I don’t fight
14.08.06 by Buffalo Bill
I don’t fight. I have never fought. I can’t remember hitting anyone in anger since I was 19 years old, and got into a pathetic pushing match with a guy I used to be in a band with.
But I have got a mouth on me, and when I get angry, my mouth gets me into situations that I can’t really get out of with my fists. When I was younger, I used to get into shouting matches on the street with drivers all the time. And I could never understand why they would get out of their cars and try to hit me. With my mouth, I could win any contest, but once the fight turned physical I would lose every time.
One day I was riding up Cleveland Street, my final destination Euston Station parcels point, my vinyl On Yer Bike bag crammed full of parcels, mostly big, heavy ¼ inch video cassettes. The strap on the OYB bag was made of cheap nylon webbing and it was cutting into my shoulder, cutting off the circulation to my left hand, numbing my fingers, and my POBs were thrusting hard into my back at several points. I felt like a beast of burden, an under-fed and over-worked donkey. There wasn’t enough room in my bag for my lock, so it was swinging around my right wrist, bouncing off my bony arm to the uneven rhythm set by the irregular road-surface. I was tired and hungry, I was hurting, and I still had at least 45 minutes work to do.
Cleveland Street is narrow, and there are always cars parked up the left-hand side of the street. It’s not really possible for a 4-wheeled vehicle to squeeze past a cyclist, without the cyclist moving into the door-prize zone, that is to pass close enough to the parked cars that an opened door would result in a collision and a nasty injury, and in any case that lights at the next junction are almost invariably red, so there is no time to be gained by squeezing past.
I fear catching a door almost as much as being crushed under the wheels of a left-turning lorry, so I habitually move out into the road when riding on Cleveland Street. Ok, I might be preventing the cars behind from passing me, but it’s not safe for me to let them past, and they won’t achieve anything by passing me. But on this afternoon, the guy in the car riding right on my back wheel didn’t see it my way. All he could see was the small patch of unoccupied tarmac in front of me, and he wanted to get to it. He let me know what he wanted, using his horn.
I don’t think any cyclist likes being tooted. Looks innocuous enough written down, ‘tooted’. Like that silly song in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, ‘Toot Sweets’. But it’s not innocuous and it’s not a friendly reminder to the errant cyclist of their error. It is nothing less than a denial of the cyclist’s right to be on the road.
“Get out off the highway, you vagabond, desist from delaying me, my journey is far more important than yours, look, I am in a car, and you are on a bicycle, isn’t that proof enough that you have no right to impede me in any way?” That’s the message of the horn to the cyclist.
On this day I was in no mood to give way. In fact, quite the opposite. I slowed down, stopped, got off my bike, and leant it against the radiator of the car. Through the wind-screen I could see the driver rummaging around in the space between the two front seats for something. He found it, and throwing open his door, marched round his car and came right up to me. He was a round, middle-aged man, about the same height as me, red in the face and he was holding some sort of stick. I now realize, years later, that he thought I was brandishing my lock as a threat, and that is why he had picked up a stick. I wasn’t brandishing my lock, only holding it, but I guess it’s a question of interpretation.
We started shouting at each other. I looked up and happened to notice that windows were opening and people were leaning out to see what all the noise was about. Everyone loves to see a fight. A small crowd gathered, and still we kept arguing. We were probably screaming at each other. I am sure that I was screaming. I can’t remeber what exactly I said to him, but I probably suggested that he sought immediate professional psychiatric help and maybe suggested that if he couldn’t obtain sexual relief from his wife then he could always go up to Kings Cross and seek professional assistance for that problem as well. Or something as equally well calculated to defuse an already tense and unnecessarily confrontational situation. My only excuse is that I was tired, young and stupid. I don’t know what his was.
At a certain point, his passenger got out of the car, picked up my bike, and flung it to the kerb. They both got back into the car and the car drove off.
I was stunned, and really, really, really angry. I felt humiliated, helpless. A postie on a bike rode up to me and said, “why don’t you go and knock his mirror off?”
‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘why don’t I go and knock his mirror off?’
I grabbed my bike, threw my leg over it, and rode off after the car. It hadn’t got far, and I could see it turn left into New Cavendish Street. I turned too, ignoring the fact that I should have carried straight on up Cleveland into Maple Street, and followed the car. It was stopped in front of Middlesex Uni, stuck in traffic. I took my right hand off the bars, and clasped my U-lock by the bend, with the hasp at the bottom. As I came alongside the car, I swung the lock and caught the mirror perfectly. It came off the car and described an arc over the car, across the road, landing on the opposite pavement. A superb blow.
But now I was past the car, and clearly visible to the driver. He pulled into the left, and followed me in the gutter. I was frightened, now, not angry. I wanted to escape the consequences of my provocation and violence. I didn’t want to confront him, I wanted to get away. I took the first left into Ogle Street, and when I was sure that he was following me, I jumped the kerb and turned around. The pavement on Ogle Street is bounded by metal bollards, and it is a narrow one way street. To follow me, he would have to back up 10 metres and reverse out into New Cavendish Street. I turned into New Cav, and ducked right and right again. And escaped.
But for months afterwards I got nervous whenever I saw a purple Volvo, and I kept looking over my shoulder whenever I was on Cleveland Street.