Matthew Parris apologises for beheading cyclists 'joke' in Times - 2 cyclists killed over weekend
7.01.08 by Buffalo Bill
As was noted on the Moving Target forum by RustyKnees, well known conservative journalist and broadcaster Matthew Parris published a column in the Times, in which he called for the beheading of cyclists. Our crime? Another cyclist-generated horror – and a new one – has come to my attention this Christmas. They’re chucking their empty cans of hi-energy drinks into hedgerows as they pass.
First of all, let me say that cyclists do litter – if you have ever ridden a big continental cyclo-sportive, you will be well aware that the feed zones look, well, like a huge fly-tip. But it’s not only cyclists that dump rubbish irresponsibly. For instance, Al was out in the North Downs at the weekend, and he spotted a fly-tipped Christmas tree in a huge bin-bag. And any cyclist could tell tales of objects as large as cars spotted abandoned by the road-side. So it should be said that everyone litters, not just cyclists. Of course, Mr Parris’ entreaty that a good festive custom to foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists, was absurd and deeply unfunny.
Naturally, the column caused anger and resentment amongst various cycling communities around the UK. Some were moved to report the writer to the Press Complaints Commission. According to a report from the BBC, the PCC have probably had about 200 complaints about it and… …are currently in the process of considering whether there are any issues under the code. Based on last year’s figures, 200 protests would place the article among the commission’s three most complained-about stories. Mr Parris has issued an apology, claiming that his article was meant as humour.
When it came up on the forum, my instinct was to try not to get cross about it, and ignore the idiot. My first reaction was: waste of oxygen. Mr Parris obviously fancies himself as a controversialist, I thought, and is simply stirring the pot in the hope that some bubbles might rise and lift him up in the esteem of his editor.
On reflection, I wish that I had got more cross, and that I had been struck by the parallel between the utter contempt in which Parris holds cyclists, and what happened to Ryan. Ryan was deliberately bumped off his bike because he wouldn’t get out of the way of a driver. Or the parallel with Greg Walker, an Edinburgh cycle courier who was run down by an angry driver and suffered multiple injuries. It could be said that Parris was fostering anger and hatred towards cyclists, and that his rhetoric fuels the rage that causes drivers to lose it and lash out with their vehicles. So I wish now that I had roused myself to action. Perhaps I was too dulled by the goodwill of the festive season, is all I can say in my defense.
And lo, here comes the news that 2 cyclists were killed on Sunday by crashes with motor-vehicles: a female cyclist was killed near Trowbridge, Wiltshire after a driver ‘lost control’ of Citroen Xsara. Christopher Negus was likewise killed, also by a car, that may have overtaken another vehicle, near Latchingham, Essex. Of course, there is no suggestion that these two deaths are in any way connected with Parris’ original column, and they are most certainly not connected with his apology. But a little more consideration of the facts of road deaths might have stayed his hand, when he was pondering litter on the verge.
Parris’ scorn for cyclists, expressed so violently, is part of a wider atmosphere of contempt for soft vehicles felt by some in the motoring majority. I have written before about motor myths, and the illusion of freedom. I am happy to let motorists have their mirages of liberation, as long as they don’t impinge on my rights. Perhaps we should spend more time reminding people like Parris that cyclists have a right to the road – not just a licence. And that part of those rights is the right to safe use of the road, free from dangerous negligence and violent intent.