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Harrumph – With a Vengeance

    In a continuation of the Wodehouse-worthy tale reported upon last week, it appears that the redoubtable Lord Winston is not a man to let things drop, even when they don’t appear to be going his way. Having raised himself into high dudgeon over the matter of all these cyclists gadding willy-nilly through the streets of London, unencumbered by the bureaucracy that blights the existence of decent folk, and plainly feeling let down by his fellow peers who are apparently not as consumed by this issue as he is, His Lordship has decided to launch a private members bill that would require that all cyclists be registeredand have license plates on their bicycles.

            In support of his proposed legislation – quod erat demonstrandum – he cites a misadventure he claims to have suffered just the other day at the hands of a cyclist while he was strolling through Bloomsbury (But of course! Where else!) According to His Lordship, he spotted a woman cycling on the footpath and being a forthright peer of the realm, one of the nation’s lawmakers, he marched up to have words with her, tell her what she was doing was illegal and to get off the footpath straight away. Curiously, instead of being grateful to Lord Winston for pointing out the error of her ways, the woman – according to Lord Winston – instead tried to damage his mobile phone, and then kicked him (he doesn’t specify where) before pedalling away. Here, surely, he argues is all the evidence one needs that cyclists are simply out of control and must swiftly be brought to heel.

             In many years as a journalist I have heard many stories, but this singularly well-timed one – the events occurring just when His Lordship happened to be in need of a good personal anecdote to back up his claims about rogue cyclists – strikes me as peculiar in a number of other ways, not just the timing. Me thinks there is perhaps more to this story than Lord Winston is telling.

            For starters, there is the description of the rogue cyclist herself. Lord Winston tells us she was a woman in “her late thirties or early forties” and “clearly well educated”.  

            Now, I have certainly seen rogue cyclists doing hair-raising things on city streets – haven’t we all? – but invariable they have been male, and generally fairly young and aggressive. In all my years of cycling, and assignments that have taken me to cities all over the world, I can’t recall ever seeing a “clearly well educated” (Lord Winston’s words) female cyclist in her thirties behaving like a Lycra lout. His Lordship must have found the only one in existence.

            Secondly, he says she was riding on the footpath when he went up to her to inform her she was breaking the law. This also strikes me as curious. Lord Winston is 78 years old. He must have been striding remarkably swiftly down the footpath for a man his age – or indeed any age – in order to accost her, since even a slow pedalling cyclist will be moving along at eight to ten miles per hour, or rather faster that double-time march in the Army. Well done, Lord Winston!

            Or perhaps she was coming towards him and he merely blocked her way, forced her to stop. I believe the phrase he used was that he managed “to halt” a cyclist – and here my inner humorist conjures an image of a bowler-hatted gent twirling an umbrella and thrusting its tip urbanely into the spokes, although I’m sure His Lordship did no such thing, and does not wear a bowler hat.

            In any event, however, one way or another, he managed to “halt” this female cyclist. And so now we have this confrontation in which, according to Lord Winston, the “clearly well-educated” woman on the bicycle attempted to damage his mobile phone and then kicked him. Being a journalist who is used to asking questions, and teasing out details that are sometimes deliberately left out of the telling of a story, I find myself wondering how Lord Winston’s mobile phone came to play a central part in all this. The more I think about it the more I find myself wondering if maybe he was filming her or taking her photo, or attempting to do so at the time. And when I start my mind wandering down thosepaths, I start wondering how this interaction might have appeared from the woman’s point of view. She may have been pedalling along the footpath, or she may have just rolled up onto it and been gliding to a stop in front of a shop – who knows? – but either way suddenly she has this irascible old man, a total stranger, either blocking her way, or accosting her from behind, taking her picture.. We live in troubled times. If this was what happened, small wonder she grabbed at the phone and gave him a kick, then pedalled away from there.

Whatever the truth of the matter Lord Winston says he decided against reporting this alleged assault to the police. Maybe Jussie Smollett told him it would be a really bad idea. It would be pointless to report it anyway, His Lordship claims, since with no license plate on on the bicycle it would be impossible for police to identify the cyclist in question. Oh he of little faith. Perhaps someone should tell His Lordship that the police are really rather clever at finding crooks who don’t wear name tags when they commit crimes, assuming crimes have been committed, that is. Not to mention all the CCTV around. But hey-ho, never mind. Thankfully Lord Winston’s calls for licenses and license plates for cyclists appear unlikely to be heeded, with most expert commentators dismissing the notion as unworkable, expensive and ultimately a pointless waste of resources. But since His Lordship is like a terrier with a bone when it comes to cyclists it seems unlikely we have heard the last of this.