheels rather than four. The canals and rivers that run beneath London provided a network seldom seen by people on conventional transport. Journeys that would take hours by car would take a fraction of the time by bike. And, you never had to worry about parking, congestion or even sobriety. Hot dark tube rides and sardine packed buses were eradicated from our lives and our knowledge of the city expanded with every ride.
Unfortunately, as with most utopian undertakings, everything wasn’t quite as ideal as it had first appeared. There were in fact, some rather large holes in our plans. With the bicycles as our primary form of transport, carrying anything larger than a six pack was impossible. If it didn’t fit in a backpack or a pannier, it simply didn’t go. There were so many things we needed that were just too big to carry on a bike. We couldn’t live our lives surrounded by extremely small or foldable objects, so we had to think creatively and innovate.
One (of many) oversized essential item was a trash can for our kitchen. I knew I could get one at a reasonable price from B&Q, which was about four miles away across Hackney Marshes down the Lea Bridge Road. The only problem, how to get a 40 liter steel chrome bin home on the bike! I figured, in this spirit of innovation, I could strap it to my backpack using bungees and then ride it home on my back, kind of like an oversized jet pack.
Surprisingly, this circus act approach actually worked out quite well. The trash can strapped to my backpack securely and the bags buckles and straps secured it to me. Apart from looking like Evil Knievel on a bike, I was good to go. In hindsight, this was my point of miscalculation, the tipping point if you like. As everything was coming together so well, I decided to add to my load. It was only a wardrobe rail. We needed it to optimize our limited storage space and buying it now would save another journey. It weighed nothing and it would slip down the back of my pack. It protruded slightly above my head as I rode but, as it looked like a radio receiver, it seemed to add to the whole rocket man image thing.
I rode out of the car park and proceeded gingerly onto the main road. Everything was going well. As I stopped at the lights a white van pulled up beside me. The driver was pointing at me while laughing hysterically. He wound his window down and, between bouts of laughter, asked “What the f*&k are you doing mate?” I thought for a second before replying. ‘My wife asked me to take the trash out’, so here I am, taking the trash out’. The lights changed and I pedaled on leaving the van driver laughing behind me.
I had gone barely twenty yards when, out of the blue, something very hard and very heavy hit me in the back of the head. The blow sent me careering across the cycle lane and straight into a fence. I hit the fence then the ground hard. Fortunately, I was saved from serious injury by my jet pack absorbing some of my fall. I staggered to my feet looking around to see who or what had hit me. There was nothing near me, no vehicle no person, no animal. Nothing. There was, however, a bike traffic light five yards behind me hanging forlornly from a post swinging from side to side upside down. It’s innards smoked and sparked and a pile of glass lay beneath it.
It took me while to figure out what had happened. But, as I stood staring at the smoking traffic signal, It hit me, again! My wardrobe rail, which protruded slightly above my head as I rode, had skewered the light as I went underneath it. It had pierced the light as cleanly as a jousting pole and had forced the whole light fitting into the back of my head.
The same white van driver I had joked with moments earlier was now parked by my side. He was laughing so hard he could barely talk. “You all right mate”, he enquired between fits of laughter. He pointed at the sparking signal. “Only it looks like your lights ave gone out”…….
I rang my wife. ‘Meet me at the pub’, I barked as soon as she answered. ‘I need a drink’. Startled, she asked what was wrong. ‘What’s wrong’ I spluttered. ‘the trash can rocket pack took out the traffic light and the van drivers wet himself.’ She was silent for a moment before asking, “are you sure you need a drink?”
I strode into the beer garden still clutching the bent wardrobe rail in my hand. I scanned the noisy scene looking for the reassuring sight of my wife. As I stood there, bent steel bar in hand, the garden went quiet. Everyone stared. No one moved and no one spoke. My wife appeared by my side. “What are you doing! You look like a f*&king psychopath!” “What”, I said, as I wiped the sweat from my brow. “A psychopath?”, I mumbled staring down aimlessly at my hand. It was bright red. My head was bleeding. Not badly, but, added to my vacant stare and my clutching a bent steel bar, it was enough to make me look like a nutter who was about to go postal. “Maybe we need to buy a car” I muttered.