What other city in the world would close its main thoroughfares at peak hour so that military marching bands could put in a bit of practice on the streets?
I couldn’t understand why tonight’s traffic was at a standstill until I went to take my exit off Parliament Square and found the whole street cordoned off. Don’t tell anyone, but I ignored the NO ENTRY sign and cycled up the street until I came to a policeman blocking the rest of the route down Bird Cage Walk.
“Can I go down there?” I asked him.
“What about Horse Guards Parade?”
“No, that’s out of bounds too. But you can take your bike and walk through St James’ Park.”
“Great,” I replied. (I might point out it was pissing down with rain at the time and I didn’t much like the idea of taking a stroll through the park as if I had all the time in the world.)
“But if you get back on the bike,” he said, “I’ll pretend I didn’t see you.”
Nice idea, although I’m not sure his hundreds of colleagues swarming through the park would be prepared to turn a blind eye. So I walked. Slowly. Through the park. And admired the pelicans on the pond, the lupines in bloom in the flower beds and the beefy-looking soldiers marching by me all immaculate in green wool capes, berets and shiny black boots.
Once I got to The Mall it was time to get back on the bike. About a mile down the road I came to another road block. This time the Kings Troop, mounted on their horses, was clip-clopping its way oh-so slowly down the South Carriage. I decided to take a detour — along with a handful of other cyclists — through Knightsbridge. