Despite modernism’s best efforts, London isn’t an urban utopia. There’s no point in denying it. The streets aren’t paved with gold, and bits of it are more than a little rough around the edges. So, as with any city, there are parts that it’s not a good idea to go to, especially at night. Fortunately, Imperial is about as far from any of them as it’s possible to be. For the hapless student weaving back to halls, South Ken’s about as good as it can get. Unfortunately, though, my cycle route home strays out of Chelsea.
I started cycling to college a few weeks ago, and it’s great. Not only do I get a bit of exercise everyday (although that’s almost certainly negated by the air I have to breath along the way), but I also avoid the ridiculous cost to get there by tube or bus, and I get there quicker. It’s not even that bad when it rains. But one of the few problems is what lies between where I live and Imperial, and I’m not talking about the Thames. They have bridges for that.
Don’t ever let it be said that Transport for London doesn’t go out of its way to help. TFL’s ‘Journey Planner’ is one of the best things on the Internet. (Well, the most useful anyway. There’s plenty of better stuff on the ‘net.) You tell TFL where you are, where you want to go, and it tells you how to get there. Brilliant. However, its cycling route-planning function still needs a bit of work. Sometimes it’ll try and send you down the A4 at rush hour. At others, it’ll tell you to go round Hyde Park Corner – I’ve seen some people try it; it doesn’t look like fun. But it’s biggest failing by far is its tendency to draw the straightest line home, regardless of where it goes.
Now I’m all for economy of effort. The shortest route home is definitely the best. But sending me down the dark back alleys of housing estates is something I’d prefer to avoid. It’s definitely a false economy. Unfortunately, my complete ignorance of south London means that what TFL says, I do. So it’s with some unease that I pick my way along its suggested route every morning and evening – wherever it sends me.
Call me a snob if you like, but I don’t make a habit out of walking around high-rise housing estates. But nevertheless, last week I was doing just that - pushing my bike. I’d been riding past Battersea power station when I rode over a nail, or something stupid like that, and that was it, my first urban puncture. Now, fool that I am, I didn’t have a pump with me, or anything remotely useful. So, with the almost impossibility of taking your bike on a bus (it’s down to the driver… ‘nuff said), I had to push my bike home. Great.
Now, there’s something about a bright yellow reflective jacket that attracts a certain amount of ridicule. I don’t know what it is, but there you have it. But survivor that I am, I put my head down and ploughed on, hoping that the laughing didn’t turn into designs on what was in my bag. So when I heard some footsteps running up behind me, I almost chucked my bike and ran for it. After all, my laptop’s worth more.
Fortunately, this particular estate is to home to a keen cyclist who happened to be looking out of his window as I trudged past. An incredibly kind soul, he grabbed his pump and an inner tube, and legged it after me. When he caught up and said he was here to help, ignoring my rather startled (and scared) look, he wouldn’t even let me help. He whipped the wheel off, changed the tube, and saw me on my way even whilst I was still spluttering about how grateful I was. Whether his generosity was motivated by genuine kindness, or a desire to see me out of the place safely, I don’t know, but nevertheless, what a legend.
Everyone I’ve told about this since have either not believed me (they are no longer friends…), or tried to extract some sort of moral from the story: never judge a guy by where he lives, or something like that. I’m not sure about such moralising, so I thought I’d just tell the tale, and leave any moral making to you. Nevertheless, it was nice to find a bit of genuine kindness around in London. As I said above, it’s no urban utopia, and this is reflected in its architecture and its community cohesiveness, but there are always exceptions. I guess, and here comes the rubbish moral, you should never judge a city by its buildings… told you, rubbish.