MURATORI’S CAFÉ

Urban Cyclist - - The Wonderful World of Brooks - by Bella Bathurst

Un­til a few years ago, Muratori’s Café stood on Lon­don’s Far­ring­don Road op­po­site the Mount Pleas­ant sort­ing of­fice. It’s closed down now but then it was an old-style kind of caff, a steamedup greasy spoon with plenty of formica but without the reek of grease. There was wood pan­elling on the walls and tabloids on the benches, and once in a while some­one would emerge from the kitchen with a com­ment or an­other pot of tea. The café’s place on the cor­ner gave it a grand­stand view of the pass­ing traf­fic, but on a wet Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noon ev­ery­one seemed only too happy to sit tight and of­fer some lively opin­ions on the place of cy­cling within an ur­ban econ­omy. The fol­low­ing ex­change of views is in­ter­est­ing not be­cause it’s un­ex­pected but be­cause, for an hour or so, it’s salu­tary to imag­ine what it must feel like to drive in cir­cles

round Lon­don’s end­less frus­tra­tions. Most of us cy­cle be­cause we choose to – we do it for fun, not for work. Which is why it’s oc­ca­sion­ally worth­while to con­sider the view from the other side of the wind­screen, and see the city as cab­bies do. Black-cab driv­ers have al­ways felt like they owned this city. They’re part of the place and, de­spite Uber’s in­cur­sions, Lon­don wouldn’t be the city it is without them. And since cab­bies feel they be­long to these streets, one of two things tends to hap­pen. Ei­ther they be­come se­cure in that knowl­edge and very laid-back about ev­ery­thing or they be­come mon­u­men­tally cross. BB (Bella, au­thor): What do you think of cy­clists? LES (taxi no. 30839): (Point­ing at my dig­i­tal recorder) How much swear­ing do you want? BB: That bad? LES: They are a bit of a nui­sance. They’re not quick enough, for a start. They creep up the side, they jump lights, they ride across ze­bra cross­ings. And we’ve been told if a bike runs into us, then it’s our fault. BB: So have you ever cut up a cy­clist? LES: No! UNAN­I­MOUS SHOUT­ING FROM EV­ERY­ONE ROUND THE TA­BLE: No! No, no, no! LES: Se­ri­ously! Be­cause the last thing I want is a cy­clist bash­ing my cab. KEITH (taxi no. 30729): Be­cause we know we’re on a loser. Even if you do noth­ing wrong, you’re on a loser. BB: That isn’t most cy­clists’ ex­pe­ri­ence. Most peo­ple have been cut up by a cab at some point. MICKEY (taxi no. 54316): Yeah, OK, but let’s say that hap­pens, come up and talk to me, don’t bang on the wing mir­ror and

whenout, theI get cy­clist out, rode cy­cle round­off. I’ve and seen rounda cab tor­mentin­gand when the him guy be­causegot he knew any time the guy got near him he could just cy­cle off. KEITH: They’re so ag­gres­sive, aren’t they? They bang your bon­net, bang your wing mir­ror and then they cy­cle off, they won’t stay around to ar­gue. That’s what re­ally pisses me off. BB: Do you think all cy­clists are the same? KEITH: Yeah. You can gen­er­al­ize with cy­clists. BB: So you don’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween couri­ers and other cy­clists? KEITH: They’re all the same. Most of them are the ones trav­el­ling to and from work, and they’re the ones I can’t stand. I’ve just had so many prob­lems with them over the years. There’s been sev­eral oc­ca­sions when they’ve banged my wing mir­rors or bent the aerial off, or hit the cab. I caught one of them once. LES:stuff all You overdo mee­tand the the back­pack­sodd one with and the ev­ery­thing,lights on and and theythe yel­low gen­er­ally stick to the rules. But the ones who are rid­ing around with next to noth­ing on, just a bit of Ly­cra, zoom­ing about de­liv­er­ing stuff, they will take the mickey, no doubt about it. I don’t go out of my way to get in their way, but I just find it’s hard to avoid them some­times. BB: They’re just do­ing a job, same as you. LES: I un­der­stand that, but if they come up the side as they do, if you look at any of our cabs, there’ll be lit­tle scrape marks along the paint­work. Now, if I go in the garage for that, they’ll go, ‘£50, mate.’ I’m not go­ing to get that back off them, never in a mil­lion years. And that hap­pens ev­ery day. STEVE (didn’t give his driver num­ber): There’s a place where all the paramedics go, the guys who deal with all the bad ac­ci­dents and things, and their en­ter­tain­ment when they’re sit­ting wait­ing for a call is watch­ing the traf­fic lights to see how many cy­clists stop. They say they ac­tu­ally take a tally. Nine out of ten don’t bother. LES: front. I don’t un­der­stand why they’ve al­ways got to push to the BB: Be­cause if you don’t, you’re in­vis­i­ble and you’re stuck be­hind some trucker’s ex­haust. LES: Yes, but I still don’t think, well, I’ve got to com­mit sui­cide, push my­self in front of a lorry, just be­cause I’m breath­ing a bit of crap. I’d sit a few yards back. KEITH: There should be some sort of reg­is­tra­tion for them. I know it’s dif­fi­cult and it should be free at first, but they should be regis­tered. Be­cause for ev­ery cy­clist, that’s one less car on the road, and that’s great. But you still can’t have them all bang­ing and break­ing things. MICKEY: If they knock off your wing mir­ror, scratch the side of the cab, smash your back light, there’s noth­ing you can do. There’s no come­back. They just ride off. There’s no way of rec­og­niz­ing them again. The old cabs used to have a diesel cap on the back. Many times, they just hold onto that and get dragged along by a cab rather than cy­cle. LES: A cou­ple of weeks ago, there was a cy­clist go­ing the wrong way down Fleet Street. I tooted him and gave him the fin­ger. He came back later and ac­cused me of try­ing to kill him. KEITH: You should have done. (Gen­eral laugh­ter.) LES: I said, ‘ You’re on the wrong side of the road com­ing to­wards me, you’ve got it slightly wrong.’ Not in those words, ob­vi­ously. PAUL (didn’t give his driver num­ber): You know what it all boils down to? There’s no pu­n­ish­ment. They don’t think that the law ap­plies to them. LES (re­flec­tively): There’s a lot of anger, isn’t there? A lot of anger com­ing out of peo­ple. See, most cab driv­ers know we’re not go­ing to get any­where quickly. So we don’t drive fast. We know – I’ve had twenty-nine years’ ex­pe­ri­ence of know­ing I’m not go­ing to get any­where. We’ll get there even­tu­ally, but there’s no point in rush­ing.

