I have just started cycling to work.
When you do this in London people are quick to share their opinions with you, and while I tried to appear nonchalant I was deeply skeptical about the whole endeavour. For me, every day was a gamble, a voyage to the edge of the world. Like an ’80s astronaut, or jungle-bound freedom fighter, I was risking my life in pursuit of my goal – in this instance, punctual arrival at the office.
Sally, who worked in the staff canteen, was another cyclist. The curiously named ‘Galley’ appeared to be modelled on a suburban greasy spoon replete with bacon rolls and ‘builders tea’ – heart attack inducing fare dressed in irony. Sally was a dark-haired art student from Saffron Walden, a twitter-activist (I just nodded at this assertion) and blogger, she was quick to diminish her day-job, framing it as a servile chore to be endured. Still, she was funny and attractive – even though she was yet to encounter the reality of work.
“It actually says ‘builders tea’,” I said, “I can’t believe it.”
It was the end of the day and the airy canteen was quiet.
She said, “I know it’s ridiculous, right?”
“Plus, they’ve put an apostrophe after the ‘S’, suggesting that its the tea that belongs to many builders. I really need to complain about this.”
Sally laughed, so I followed with more grammar-themed jokes, to less effect. We then discovered we both lived in the same part of South London. Seemingly happy to meet a fellow freewheeler, she offered to show me a shortcut she had found. ‘We can go the back-way,’ she said. I resisted the strong urge to make innuendo of her kind offer. Still, I smirked.
“Oh, for god’s sake,” she said, removing her apron, “see you in ten minutes”.
At the bike racks, I noted Sally’s bicycle was superior. For a start it had thin tyres – everybody knows the thinner the tyres, the more proficient the cyclist. The bike looked old; somehow ramshackle, fragile, and deadly all at the same time. Inevitably, I had never seen such a design, it was built by a company I had not heard of. Indeed, I could not even read the tiny emblem on the side.
“It’s a Dizrati,” she said.
Sally herself was thoughtfully dressed. Beanie-hat and denim jacket with a Ramones T-shirt beneath. She wore a perilously long scarf and had one earphone jammed into her head. I unfolded my Brompton, and donned my yellow helmet. There were various stages to the bike, and I was yet to nail it. After several minutes of screwing and clipping she asked:
I looked up, she was a siren in skinny-jeans, the perfect road warrior.
“Listen,” I said, “how about we pop into the Orchard afterwards for a quick drink?”
She mounted her bike.
“Sure, why not.”
We set off into the evening traffic, it was unseasonably warm and I immediately began to sweat. I allowed Sally to go ahead and she weaved through the tightly coiled vehicles. After an initial attempt to ape her manoeuvres, I stuck to the curb side. She turned to see me cursing a taxi driver.
“You carry on,” I shouted, “I’ll catch you at the lights.”
But she didn’t stop at the lights. While pedalling at a relaxed pace, Sally had the alarming tendency to cruise through tiny gaps then pull out without so much as a backward glance. Similarly, she gently rolled through red lights, on occasion causing others to halt – she was the hipster ideal in action: the middle-class instinct to get ahead wrapped up in a blanket of apathy. While magnificently discourteous on the road, I had no doubt she was a kindly and compassionate voice online; sardonic, forever trending – ‘commenting’ unfavourably on Daily Mail articles.
I was pondering her virtual persona when a black BMW swerved in front.
I shouted and shook my fist, a traditional yet flaccid threat.
The car sped on, and I was left haunted by violent visions. Sally turned to catch my fraught expression, like an oil-painted apparition, I scowled into the middle distance.
We caught up near Brockley. Our destination, the Orchard, was a hundred metres away – unvarnished yet expensive, it was the perfect bourgeois flytrap. Ahead, Sally quickened her pace. I called out but she was wearing her headphones. Eventually, she turned and waved. I waved back, instinctively compliant. Looking back into the South London sun Sally clicked up a gear – the lights ahead hit amber but it was ok, she was going to make it.