We were on the bus going up London’s ritzy Sloane Street, the last half of which journey has been rendered laborious by the building of investment flats (a mere £50 million), additional traffic lights and more and ever more traffic. Beside us paused a Lamborghini followed by a Ferrari, both idling with a noise between a snort and a purr, and I burst out laughing. Forget indecent exposure, you are not supposed to laugh in public. Somebody asked what I was laughing at and I said “The conceit.”
A woman in front of me said resentfully “They’re very beautiful, those cars.” “Much more beautiful in a window” I said. Like bank accounts on four wheels, whooping through the dark in the small hours of the morning. Because they can.
Like bikes. I confess, I hate bikes. There are, to be sure, a number of bike riders who observe the Highway Code, facilitate pedestrians – not the jaywalkers, the legitimate ones – but there are far far many more who are in the tradition of gunslingers on wheels. They use the bike as a weapon and it is extremely shortsighted to have loosed them in the metropolis without thinking the idea through.
If bikes are to be given special privileges (ie bike super highways – which many decline to use because they are not nearly so much fun as taking your life – and anybody else’s – in your hands on the rest of the road, preferably under the nose of a lorry, bus or taxi driver who has only to touch you to be in trouble) they must also have responsibilities – legal ones. Licence bikes like every other vehicle, with a registration plate so that when they push on through a red traffic light, they can be reported. And the paid for licence must be maintained along with their vehicle, aerodynamically designed helmet and hideous sub-gym clothing. A friend calls them velosaurs, speedy and violent transport racists because they have no interest, most of them, in anybody who doesn’t ride a bike. Nobody on foot or in or on any other kind of vehicle counts. Bikes rule!
In the twenty minutes before a dental appointment, I went into the ground floor of a large department store where spread out in front of me were seemingly acres of handbags. I know that the shifting multiples of handbags and shoes is one of the great modern women’s clothing sales achievements – based on the fact that whatever she looks like, a woman must have a handbag and shoes, the more expensive and exclusive the better – but how many handbags? And the hall of this place was full of people photographing handbags, presumably to send to friends and family elsewhere. This implies confidence in photographic images for the purposes of perception I don’t share. I’d want to look at it for real, but they don’t. Indeed “real” was the word strangely absent from the scene before my uncomfortable eyes, which resembled nothing so much as the Temple of Mammon (a false god of riches regarded as a worldly goal, or an evil influence).
I prefer to travel by bus though in the recent past, bus passengers became the subject of a predictably one way experiment. Buses were bought without windows. Oh there was a whole thing about air conditioning, as in flying pigs. The bacteria buses jammed us sweatily in with our neighbours ‘ sneezes and wheezes, till we emerged into the usually several degrees colder air. As nowadays the covered nose if you have a sniff is as rare as the covered mouth if you yawn, and the fractionalisation of weather systems plays hell with the temperature, we became bug ridden. A survey was commissioned which proved that bodies pressed together without ventilation were subject to higher levels of infection. Duh ! So several million more pounds have now been spent to put windows into the offending buses. But people forget they are there and forget to open them.