INDEX 2

IMAGINE THERE'S NO PETROL
Some of us actually do live on the far side of the moon. I don't read the news part of newspapers, and likewise forgo the televised variety. My wife provides me with summaries as she sees fit. ("The Berlin Wall just fell." "Already?") And as a telecommuter I have no co-workers to pollute my blessed ignorance. So the first I knew of the petrol crisis was when my friendly neighborhood inconvenience store ran out of bread, which really isn't such an awful bother because their bread is no treat anyway; and milk, but as a vegan I found this likewise bearable.

Nor did my usual cycling jaunts around London provide a significant clue to the state of affairs. The neverending road construction which has long been a feature of the city plan ("Hurried home after the usual debaucheries, but was confounded by construction on East Cheap." -Pepys) continued to produce the inevitable choke-points, if little else, so I freewheeled on through it all, oblivious to the larger events unfolding. Which were... Well, you've got me there. I haven't received a bulletin from my wife yet.

However, operating on the assumption that it's down to the lorry drivers... it's always the lorry drivers... I can only conclude that we are witnessing the end of civilisation as we know it. Or HAVE witnessed, by the time this gets printed, in which case you probably didn't have to pay for this issue of C+ at the newsagent but instead found it carpeting an alley, scorched pages fluttering in the apocalyptic breeze of a dystopia too horrible to contemplate.

No petrol. Imagine that. Assuming all is now well and you've paid the nice clerk at WHSmith, as one does in a smoothly running society, for a brief period of time you didn't have to. Imagine, that is. Like the John Lennon song. It was as if all that green literature you never bothered reading over the years was Right On. Word. The Real Deal. [Insert slang appropriate to your social milieu.] The great petrol pump Mother Earth was tapped out.

Of course the well wasn't really dry; it's just that nobody wanted to carry the bucket. The behemoths that make our roads shudder and shake and flake apart (so we can dispatch more construction crews) were still. But nobody was celebrating. Except cyclists.

There's no shame in admitting it: some of you were like vegetarians when BSE hit the headlines. I know this because I finally did pause to read the pulse of popular discontent -- the internet version, at least -- and found precious little discontent. No more than usual, anyway.

Newsgroups are an online forum: a chance for 'Disgusted in Tunbridge Wells' and his less reactionary friends to syndicate themselves, go global. Cyclist groups, which had previously fed voraciously on the disaster that was 'Dump the Pump' -- the juxtaposition of the two events was truly the gift of a higher power, and I don't mean Tony Blair -- were now filled with merry chatter and gloating over the sad crossroads at which motorists had found themselves. And why not? Once again, as with BSE, the moral high ground was the choicest real estate on which to have constructed one's worldview.

Shortly before the festivities commenced, my wife had a cycling accident in rural Shropshire. She contrived to impale herself with a brake lever. Which is one way to stop. I drove her to hospital. As this was apparently an NHS facility operating on the principle 'Patient, heal thyself', service was almost comically lackadaisical: more Fawlty Towers than ER. Where's Dr. Green when you need him?

After 12 hours we left, achieving sufficient escape velocity in our car to reach London so she could at least partake of surreal medical care on home ground. Had her injury occurred at the height of the drought, suffice it to say only retrograde amnesia would stop us from barking like mad seals today. The episode instilled in me an instant empathy for everyone who relies on private transport because the public version is just a bad joke, or a barely remembered dream.

Our Exciting Vacation In Shrewsbury Hospital is a cautionary tale for those who would like to see the car dead and buried like the dinosaurs which now feed it. While its true moral may be "Don't puncture yourself with brake levers," I'm considering "Cars have their uses. It's just a shame they use petrol."

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