There was a time, many moons ago, when I wrote a blog entry each and every day. It was mostly during my heady days at the local newspaper when, if one was seen typing furiously, you could get away with pretty much anything, including blogging every day and also writing editorial for other publications on a freelance basis, merrily in opposition to one’s contract of employment. If you look busy and have somewhat oblivious and self-centred managers, they think you are busy. Life hack, all yours.
The daily blog was the result of interviewing Richard Herring on his Talking Cock tour, when he told me that the reason he blogged daily on his site Warming Up was that, well, it’s obvious now given the title of the blog, it warmed him up. Richard has written 6,500 consecutive entries (I’ve just had a look). So, having marvelled at his screen saver during the interview which announced ‘Richard Herring is Gay’ (recently changed to read such, Herring claimed, by Stewart Lee). So I started blogging every day to ‘warm up’ although the only thing it warmed me up for, in reality, was firing off 1,000 words to some magazine or other and an accompanying invoice for same, whilst ignoring all of the tasks that my employers assumed I was busy with.
Richard Herring, incidentally, gave me one of his sandwiches during the interview (maybe to distract me from his screen saver). When I interviewed Stewart Lee a couple of years later, I mentioned this and Lee was a little taken aback, “I’m surprised you got anything out of that fat bastard, well done,” and also denied any knowledge of the screen saver. A harmonious double act, those two. I have sat next to and within stroking distance of Stewart Lee on a couple of marvellous occasions – once on the back row of the Pleasance, at Edinburgh Festival, when he directed the Mighty Boosh’s Arctic Boosh, and more latterly at a gig in Brixton when he was working up his material for Content Provider. On both occasions I wanted to touch him and tell the real life, actual Stewart Lee of my love for the on-stage character Stewart Lee but didn’t because, well, I’m sure he didn’t want bothering because he was a bit busy. I’m nice and empathic like that. Lee is, perhaps, the only hero I have left in my life and the next time I find myself sitting next to him, which I probably won’t, I will tell him.
Anyway, blogging. We’re all told that the internet keeps things forever but, pleasingly, a lot of those daily entries have evaporated to an unavailable corner somewhere and, lo, my internet footprint is less than it should be. Some of it is still there, on an old blogger, but even the old wayback machine can’t find a few years worth of later entries. Most of my efforts in the ‘blogosphere’, as many a fool thinking diaristic daily writing was the future once described it, charted irritable encounters in corner shops and supermarkets where retail staff determined to hold conversations with each other left me waiting for more time than was necessary as I stood at the tills with a hot and spicy Peperami stick and a can of San Miguel. Occasionally, I’d document my interactions with the many racist Daily Mail and Express readers of York. That, or stuff about people coughing loudly in theatres (mostly the people I went to the theatre with).
I started writing this blog post, if they’re still called that, with some sense of where it was going. For last night, I had an encounter that reminded me of the stuff I might have blogged about and I thought, oh, if only I had a blog to capture this moment, then realised I do and that this is it.
It was a cycle-related incident. Now, cycles are a big deal in Hull right now as the council just splashed a load of government money on creating, at a fast and furious pace, pop-up cycle lanes here, there and everywhere. The money came from the £250 million emergency active travel fund, at the point when the new normal was being envisaged as a utopia where we’d all cycle for the rest of the limited life remaining for humanity on planet earth, before it’s done with us, and cars, rather than simply being convenient metal death traps oozing carbon and other toxic filth, would be consigned to the scrap heap faster than a nation could extract itself from the European Union. The first stage, I read, of an eventual £2bn investment to encourage alternative ways to travel, such as walking and cycling, thus relieving the pressure on public transport, which doesn’t and never will, serve the people that might like to use it if it ever turned up on time, got you to your destination and didn’t smell of wee, armpits and faeces.
Any efforts to encourage cycling and the abandonment of motor vehicles shouldn’t be contentious. Certainly not in Hull, a city so flat that there’s no excuse not to take to two wheels, other than the population is incredibly wary of any ride out involving an encounter with an object known as the Anlaby Road flyover, one of the few gradients on the city’s road network, a whoppingly insignificant climb that is to be avoided at all costs, as if it were K2, Everest or Kangchenjunga, lest there be a requirement to shift down to a low gear on the stolen bike you bought off some gadge at Walton Street market. There is some talk, among the city’s cycling fraternity, of the pleasure of freewheeling back down once the summit is reached – people, often those that wear clothes purchased at Sports Direct, or those with Kestrel lager fuelled self-confidence, or some with self-evident dietary problems, and often those with a combination of all three – push their bikes up to experience this thrill – yet this is an extremely rare occurrence.
Yet the recent pop-up cycle lane has been met with much criticism, some of which even makes sense.* Even from me. It appears, in the haste to create these new lanes, and in the giggly excitement around the bright future on the horizon, that the safety of all road users has been somewhat cast aside. Not least by the council, who, in a moment of temporary insanity and once the green lanes had been painted on the existing tarmac, promptly (and mistakenly, they said quickly afterwards) also painted some parking bays that meant the ‘cycle lanes’ were also parking bays and that cyclists would have to zip out of the side of the road they had been bequeathed and back into the carriageway containing a load of frustrated drivers, irritated not only by having to watch folk on two wheels sailing by much faster than their expensive cars leased via confusing personal contract hire and personal contract purchase deals but also looking at a bus lane, recently extended to 11 and a half hours (a move “to protect cyclists and encourage more bike travel under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order.”) with very few buses in it. Grinding slowly, as they did so, on a journey towards the city centre, while also wondering why, at a time when there has been a reduction to cars on the road because a) people are still working from home and b) those that aren’t working from home have been made redundant, an effort seems to have been made to recreate the type of traffic we might have experienced back in the good old days of pre-Covid 2019.
