The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Me, death & the white van man

The world spun under my wheels, buildings flashed by like smoke stacks - landmarks rendered soft and inconsistent by speed and peripheral vision. My bike is a rusty, wheezing nightmare of patched-up rubber and dented, groaning bearings but if the morning light falls just right and the sound of my velocity is sufficient to mask the agony of the aging mechanism beneath, it is still a pleasure to ride. And there I was, fragments of real life streaming past me, hunched up over blurring wheels, riding the morning thermals to work.

My route to the Jewellery Quarter takes me over a number of ancient bridges, brick work carbon-stained and pitiful from centuries of barges passing, coughing and belching beneath and trucks and lorries thundering above. As you hit the top of the rise the canal system races away from you on both sides- brown water with rainbow squalls, bordered on both sides by greying vegetation and sporadic, pitiful starbursts of dirty purple and dark amber flowers. For a moment it is like falling through time, this anachronistic crossway that shrugs off the 20th century and disappears to the horizon, but then tyres hit pavement and you are catapulted back into a world of Vauxhall Corsas and advertising billboards.

On this particular day, as I raced down the far side of the bridge I noticed a dip in the curb that would allow me to move from the pavement back to the road and onwards down the unbroken sweep of the High Street towards the red brick buildings of the Quarter beyond. Without really thinking I pointed my front wheel towards this depression but for some reason had second thoughts at the last moment. Synapses fired and I turned my handle bars away, the rubber treading on my wheel barely grazing the edge of the curb as a white van, seemingly from nowhere, shot past missing me by centimetres.

Now I don’t know how fast that van was going but as I looked up it was already too far away to read its license plate. What’s absolutely certain is had I continued on my former vector and joined the road, I wouldn’t be here now. I’d been in several pieces scattered across the street and possibly floating in the canal.

And that would have been it. No more stupid blog entries, no more weekly shops or nights in with my family; no more weeks of light and wonder, no more worrying about my weight, no more Perfect Dark marathons. It would all just have ended with a sudden percussive impact and a sack of skin hitting tarmac.

I know, believe me I know, I’m not being profound, I know wiser men than me have discussed this since the dawn of civilisation but I don’t think I’ve ever truly realised before how the mundane and the sublime moments in our lives are equally precious. When my own personal white van of inevitability finally ploughs me down, will I be thinking of standing ovations and tropical sunsets or the way my Dad sometimes smiles, something Red said that struck me as funny, if I’d paid the gas bill … ?

I think there’s always going to be a piece of me lost in that moment, that split second decision that saved my life, at the interchange of past and future, caught between the pavement and the sky …


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