Tag Archives: hazards

Potting Potholes

Kiosk By Moonlight, BexhillWhat with the economy in the dumps, councils running out of money and the English weather doing its usual worst, our roads here in Sussex have been growing ever rougher and more potholed with each passing week – and from what I gather much the same can be said for most other parts of Britain as well.

I don’t just mean bumps and rough spots in the road; I mean Third World style craters. These things are nasty enough when you’re in a car; hit one at speed on a bicycle and you could easily be thrown end over end, and if you’re really unlucky maybe splatter yourself in front of a bus.

They are everywhere and like a cancer on the bitumen they seem to be spreading, so that if you go out in the wintry dark like I do, you really want to keep a wary eye on the road ahead: what might have been a placid stretch of bitumen just last week may have some very nasty surprises today.

There has been one particularly dangerous patch of sunken, rutted and gouged-out bitumen not far from my house. Not only is this festering mess a major cycling hazard in its own right, but it is diabolically situated between a traffic island and the broken edges of a speed bump. Given the unfortunate realities of on-street parking along this narrowed stretch of road, and the layout of the traffic island and speed bump, the only way to squeeze through this bottleneck is to go right over the worst of the potholes – an unnerving prospect indeed if there is any traffic tailgating you.

Although I had worked out a way to weave through the worst of it, it required a nicely of timing and precision in bicycle handling and as such it was all too easy for an imaginative type like myself to imagine himself missing his line one morning and going base over apex, smashing himself at speed into the traffic island markers – for naturally this jumbled up mess is at the bottom of a fast hill – and tumbling under the wheels of a car.

And so when a Cycle Touring Club (CTC) e-mail newsletter lobed into my basket last month, giving a link to their Fill-That-Hole website, which forwards your pothole complaints and descriptions to your relevant council, I decided to give it a go and see what happens. I logged in, filled out the form, described the offending patch of bitumen, located the spot as best I could on their link to Google maps, clicked the ‘send’ button and sat back to see what happened.

By golly, when I went out this morning, and came spinning down that particular hill, I found a nice neat patch where the crater used to be. Admittedly, it took them a couple of weeks, but I am inclined to cut them a bit of slack given the snow and ice we’ve had on the road the past fortnight and the generally lousy weather; I am just glad to have it done.

So I am posting the link to the Fill That Hole site (here) in the hopes that it might be useful to others (in Britain, alas, not overseas) and in the selfish interest of doing my good deed for the month early, so I can go straight back to being my usual curmudgeonly self. I will compound my act of good citizenship by noting that in the e-mail they send you acknowledging receipt of your pothole complaint they include a link by which you can report the pothole has been mended. Use it. It is always nice to say Thank You.



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Man’s Best Friend?

Long ago when we were kids and pedalling our bikes the five miles down to the rural New England village that formed the centre of our world, we used to have to ride past the summer house of a wealthy Boston cardiologist. We didn’t know him or any of his family, except by sight, but every summer and well into autumn he and his brood would come up quite often for long weekends and generally they also managed a two-week stay in July or August. Naturally, on these sojourns to the country, they brought along the family pets, in their case large and highly aggressive-to-strangers dogs.

These they allowed to roam free. Since their acre or so of lawn and flowering garden was unfenced, and the dogs very much regarded the quiet dirt lane that ran in front of the house as their territory, we kids often found ourselves bailed up whenever we tried to ride past the place, being obliged to hop off our bikes and hold the frames defensively between us and these menacing dogs until somebody could call them off.

‘They won’t hurt you, they’re only playing,’ some member of the family would usually call out in kind of an offhand dismissive almost sing-song manner. And then, as though that minor disruption to their own flow of events were resolved, they’d resume their game of badminton on the lawn or tending the garden or carrying the groceries in from the car, whatever. And we would edge by, slowly, carefully, on foot, the deeply hostile and suspicious dogs watching our every move.

The hell those things were only playing – not with their ears laid back on their skulls like that, the hackles rising on their shoulders and their teeth bared in low, throaty growls. Or at least if that was their idea of a game, it wasn’t one any of us wanted to play. And nobody in the dogs’ human chain of command seemed the least interested in scolding them, tying them up or indeed doing anything other than offering glib and wholly unconvincing assurances that we would not be harmed if we simply ignored them and proceeded on our way.

