So, today I was party to my first serious road rage.
Back up – Today was my first day out since I went to the Armouries last month with another distinguished zebra of our acquaintance, which was a fucking lovely day, I must say. And also when I found out that my bike is too small to set off the ticket barriers at the car park. And also when I ended up coasting home on zero petrol. And my first time going through one of the many road tunnels in our beloved city (It turns out that they’re not all under motorway restrictions). And I got to meet his bike, which is a fabulous Yamaha L1300 and is bloody enormous.
So, that was a couple of weeks ago.
First thing this morning, I took the new-old forks for my bike (Product of lighting-fast bidding and a phone call to a breakers’ yard in Potsdam) down to the garage, and booked in my MOT and repairs for the 14th, two days before my driving theory test and my last OU tutorial.
I came back cheerfully on a high, and did the garden – Pruned the roses, bay, lavender and willow, pulled up the few remaining stickyweeds, sowed three planters of new shiso, turned offcuts of the plants into hardwood cuttings and either planted them up in pots, straight into the soil, or vased them in wine bottles, then wrapped up some willow withies, two of the best bay cuttings and a slack handful of lavender cuttings, and stuck them in my rucksack to give to A at swimming.
Half four rolled around and I got back on the bike, fuelled up, put on my bag and headed off for my swim – My first shot at the naturist swim for about a month, after a couple of bad weeks. On the way, there was a diversion, which turned my usual short route into a one about double the length – Not a problem, I could just nip back down the main road, up through the housing estate, then drop down the other side of the valley and meet up with the road that the baths was on. So off I toddled – Up the hill, into the housing estate. Now, this is not a modern estate – These are narrow, yellow-stone terraces, with schools and churches every few streets, cars double-parked on the road, potholes everywhere – and there’s a twenty mile an hour speed limit.
I, being a cautious chap and generally unwilling to accidentally end up in someone’s front garden or running over someone’s cat, slowed to about fifteen miles an hour, stuck it in second gear, and crept along, dodging the potholes, keeping my eye out for the chimney of the baths, and every now and then stopping to let anyone who was behind me get past.
There was a red Toyota Yaris behind me. I tucked in to let them pass. they didn’t go. So I kept on going – Stopping at every junction, looking both ways, trying to orient myself, avoiding the huge potholes that could frankly wreck my bike if I dipped into them. The red Yaris kept crawling up my exhaust, far enough that I swear they should have been getting the lube out. I was perturbed, but guessed that they were just young and not a very good driver either, so kept going, kept trying to let them overtake me, kept trying to find my way out of the maze of streets and back to the main road.
Not that long later, I got to the main road, and picked up speed, for the few hundred yards that it took to get to the baths, where I pulled in to the side of the road and parked up.
And the red yaris stopped. The driver – a young woman – leant out of her window and shrieked, in a full-on, red-faced, foam-flecked, chronically hateful voice;
“YOU CAN’T DRIVE LIKE THAT!”
I looked up. She was sitting, shaking with fury, staring at me, with her eyes nearly popping out of her head, hands completely white on the steering wheel. In the passenger seat, her son, who was probably about ten or eleven, looked so embarrassed that he might have been about to combust.
“YOU CAN’T DRIVE LIKE THAT, YOU WERE LUCKY I WAS FOLLOWING YOU, WEAVING ALL OVER THE ROAD LIKE THAT AND GOING AT TEN MILES AN HOUR YOU WERE LUCKY I WAS FOLLOWING YOU”.
I took off my helmet and leant over.
“Sorry,” I said “I was lost, so was trying to work out where I was going. And if I’d hit a pothole, my bike would have skidded and that’d have been worse.”
“WE WERE ALL LOST THAT STILL DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN DRIVE LIKE THAT. I’VE VIDEOED YOU AND I’LL BE SENDING IT TO THE POLICE.”
“Oh. All right.”
“BECAUSE YOU CAN’T DRIVE LIKE THAT.”
“It was a twenty zone, I was doing about fifteen because I was lost. I kept trying to let you pass.”
“YOU WERE LUCKY I WAS FOLLOWING YOU.WE WERE ALL DIVERTED SO WE WERE ALL LOST. I’LL REPORT YOU TO THE POLICE BECAUSE YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T HAVE A LICENCE”
I looked back at my bike, with the massive red “L” for “LEARNER” emblazoned on the front and back, in huge letters.
“I passed my basic a few months ago”
“WELL YOU CAN’T DRIVE LIKE THAT ON THE ROADS YOU CAN’T GO ON THE ROADS THE POLICE WILL HAVE YOUR LICENCE YOU’RE LYING YOU DON’T HAVE A LICENCE”
By this point, she had a huge queue of traffic behind her. The irony was palpable.
“Right, well, legally, the point of the CBT is to let someone drive on the roads, and there’s nothing illegal about deciding that, for your own safety and that of others, you need to go slowly”
“YOU NEED MORE LESSONS LOVE YOU’RE GOING TO KILL SOMEONE DRIVING LIKE THAT AND THE POLICE WILL HAVE YOUR LICENCE. I’VE VIDEOED YOU SO THEY WILL THEY’LL HAVE IT.”
I shrugged, and tried to start backing away. I wondered how she’d explain using her smartphone whilst she was driving to the police. The car behind her honked its horn, to try to get her to move on.
“DON’T YOU JUST TURN AWAY WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU I’LL GET OUT OF THIS CAR AND I’LL HAVE YOU TOO.”
I snapped a bit, internally. Not only was she being an angry, irresponsible, threatening idiot, she was being an angry irresponsible threatening idiot in front of her obviously mortified son. I thought for a second about what kind of example she was setting, offering violence as the answer to being marginally frustrated at someone driving slowly on cramped, unfamiliar roads, and then decided that was not my fucking problem.
“Would you fancy getting out of the car, and saying that again?” I said, in the quietest voice that I could be certain she’d hear.
I have never seen a window roll up and a car drive off to fast in my life.
I sat down on the kerb next to my bike, and started shaking. I don’t like confrontation, I’m not good at confrontation, and I’m especially not good at raised-voices screaming matches when it’s my first time out of the house in ages. Two of the swimmers who had seen the whole thing came over, and helped me lock up, whilst getting me to relay exactly what had happened. A third (a retired policeman), coming out as I was going in, took my bag and bunch of flowers, and squirrelled them away, whilst telling a fourth (fellow biker) to get me a cup of tea.
Meanwhile, I rang 101, and whilst on hold was guided over to a settee where I could sit down.
Once through to the 101 handler, he said that calls like this happened all the time – Unfortunately, absent her registration plate, she couldn’t be followed up on, but the handler reassured me that there were just some horrible, angry people in the world, who even if they weren’t caught now would be caught out eventually and get what’s due to them.
Half an hour later, after a good long sauna, I was sitting in the pool with a cup of tea in one hand and a plate of biscuits in the other, which improved matters, but I’m still not quite right. Seeing completely unhinged venom from another road user, which as far as I can tell she’d basically decided she was going to unleash the minute that she saw me, was a bit frightening. In retrospect, she’s the kind of person who would probably ram a biker that she didn’t like the look of. I spent much of the swim worrying that she was going to return and tip over my bike whilst I was in the water – thankfully, one of the lifeguards (scooter rider, so fellow biker) kept going out every few minutes to check on the bike for me. But just… Argh. People.
I got home fine, anyway, no mishaps other than one wrong turn in the estate which was quickly and easily rectified without a car crawling up my arse.
All’s well that ends well?