Nice idea Boris, but I think I’ll take the tube..

Three months ago when I started my current job in London Bridge it crossed my mind I should consider cycling to work. Not only would it be a good way to fit in some extra exercise, it would also mean avoiding the horrifically busy Northern line in the mornings, which surely had to be a bonus? I wasn’t all that keen on turning up at work drenched in sweat and having to get changed, but thought that ultimately the benefits would outweigh the costs.

But then I started watching people cycling out of Clapham in the mornings, and observed them in their droves when I arrived at London Bridge. And I became hyper sensitive of all the news stories involving cycling accidents. And then I remembered that two of my good friends have had accidents on their bikes in the past two years – one serious, which would have almost certainly killed him had he not been wearing a helmet (which was cleaved in two by the impact – horrific).

Whilst the idea of cycling to and from work and avoiding public transport does appeal (well done on the PR Boris), I’m ultimately not prepared to run (or cycle) the gauntlet when it comes to my safety. I’m the first to admit my road sense isn’t great (when I was nine I cycled around a roundabout the wrong way and nearly gave my mum a heart attack, and whilst I’d like to say I’ve got better since I might just be lying), but even if I was a savvy cyclist it’s the others on the road that are the main danger.

The sheer volume of cyclists on London’s roads during rush hour is terrifying, not to mention the gung ho way in which many of them behave. Only this morning when the pedestrian light was green and I began to cross one cyclist shot right through and nearly knocked me over. Though that’s not to say it’s always the cyclists who behave badly. Car and lorry drivers often exhibit such a flagrant disregard for the lives of cyclists and motorcyclists when driving around London that it’s hardly surprising so many people get knocked off their bikes each year.

On balance, therefore, I’ve decided to stick to the tube for the time being. As much as I hate being face to armpit in a sweaty train carriage, I can at least be confident my brains will stay in my head instead of being splattered on the pavement due to a moment’s carelessness.

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John Doe

John Doe woke to the sound of rowing neighbours and the view of his alarm clock’s blinking red light. In two minutes the alarm would sound, a siren call demanding he rise and actively participate in life. He reached out to flick the switch that would silence it before it began, a fleeting flicker of satisfaction rippling across the otherwise flat vista of his personal horizon.

He washed and dressed, then carelessly threw some cat food in the bowl as he exited the kitchen. As he stepped out into the street he paused to look up at the sky. He sighed. It was another grey day after a succession of equally grey predecessors. As he walked towards the train station it began to rain. He had no umbrella.

The train platform was crowded, five deep in sleep-deprived commuters, not one of them wanting to be where they were. John Doe positioned himself just back from where he knew the doors would be. Fat rain drops splashed onto his cheeks. Next to him a fat woman jostled for space for her obscenely large breasts. A man coughed in his face.

The train pulled up and in the ensuing scramble someone stumbled, cried out. But, intent on catching their trains, not one person helped their fallen comrade. She was a businesswoman, early thirties, or so John Doe suspected. As the doors closed inches from her face she pulled her skirt down to cover her modesty and slowly rose to her feet, cursing as the blank expressions of those who had safely boarded the train began to move.

John Doe moved into the space that had been created by the evacuation of the other commuters from the platform. The businesswoman, having recovered herself, stood beside him, a scowl plastered on her otherwise pretty face. A tidal wave of people rose up from the depths of the tunnel at the end of the platform, spilling over the lip of the top step and thronging all around them.

A disembodied voice announced the next train would be five minutes late, and a collective sigh breathed through the impatient crowd. Behind him John Doe heard a woman with a high pitched voice screech into her phone that she was about to miss a meeting.

After five minutes the train had still not arrived, and frustrations were at fever pitch. There were now so many people on the platform that John Doe could feel a pressure against his back as they forged ever forward. A woman – perhaps the businesswoman, though John Doe could no longer be sure – shouted, begged for people to stop pushing. But still they pushed.

As the train finally pulled into the platform there was a blood curdling scream. The commuter mob swayed uncertainly. Another scream, more prolonged this time, followed by a man’s voice: “For Christ’s sake, move back!” Eventually the message filtered through and the swarm retreated, parting ways enough for everyone to see the twisted form of John Doe splayed across the track.

Rather different from the ones in central London…

On Loss

Today is the funeral of a girl I know who tragically passed away in a car accident three weeks ago. She was just 32. Although I haven’t seen her for several years, I remember her as being beautiful, funny, kind and talented – she was an actress and, I recently learned, an aspiring playwright. I can’t imagine the pain her husband of two years is going through as he struggles to come to terms with the bottomless chasm of his grief – they were together since before I knew them, so he must feel he’s lost a part of himself. I just hope that one day he (and her family and friends) will be able to look back at the many happy memories they shared with fondness rather than pain, though I imagine that will take a very long time.

