It's been a while since I was in Amsterdam. Otherwise I might have been ready for the possibility of being mown down by a cyclist in Glasgow the other morning.
In the Dutch capital, the bicycle famously rules. Pedestrians learn this quickly. You don't twitch a whisker, let alone cross a street, without checking for approaching bikes first. And bikes are always approaching like a hailstorm in a high wind. If you have leanings toward longevity, you respect them.
Here in Scotland's largest city, bicyclists are not quite as defunct as dodos. But signs of their revival as a ubiquitous means of getting around are, let's say, not entirely noticeable. Admittedly, the city has its hills. But flat places like Holland are actually worse for cyclists because you have to pedal nonstop. With hills, at least you get to free-wheel half the time.
Not that Glasgow's civil servants and bureaucrats aren't making an effort, cyclewise. They are. Recently, thanks to the City Council, dedicated and clearly marked bicycle lanes have sprung up. And I am assured by a gentleman in the Roads Department that (in summer, anyway) there is a statistical increase in cycling.
It is true that, once or twice lately, parking my car, I have narrowly missed opening the door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. But this is because cyclists are unexpected rather than commonplace. The brute fact is that car drivers have become both dominant and domineering on our roads. We see cyclists as little more than a dangerous and somewhat unpredictable nuisance.
It's all to do with attitudes. A community, or country, needs to develop a culture favorable to cyclists again before the car can be seriously challenged. Personally, once I had my first car, I gave up cycling (which had been my all-weather method of transport for maybe 15 years until then) without any reluctance and, I assumed, more or less for good.
I'd had several bikes. My favorite as we recently rediscovered in a major clear-out of part of the basement still gathers dust as it leans against the wall down there, its tires as flat as griddles. Nostalgia, or who knows? some kind of intuitive foresight made me certain we should not take this Raleigh Sports with drop handlebars to the local dump.
The morning I wasn't ready to be mown down by a cyclist was also the morning I realized I might, vis-à-vis bicycles, be called an old fogey. But I also realized I was not alone in this.
The dogs and I were ambling along the tarmac path parallel to the motorway, as we do, and ahead of us about 50 yards was the couple we (privately) know as "The Policeman and His Wife" with Jade, their German shepherd. I don't know their names. We only meet dog-walking. If he had ever been a policeman, he would have been long retired from the force. But I have reason to believe that both of them were actually in the medical profession. They look much more convincing, however, as Mr and Mrs Plod.
At that precise moment, without the slightest suggestion of a hint of an indication of a warning, from behind, a cyclist suddenly and alarmingly accelerated toward me and missed me completely.
Now I admit there are signs at junctures along this path that make it clear this is an officially designated cycle path. Here, if anywhere, bikes are to be expected. But they are very occasional.
This cyclist flew by, whistling past our two dogs and then narrowly missing the policeman, his wife and their dog, Jade. It is true that the cyclist could see us and was probably prepared for evasive action should any of us eccentrically deviate from our straightforward momentum. But when I caught up with Jade's parents, I said: "He didn't give a lot of warning, did he?"
"In my day," said Mrs. Plod, with emphasis, "bicycles had bells."
"And lights," I added, not altogether relevantly. "Have you noticed how they don't have lights any more?"
"They used to be the law, didn't they?"
"Yes. I was fined for riding after dark down Huntington Road in Cambridge without working lights.... And remember how bikes had baskets in the front?"
"And," chimed in the policeman (retired), "women's bikes had strings over the back wheel to prevent their skirts being caught in the spokes."
Now we were well away! Those were the days. Any second now, a lone violinist would appear and strike up with a plaintive rendering of "Yesterday."
"Yes," agreed his good lady, "strings to prevent skirts getting caught in the spokes. And I am not talking about Victorian times, either."
"Oh, I don't know, " I said, "I can just see you on a penny farthing or a velocipede. But I never knew about the strings. That must have been before my time."
Did I say "old fogey"?
I take it back. Clearly, if I am a fogey, I am a young one. After all, my bike is still in the basement ready for the future, no strings attached.