Not long after the dawn of humanity man invented weapons designed to hurt each other. It probably happened around a fire one night when a furtive caveman/cavewoman glance did not go unnoticed. A discarded mammoth pelvis would have quickly upgraded from rubbish to bludgeon in as much time as it took to grunt “You looking at my misses?”. From that moment on men sought to upgrade themselves with weapons. Armed with a sharpened piece of animal or tree even the puniest of specimens stood a chance in combat.Man’s ingenuity in developing new forms of weaponry has outpaced most technologies. We quickly learnt that throwing things offered additional security to the aggressor, spears morphed into arrows which subsequently served the dual purposes of killing kings and ruining tables to market cider. Then we discovered explosions and harnessed them in all sorts of interesting ways, from propelling round balls of steel rapidly towards ships to placing them in barrels under houses of parliament.
Modern weapons have moved on even further. Most of them are classed as deterrents, designed to prevent potential aggressors from aggressing by clearly spelling out the consequences of an attack. Nuclear weapons sneak around the world hidden in submarines shouting “Go on I dare you” silently from forty fathoms under the sea.
I’m absolutely shit scared of weapons. Every time I see one, I imagine that it is about to be used upon me. This causes me all sorts of distress in London train stations whenever I happen to bump into a copper. The holstered pistol around their waist quietly informs me that I am one misconstrued action away from a bullet in the head. I always speak in strictly Queen’s english and walk very slowly through ticket barriers when in their presence.
As a cyclist I’ve had a number of weapons unleashed upon me whilst out on the road. The car being the obvious one, usually deployed as a ‘punishment pass’ where the motorist will attempt to intimidate by getting the vehicle as close as they possibly can. I’ve also had phlegm used on several occasions, a few crushed up cans have bounced off my lycra’d form and the voice has been deployed against me many a time from shouted profanities to hilarious observations that my rear wheel is rotating and maybe I should stop, dismount and attempt to get the bike to lactate.
However, this week I experienced a new form of weaponry and one that fills me full of dread with its potential given the way our society is heading. This is a weapon that many many British men now possess, a weapon that is now very easy to come by and apparently easily available to all echelons of society even those on benefits. This weapon is entirely legal and suffers no import/export restrictions. I’ve seen this weapon hanging over the belts of people of all ages from school children to old age pensioners.
More later, first my bike ride.
Saturday night had been spent in the pub followed by a quick sojourn to Co-op for the purchase of telly wine. Sunday morning quickly informed me of the penance that must be paid and so I blearily kitted up and tried to motivate myself for the 4000 feet of climbing that lay ahead. The route began in Brixham, at sea level where you’re only ever 500 metres away from a silly steep climb. A few miles later I’d failed spectacularly on a long Strava segment by giving it everything for nearly a mile when a van decided to curtail my attempt with a three point turn. He cheerfully acknowledged my wait with a wave, I cheerfully muttered “wanker” under my breath in return.
Next was a long descent down Slappers Hill to the River Dart ferry. A nice twisty recovery often devoid of cars as it costs to continue to the other side. The road surface is well maintained, but it is double white lined most of the way down as there is very little chance of overtaking anyway, what’s the point? as you’ll undoubtedly have to stop and queue at the bottom.
I engaged big ring and cajoled the skinny legs into a descending speed of 30-40mph, at under 10 stone I don’t get a huge amount of help from gravity. After half a mile I became aware of some internal combustion behind me, so I gave it a bit more effort in order to keep their wait to a minimum. They wouldn’t be able to pass me on this section as it was far too dangerous .. and illegal.
Mr Red Peugout had other ideas. As I leant the bike at 30mph into the tightest blind bend of the hill, he decided to pass. I reckon he was driving at close to twice my speed. His passenger side wheel was on the solid white line that divides the road, my wheels were a foot from this line and if anything had been on the other side he’d have had no choice but to turn directly into me. This bloke either had a highly sophisticated radar system fitted to his dashboard or liked to gamble.
I gasped with relief as the corner subsided and he gunned his car faster down the hill. My wanker signs remained firmly in the glove, he was travelling too fast and anyway they’d proved to be singularly useless in every previous motorist confrontation. I decided upon a different strategy, maybe he’d listen to reason? I’d not shout or accuse, I’d start by congratulating him for beating me down the hill and then gently lead into the fact that maybe there’d have been safer places to overtake.One mile and about 2 minutes later there he was, stationary in a queue waiting for the ferry. I pulled up alongside, smiled then gestured at him to open the window. Instead he opened his door and before I could offer a single platitude he’d deployed his weapon.