Now I like Hull City Council, they’ve done some great things over the last two decades but on this, this road madness, they’ve fucked up majestically. It’s almost as if nobody at the Guildhall has ever been to the Netherlands – despite it being a simple hop away on a P&O Ferry, or via a quick flight from Humberside Airport to Schipol that is now faster than a trip down any of the city’s main arterial roads into the city centre – and experienced what actual cycle lanes are all about. A place where cycling is prioritised – which it should be – and a place where they haven’t simply painted green paint onto tarmac and a load of accompanying, accident-baiting white lines. No, in the Netherlands they have separate bike paths that run parallel to the roadway and everyone is very happy and safe and nobody is thinking, as they drive alongside the cyclists, I know I’ve got a blind spot but I’ll be fucked if I’ll slow down to let that man in extremely tight cycling shorts nip in front of me because he’s having to leave his cycle lane behind. Separate bike paths that run parallel to the roadway would be a very wise investment of £2bn. Green paint and white lines and endless zigzagging fuckwitery are not, government money or no. It is only a matter of time before a cyclist is killed, sadly, due to this scheme.
So there’s the context. There is friction between road users in the city at the moment and those of us, and there are many, who are both car users and cyclists, are no doubt caught up in very serious conversations with ourselves.
Anyroad, I had navigated my way past this new vehicular and transportation madness last night and, as I almost hit the home straight, I witnessed two junior cyclists ride out of a park nearby, straight onto a zebra crossing sans looking left, right, left, because it’s been decades since Kevin Keegan or that bloke that played Darth Vader reinforced the message, forcing a car to swerve around them, although in doing so he saved them from a nasty accident and certain death. Such is contemporary life that the lead young cyclist, a rather stocky, ugly looking child with an enormous, potato-like head and riding a bike that was a not cool several frame sizes too small for him, shouted abuse at the driver.
I turned a left after the zebra following this incident and, lo-and-behold, the same potato-headed youth, having crossed the road, rode his cycle across the pavement, over the grass verge and onto the road I was traveling down at a speedy but accelerating 17 mph and right into my path. I applied the brakes, as you do, as I don’t like riding over cyclists because, remember, I am one too.
I stopped and wound the window down to have a chat with Potato Head Kid, whose little friend was now at his side. Now, back when I was watching a lot of Curb Your Enthusiasm I might have been somewhat more Larry David about it, hurled some abuse to make me feel better and driven off smugly in my protective steel can. But, given that there is a lot of animosity between road users on the streets of Hull right now due to the aforementioned reasons, and that, while he was Potato Head Kid, he was also an actual child not a character I had swiftly invented with very little consideration, I thought it better to impart some wisdom, politely. I saw myself as a diplomat in this instance, the man that would, magnificently, bring road users together, one that the city would talk of for years to come.
“Hey lads. A word of advice. If you are going to pull back onto the road, don’t forget to look over your shoulder to check for cars. It might save your life.”
Potato Head Kid smiled at me, then laughed. I took him in. Having dismounted, his disproportionate body was revealed. Not only did he have a large head, like a potato, and a stocky frame, his torso was much shorter than his legs demanded. If this was an art school and I’d turned in this creature as a portrait, I’d have been asked to leave immediately, escorted off the premises and be banned from the purchase of any sketching materials for eternity.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Fuck off, you cunt,” came the swift reply.
I liked his candour. It had no doubt been fuelled by all of the reports he’d read – if he could, in fact read – about the new cycle lanes in the city and the reaction to them from motorists.
“Seriously, just pause and take a second to look over your shoulder, that way everyone is safe and sound and you’ll get home in one piece.”
“Who the fuck are you talking to?”
“It’s really as simple as being aware of other road users. It just requires you to open your eyes.”
“Fuck off. I said fuck off, you cunt.”
Clearly this wasn’t the moment that I would unite the city and all that travel around it. Although I wasn’t giving up. I must have the final civilised word.
“It would be good if you listened to me. And opened your eyes occasionally, as you ride your steed through the streets of this fair city.”
He threw his cycle, way too small for him, despite his lack of height, down to the ground. I considered suggesting he purchase, or steal, or buy a stolen bike from that gadge at Walton Street market, a bike that wouldn’t accentuate his alarmingly weird aesthetic. Then thought, no, Potato Head Kid deserves some love. He clearly lives a life devoid of affection, he has no positive role models, he is left to his own devices on these tough avenues and alleyways. So I pondered suggesting to him that, rather than throw it to the floor aggressively, he take care of his cycle, and then it would take care of him.
“Fuck off. Fucking get away from me,” he shouted, winding up his arm like a cliche from a first generation console game fighter, “fucking get away from me now, drive on, you fucking cunt, drive on.”
So there we have it. When I blogged on a daily basis, often events like this would happen and I started to wonder if I was making them happen just so I had something to write about. For example, I was rear-ended, had my car written off and was hospitalised by a Kwik Fit lorry once, and once I’d recovered from the shock of said lorry introducing itself to the interior of my car, almost breaking my wrists due to clinging like fuck to the steering wheel on impact and had the glass removed from my hair, I thought, hey, what a great blog that’ll make. Which is why I don’t blog so often these days.
*But not that recent criticism from an ‘actor’ who was affronted by cyclists choosing to ride on the pavement because they didn’t want to risk their lives by riding in the cycle lanes, and shouted at them “there’s literally a cycle lane, right there, next to you,” as if they didn’t know. They did know, they just didn’t want to die that day, and would much prefer Netherlands-style bike paths that run parallel to the roadway and for every road user to be happy and safe.