Being slightly removed from the situation by virtue of the time that’s passed since I last saw them, it feels somehow self-indulgent for me to wallow in grief. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her since I found out. It just seems so unfair that someone with such a zest for life, who showed so much promise in her career and was such an incredibly lovely person, should be so cruelly snatched away and cut down in her prime. I know the same could be said about everyone who dies young, I suppose this is just the first time it’s been someone who I really knew, and it’s come as a terrible shock because this is normally the sort of thing that happens to other people.

When I first found out I wrote a post about trying to take what little positives there are from such a tragedy, so I’m reminding myself now to make every day count, to tell everyone how much I love them and to be the best person I can be. But somehow all those promises feel like little more than hollow reassurances today, as I think about the fact a bright star isn’t with us anymore, and the sky will be a darker place without her in it.

I’m going to close with the poem I read at my grandma’s funeral years ago, by Mary Elizabeth Frye. It makes me cry every time but I think it’s beautiful:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quite birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die

Rest in peace, Katy. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten x

I chose this picture for today because it was taken in one of the most peaceful places I’ve been, Taliwas in Borneo.

Counting blessings

Following on from my last post about challenges, I’ve bitten the bullet and signed up for a sixteen mile (twenty five kilometre) run in just over nine weeks’ time. Having just done my first official ‘training run’ (6.5 kilometres on the treadmill-have you FELT the air temperature outside today? I’m not running in that!) I’m already having doubts that my body is up to the job. Just sitting down on the train home nearly caused total muscle paralysis, and I’m fairly sure I’ve torn something crucial in my left toe region. In short, so far it’s not looking good, but I’m determined not to fall at the first hurdle. This was only my second run in about five weeks so it’s hardly surprising my body’s taken great exception to being forced into long distance running without so much as a warning.

Speaking of events that have no warning, this morning brought the sad news that a helicopter had crashed into a crane near Vauxhall station, killing the pilot and one person on the ground. Twitter was awash with conspiracy theories postulating it was the English 9/11, but it seems quite clear it was a tragic accident and nothing more. Whatever the cause, it got me thinking about how suddenly life can change, how in an instant everything you knew has been turned on its head. The poor man who was killed on the ground was probably on his way to work, following the same well-trodden path he followed every other day. Only on this day he didn’t come home.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that today’s incident has made me think a lot about the importance of counting our blessings, of realising so many of the things we preoccupy ourselves with in life are, in reality, the least important things of all. What really matters is our families, friends and partners, the people we surround ourselves with who love us unconditionally, without whom we wouldn’t be the people that we are. Life is such a precious commodity, and yet it can be snuffed out in a second. If there’s one thing we can take from tragedies like today, surely it’s that we should make the most of every minute we are blessed to be alive?

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Thought this photo was particularly appropriate for this post, given that it’s of an offering to a Hindu god in a Bali homestead where I spent several happy days towards the end of my travels last year 🙂

He wasn’t far from home

He wasn’t far from home when his phone buzzed in his coat pocket. He pulled it out, admired its shininess, swooshed his finger across the screen to answer the call and held it up to his ear. It was his mum. She’d forgotten to buy beans to go with the potato waffles for his tea. He’d have to go back to the shop. There should be enough change from the ice cream, she said. There was, but only just – he’d bought some penny sweets too.

He wasn’t far from home when a blackbird swooped down in front of him and landed on a nearby branch, making him jump. It cocked its head to one side and snatched a berry from the tree, all the while its beady eyes fixed on him. He imagined it was a monster and hopped, skipped and jumped past it as quickly as his feet would carry him. He heard it squawk and fly off. He wondered what it would be like to be a bird. But he could never be a bird.

He wasn’t far from home when he heard a whirring sound getting closer and closer. He looked up at the sky just as an aeroplane flew directly overhead, like a GIANT bird – now that really COULD be a monster, he thought. It was so close it felt like he could reach out and touch it. He tried to do just that. But it wasn’t close really, Silly. How could it have been? He wondered what it would be like to be an aeroplane soaring through the sky. But he could never be an aeroplane.

He wasn’t far from home when he stopped in the middle of the street. He looked about him, then down at the puddle in front of him. Then Splosh! He jumped in right up to his ankles, even though he was wearing his best shoes and not his welly boots like his mum had told him to in case he got wet.

He wasn’t far from home when he saw Mrs Metcalfe from Number Fifty Seven on the other side of the road and waved. She shouted over to him that she had some spare coins in her purse and would he like them to buy penny sweets? He thought that yes, he rather would like that, and so he ran across the road to get them.

He wasn’t far from home when he heard the screeching of tyres on the road and the sound of an old lady screaming. He turned too late to get out of the way, but as he flew through the air he thought to himself that maybe he could be a bird or a plane after all.

He wasn’t far from home.

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Writing this story made me think of these two cutie pies, who were delighted to pose for me when I came across them on a walk around Luang Prabang, in Laos. God forbid anything as horrible befalls them as the poor little boy in my story. I bet they’ll grow into handsome young men and break lots of girls’ hearts 🙂