It’s raining stair-rods and I’ve just come in, soaked to the skin after cycling my son to nursery. Lucky him, he was on his child seat cocooned in a lovely waterproof. I just went out in a high-vis cycle top and gambled, and lost, on it not being that wet. Trust me, it is.
It’s lonely being a cyclist on days like this. Out comes the sunshine and the two-wheelers are 10 a penny. On a day when the gutters are inches deep in brown soupy water and the spray from cars relentless and it’s usually just me and one other bedraggled compatriot exchanging knowing looks through the veil of water. The Swedes have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, and I exemplified that principle today.
I get used to the confused glances of people in their cars as they can’t understand why I’m biking in this weather with my child. Surely, I must be mad to put my child at such risk? I mean, he’ll get wet won’t he? And the only safe place for kids these days is in the womb-like confines of a car isn’t it? They’re not safe on the streets, they’re not safe in our public spaces, they’re not safe at school, but they are safe in the car, and preferably one with some sort of aggressive faux armouring on it, just so we properly know they are safe.
This must be one of the biggest myths going at the minute in the UK, but it’s surprisingly resistant to challenges, despite the choking traffic jams, the air pollution, the rising obesity levels through lack of exercise, and the accidents. It’s the accidents bit that there seems to be a collective ignorance over. Hundreds of people die in road traffic accidents every year (and that’s just fatalities and doesn’t include injuries) and thousands more die or are affected by air pollution, but the biggest perceived threat to our kids is seen as being paedophiles taking them off the streets. Sadly children are more likely to be abused in their own home than by strangers. And the fearful society we’ve now created where we travel in metal boxes and then shut ourselves up in our homes actually makes that potential worse if you don’t know your neighbours well enough to spot when something looks not quite right.
Why does this myth persist that cars are the best form of transport despite mounting evidence of the damage they do to our environment and our society, not to mention their real-term costs?
Part of it must be to do with status, as for some, cars are a shiny status symbol, and also, people may be misguided in their thinking but the MSM has got them convinced that they are keeping their children safer by driving them everywhere, as counter-intuitive as that is. Part of it is our built environment. My mum lives on a new estate built entirely around car ownership, there are no shops, schools, buses, cycle lanes or amenities, but plenty of roads.
I also wonder whether people don’t want to be seen as being not being able to afford a car, are they worried that not going around in a car or public transport means that they’re poor or, a failure, to quote Margaret Thatcher who apocryphally said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”
I credit my ambivalence towards cars with my upbringing, which was car-less. My dad died at the age of 48 without ever having learned to drive. My mum passed her test when I was 16, I would be 30 before I would get my licence. I simply got used to cycling, walking or taking public transport.
My husband, however, grew up in a house with a car, so he passed his test at 17. He will always chose the car to travel in, even though he could bike to work, most of the time he chooses not to. You see that’s the thing about making changes in society, you can’t force your principles on to other people, however much you may think that they are wrong.
So, I will carry on biking, whatever the weather, and just accept that until the wind changes, there will probably just be me out their bikes battling the elements. I do know this though, my son thought it was great being on the back of my bike this morning and his cheeks were lovely and rosy by the time we got to nursery!