As a child, Saturday morning television was a real highlight. Dicky Davies would chunter on about football for a bit then it would be over to the wrestling. My brother and I would be glued to the set hoping for an appearance by either Giant Haystacks or Big Daddy. Giant Haystacks would stomp round the ring shedding hair before folding his opponent in two with his signature move. Big Daddy simply barged them with his gut. But Big Daddy’s gut was special, it didn’t have the flaccidity of a drinkers gut, it was more muscular than that, almost as if Big Daddy had some secret exercise regime for keeping his huge gut in shape. Wrestlers would be flung hither and thither by this supreme weapon and as far as I can remember Big Daddy never lost.
Mr Red Peugeot had clearly watched the same telly as me. Unprovoked, he let loose his huge stomach upon my skinny form. I was not prepared for this as it surrounded me like a flesh skirt and then slowly persuaded me to move slightly away from its owner. This paunch had not been through the Big Daddy performance programme, it hung limply from its owner, a sad beacon of excess. As he pushed closer towards me the gut encased me more, it was not having his desired effect of moving me from his path, it was embracing me instead. I had to do a nimble little cleated dance to disengage from this cage of flab and get my bike between us.
“You facking cyclists, you fink you facking own the facking road, how much facking space do you facking want then? Fack me if it war’rant for you facking lot the facking roads would be worth driving on”
The gut assault was quickly followed by the verbal one. I’d not said a word up until this point, I attempted to continue with my reasonable strategy.
“Sorry mate, just wanted to have a little chat about the overtake back there as I ….”
“Facking road tax, you lot don’t pay a facking penny of road tax, you have no facking right to be on the road, how much facking space do you need?”
“Erm, there’s no such thing as road tax”
“Facking insurance then, you caants are completely uninsured, think you facking own the facking road you do”
“Erm, I am insured via the CTC, British Cycling and….”
At this point he became threatening again. I could see him gathering up the folds of fat for another assault. Additionally his wife was chipping in from the passenger seat.
“He’s right, own the facking roads you lot think you do”
This Yoda speak was a clear attempt to disorientate me further. I decided to get some photographic evidence just in case it all got out of hand. I pulled out my phone and took a photo of his number plate.
“Facking take a picture of me if you want you caannnt”
“I would but the phone doesn’t have a wide angled lens”
Shouldn’t have done that really as he deployed the belly once more pushing me and my bike further down the road.
“How much room? How much facking room do you need?”
He politely enquired whilst pointing to a particularly poor section of road with a drain cover and cracked tarmac that would force the cyclists at least two feet away from the curb. I held the phone up to indicate that he’d be identifiable if the violence escalated further. Four out of his six brain cells computed that he should retreat to the car as:-
- his belly was tired and had seen enough action for the day
- there was some chocolate in the glove compartment
I turned the bike around and was about to coast down the the ferry when he offered his last retort.
“Oi mate a bit of advice”
This was intriguing, what would come next? A masterclass in close curb cornering? Some dress sense advice? (would have been warranted, I was in godawful orange and blue club kit) Some pointers on weight gain or Kung Fu bingo wing moves?
That was all he had. “Piss Off”.
I left saddened by what I had witnessed and especially saddened for his wife. For sure he’d completed a life threatening manoeuvre in his four wheeled killing machine. For sure he’d uttered the grand slam of pointless cycling insults. “Own the roads, no tax/insurance, how much room”. These bounce off us like raindrops on a vaseline’d football.
But what of his wife? She’d seen her man emerge from his machine ready for combat and all he had to deploy was his stomach. His fists were unable to reach forward from his massive girth and he’d struggle to kickbox with legs firmly rooted to the floor by Newton’s laws. The only weapon available for use against the twig of a cyclist in front of him was his left over lager store and even that didn’t work properly as it only served to hide the opponent from view.
There was also some anger mixed in with the sadness, but that was tempered with a feeling of “This is how it is”. Confrontation can sometimes have its rewards in the self satisfaction of delivering a blistering one liner, but in my experience it does little to change the views of the one confronted, maybe it simply reinforces them further.
Three days later at the same ferry waiting point on the same road I gesticulated to another motorist to wind down her window.
“Thank you for NOT overtaking me at that dangerous bend. Thank you for following me down patiently at 30 miles an hour. It makes a real change to see someone who knows how to share the road.”
She blushed and accepted the praise and then commented that I was going plenty fast enough for the road so she felt no compulsion to overtake, and anyway what’s the point as she’d have to wait at the bottom. She seemed very surprised that a cyclist would take the time to say “well done”. Her young daughter smiled at me, she’d seen a cyclist do something nice and heard nice things said about her Mum. Maybe she’ll become a cyclist and do nice things as well?
This heightened my resolve, I’m parking roadside anger and replacing it with smarmy instead. There’s an increasing number of waist height weapons of mass envelopment out there and I don’t ever want to be on the receiving end again.