Brutal Youth*

When my Sister was 17, my Father, like the kind soul that he was and is, sat her in the car for her first driving lesson.

“Remember”, he said solemnly, “that when you get in a car and drive, you’re basically being put in charge of the most dangerous weapon you will ever control”.

We were keen to remind my sister of these wise words as, over the next couple of years, she emerged relatively unscathed from a number of scrapes and near misses involving cars, boyfriends, trees, whiplash and on one spectacular occasion, two Japanese exchange students. In fact, this last incident caused something of a diplomatic incident where we lived, and it took a good couple of months before the entente cordiale between the North and South ends of the village was re-established. I experience the concept of car as weapon a couple of years later, during my first attempt at hitch-hiking, which resulted in wedging a Mini directly underneath the front of a large lorry in Northumberland.

But all of these stories will have to wait, because this blog is about yesterday morning’s bike ride, and what it tells us about the way the world is turning.

So let me, as Lloyd Cole would say, introduce you to the rest of the crew. Four of us have been training together on Saturday mornings now for a few years. Apart from myself, we have:

1. the mysterious ex-government agent who, for obvious reasons, cannot be named. Let us call him Mr Bean, largely because we do.

2. Chuckle Brother #1, whose athletic ability at the front of the pack is normally limited slightly by a challenging bladder problem

3. Chuckle Brother #2, who combines cycling with gym work and generally lifting heavy objects for a living, which means he’s ideal for the front of the pack, so we can all shelter behind him.

More of CB#2 later, as our interesting tale does rather revolve around him.

So, off we pedal at a bracing speed, heading off towards the coast on the back roads. And worth mentioning at this point, that this was proper idyllic stuff. If you ever want to rattle around country roads in the style of Julian, Dick, George, Ann and Timmy, just get yourself to Norfolk and go off the beaten track. Just don’t go with Bean, CB#1 or CB#2, as they tend to travel a bit faster than the FF. Incidentally, what did they do with Timmy when they were on their bracing bike rides? Anyway, this is yet another meaningless tangent, so back to the bike ride, and about 40 miles in, when we were on the coast road, whizzing along towards Cromer.

This is a brilliant section of road, with views out to the sea, a bit of up and down, and a good surface; the roads can be a little narrow, but they’re open enough. Or so we thought…

On a fairly straight stretch, a couple of cars overtook us; there was nothing coming the other way, so that was fine, and I was surprised to see the second car slow down and drive alongside me. The driver, who was on his own, had the passenger window open, and was pointing and shouting at me. Sadly, years of playing pub-rock, travelling along in the wind, a noisy car and a rather attractive snood that I was wearing that morning rendered me pretty much deaf to what he was saying, but, for reasons best known to himself, he was not at one with the universe and apparently it was our fault. So I gave him what I thought was a special look, which is fairly close to that in the picture at the top of this blog.

CB#2 was rather less controlled in his reaction. Hearing what was going on behind him, he suggested very loudly and very directly that the driver might want to go…off. This provoked an interesting reaction from the driver, who pulled back a bit, made to overtake again, then steered directly towards CB#2. He pulled out of the collision at the last moment, just before CB#2 was forced off the road, and just avoided making contact.

Let’s just play that one again. A car overtakes a cyclist on a clear stretch of road. For some reason or another the driver is unhappy. An altercation occurs between two complete strangers, where neither can actually hear what the other is saying. Then the driver aims a half ton piece of metal, at speed, directly towards a cyclist who is travelling at some pace, held to the road by two narrow tyres and with no protection. Then drives off. It is, frankly, unbelievable. It’s one thing giving a driver possession of a dangerous weapon. It’s quite another when they decide to use a weapon.

Fortunately, CB#2 had managed to retrieve his balance, and somehow stayed on his bike. At which point, rather ambitiously, he chased after the car, shouting in a style that was a lively mix of ‘half-time Delia’ with extreme Tourettes. The car put his brakes on, at which point we rather feared for the worst. There are certain people in my life who I’m very grateful to have as friends rather than enemies, and CB#2 is definitely one of them, and had he caught up with the car I think there’s a reasonable chance that he might have lifted it over the side of the road single-handedly. Pretty quickly, the driver changed his mind and drove off, and I think if I’d seen CB#2 bearing down on me through my rear view mirror like a rabid cage fighter on a bike, I might have done the same.

As regular readers may know, the Emu exists partly to making sweeping generalistic statements about the state of the world from the minutiae of everyday life. And, reflecting on this on the way home, I decided that if we bottled down one thing that is wrong with this country at the moment, it would not be the lack of trust in the establishment, the corrupt politicians, the failing infrastructure or a crumbling economy that seems increasingly based on moving around objects without any intrinsic value. I think it’s that we appear to be breeding generation after generation of irresponsible no-marks who have taken selfishness and a lack of consideration to a whole new level. I really, really, really, hope I’m wrong.

*A very very fine work indeed. And something of a find for the cover photo


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