any­one driv­ing a Mercedes. Mean­while, the view from the other side was equally forth­right. At the West­bourne Park Bus Garage, the driv­ers said they too had a list. Cy­clists were the worst. Them, and bloody black cabs. In the end, all the dif­fer­ent trans­port re­la­tion­ships in Lon­don be­gin to seem a lot like the way things are at the mo­ment with Europe. We might say we hate it and that we want it out of our lives, but when some­thing hap­pens to dam­age that re­la­tion­ship, we feel bereft. Lon­don would be in­fin­itely poorer without its red buses and its black cabs. And, just as fun­da­men­tally, without its own cy­clists. Live and let live, like we’ve al­ways done best. BB: But the point is, you can get some­where quick on a bike. KEITH: See, that’s the trou­ble. That’s their mind­set – ‘ I can get past that, I can go faster, I can get across town.’ But they’ve still got to re­al­ize they’ve got to stop at a red light. BB: If ev­ery cy­clist sud­denly stopped at ev­ery red light, would you start re­spect­ing them? LES: Well, I don’t know ... KEITH: Get ’em off the roads. Cy­cle lanes, what­ever, just get ’em off the roads. LES: Li­cense them! MICKEY: Round ’em all up and nuke ’em! (Gen­eral hi­lar­ity) PAUL (look­ing out of the win­dow at a cou­ple of cy­clists com­ing across the junc­tion to­wards the café): Hang on, watch that – watch that! He’s com­ing up to the red and ... (the cy­clist stops). Well, he’s done it safely, but nine times out of ten they don’t. Look! Look! Guy’s just gone straight through. He’s gone through a red light. Look! He’s over­tak­ing! BB: He’s al­lowed to over­take! KEITH: Yes, and he’s wear­ing a dirty jumper. And that ain’t right. (Gales of laugh­ter) Oh, we don’t like cy­clists, do we? We hate ’em. MICKEY: Last sum­mer, June or July it was, there was a naked cy­cle ride. I was amazed, I was sit­ting there and there must have been a thou­sand of them. So if all cy­clists cy­cled naked, would it make you BB: likethem bet­ter? KEITH: Yes. Def­i­nitely. They shouldn’t be al­lowed to cy­cle un­less they’re naked. Af­ter an hour or so I put away my recorder and get up. KEITH: There you go, then. Sorry about that. Tell you what, though, we hate bus driv­ers more. Oh, we re­ally dis­like them. So you’re not top of the list. And mo­tor­bikes. They’re third. In fact, this turns out not to be a com­pre­hen­sive list. The next time I took a cab, I asked the driver what he thought of other road users. In ad­di­tion to cy­clists, bikers and buses, he added Post Of­fice vans, dust­bin lor­ries and

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