It got so that if we knew, or even suspected, the Bloomfields were up for the weekend we literally went miles out of our way to avoid going past their house, taking the long way around through the beaver ponds on an old overgrown logging track that, funnily enough, had a high probability of bringing us into contact with a bear or a moose – as indeed happened occasionally. Odd as it might seem to anybody not raised in the woods as we were, the off-chance of a run-in with a bear or a moose didn’t concern us overly much; the near-certainty of an unpleasant encounter of the Labrador-cross variety did.

It’s a funny old world. Many years later, by a series of coincidences, I came to know the Bloomfields socially. The doctor himself had died by then, as had the dogs of course, but his wife and now-grown children (the ones we used to see playing badminton) turned out to be lovely, kind and generous people who seemed startled and a bit bemused when I told them one day over lunch (and in a humorous vein) about our difficulties all those years ago with their dogs. They had no idea. Apparently they’d never remembered any of those bailed-up scenes that had played out in front of their summer house – and to be fair to them, I suppose, there weren’t all that many such scenes to remember; we’d pretty quickly wised-up and adopted the ‘go-around-through-the-woods’ policy whenever we heard the Bloomfields were up for the weekend.

Although they were apologetic and a little embarrassed about these old events and grievances, there was also a certain sceptical light in their eyes too, an inner belief that we must have been very timorous children indeed to have been so frightened of their dogs, which to them were the gentlest, most endearing of pets. As for me, looking back even now, and with the weight of much living and life experience behind me, I reckon we had those dogs pegged pretty accurately; as lovely and sweet as these big protein-gobbling canines might have been to the Bloomfield family, they were mighty aggressive and territorial to any strangers who might happen to be riding past their turf on a bicycle.

Fast forward nearly forty years since those childhood days in New Hampshire and it has been quite a while (happily, and knock on wood) since anybody’s dog has had a serious go at me while I was riding my bike, or any other time for that matter. Riding as I do so early each morning I seldom see anybody out with their dog – except for maybe on the last few miles of the homeward stretch where I’ll occasionally encounter people walking their dogs along the shared footpath/cycleway that runs along the seafront. For the most part, I must admit, the dogs tend to be very well behaved, on or off the lead. And among those that aren’t, none have been overtly hostile. Even so I feel a certain weary apprehension when somebody’s springer spaniel or whatever comes bounding towards me, brimming with brainlessness and playful chase instinct – an unease that swiftly turns to irritation when I hear the owner’s voice drifting lazily from a distance: “It’s all right. He’s only playing. He won’t hurt you.”

The hell he won’t. If he jumps up on me and knocks me over when I am moving along, it’s going to hurt plenty, no doubt about it, and for that matter if the silly creature’s paw finds its way into the spokes it’s not going to do Rover much good either. And at any rate I do not want to play. Between this blithe assumption that everyone must love their dog as much as they do, and is happy to play with it, and the curious habit many dog-walkers seem to have of obliviously walking on one side of the path while their leashed pooch trots along on the other, so that the leash thereby forms a rope barrier across the path, I’ve pretty much given up using bicycle paths anytime much after sunrise.

At least I have a choice. Less so my young children who are just learning to ride and are nowhere near ready yet to tackle trafficked roads. They love riding their bicycles, or at least they used to. The last few times I have taken them to Alexandra Park – whose beautiful leafy paths are ideal (and legal) for learners and dog-walkers alike. Here there just seems to be no rules or even courtesy. The near-constant dodging of bounding, unleashed dogs, who love to chase and are of course, ‘only playing’ and ‘won’t hurt you’, has been so stressful to my kids that they no longer care to ride. This is just wrong. And if you suggest to the owners that perhaps using a leash might be a good idea, you usually get the arch, snooty and oh-so-British reply: my dog has every bit as much right to be here as your child. Actually it doesn’t, but right and wrong has little to do with these things; it’s what you can get away with at the time. Rather than fighting a battle I’ll never win, I am just going to have to apply a little ingenuity and imagination and find a way around this muddy-paw-print mess, just as I did forty years ago with the Bloomfield’s dogs. On the bright side, I tell my city-bred kids, whatever alternative I come up with they can at least rest assured it won’t involve them in any close encounters with bears or a bull moose.

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