Okay, so maybe i'm missing some fundamental point in life here, and if you feel i am, please comment on my blog and let me know, but i often find myself on the outside looking in when it comes to life in London. Maybe it's the contrast with village life in rural Scotland, maybe it's simply that i haven't had enough time to become a "naturalised" Londoner, i don't know, but there are many things about this city that i just find odd. They're not bad, they're not good, they're just remarkably strange.
The classic example, one that i face most days in fact (except when the weather's bad, or my legs are sore, or i wonder why i have an oyster card at all - i.e. when i get the bus!) is commuter racing. There's something peculiar about the bicycle as a mode of transport that makes people very very competitive. I remember this when i first started cycling to lectures in Cambridge many moons ago; i used to see how late i could leave my college and still get to lectures on time, bonus points for passing lots of slower people on the way! And you still see it now, grown men on bromptons pedalling furiously to overtake other grown men in suits on Boris bikes. Personally, i'm something of a plodder when i'm on the way to work - i'm in no rush to get there, and cycling in (at least when not avoiding the ever-present danger posed by Addison-Lee cabs) gives me time to mull my day's tasks more abstractly. This seems to make me something of a bunch-engine for the races that rage around me through the mean streets of Elephant and Castle, as personal scores are settled between people who've never actually spoken to one another.
I'm honestly not sure where i stand on this. On the one hand, i have a naive hope that some of these people may understand the errors of their ways, and one day enter a proper race, where the competition is more tangible, more fierce, but so much more rewarding. On the other, i worry that it gives a thread of competition to that most mundane of tasks, getting to work - and that once this attitude has settled, it may not lift when the same person gets in a car.
Perhaps there is the rub. It's largely okay if people become competitive on bicycles, it might seem a little petty, and occasionally people go too far in trying to cut ahead, or think that it's okay to go beyond the lights for a head start, when really all it does is force faster people behind into the main flow of the traffic, but by and large it's safe enough, and noone gets hurt. The people who really scare me on my commute are the competitive car and truck drivers, the ones who have to be ahead "just because". At the end of the day, it's probably worth remembering that in the commuter race, if you win, you lose - you're the one at your desk first!