A few days before Christmas, I did someone a good turn - in that slightly self-conscious, Frank Capra-esque way that you do these things. On my way home from work, over Blackfriars Bridge, in London, a young woman was working at a wheel on the pavement next to her up-ended bicycle. It was cold - and even in these post-climate change winters, the middles of bridges over the Thames are good places to feel cold - and I was late getting back already. But as I went past, I asked if she was all right.
She probably said she was fine, thanks, but the wind caught her answer. It took me a few more pedal revolutions (my brain being permanently stuck in a big gear) to work out that if I hadn't heard her response, then there was a possibility - albeit unlikely, given prevailing local English customs of denial - that it might have been one of desolation and distress. In which case, to ride on would be the ultimate in callous disregard. In which case, I really needed to stop and see if she needed help.
Turned out she did. She was evidently a competent cyclist, since she was wearing proper cycling gear. She had already managed to repair the puncture, she said, but was just stuck trying to get the tyre fitted back on to the rim - which is not easy to do with small hands and frozen fingers. So I did that bit and, not wishing to be patronising, left her to pump it up and put the wheel back in.
So much for good Samaritanism, and this, in any case, is not the point of the anecdote. Rather the opposite. How often have I ridden past other commuters forlornly pushing their bikes, prompting me to make a visual note that, yes, they do have a flat tyre or a hopelessly enmeshed chain? I can think of one other instance, last year, when I stopped to aid a stranger. I gave a guy with a flat my spare inner tube, refusing even to take payment for it (this I regretted five minutes later, when I went into a bike shop to replace it).
What made me stop in these two cases, when so often I've passed by, no doubt quickening my pace the sooner to escape my own bad odour of mingled smugness and guilt at consciously refusing the charitable act? It's as arbitrary, I realise, as when I choose to give money to homeless people. Sometimes I do, furious at the injustice of a society that obliges people to beg. Other times, I don't, furious at the injustice of a society that obliges people to give to beggars.
So my new year's resolution is to show more moral consistency in stopping and offering other cyclists help. But if your chain's off, forget it. I will help you with your puncture, but I'm not getting my hands covered in grease for anyone. That's consistent enough.
You wrote an article that mentioned bicycle polo, and also the fact that it's not terribly popular. Not so in Oxford. We have a thriving polo scene based on the American "punk" style - ie, no rules/more smiles. We use homemade clunker bikes and even clunkier mallets.
It's so much fun that we want to introduce it to a wider audience and so are bringing the game to London for everyone to try.
All are welcome. There will be opportunity for all abilities (it's not dangerous!), on all kinds of bike, or you can even borrow one of our custom polo machines (generally, a Raleigh 20 Shopper). And you can borrow a custom mallet, too.
The match takes place on Clapham Common this Sunday at the netball courts at the north-east corner. Meet at Kube cafe in Rookery Road (right next to the courts) at 1pm.
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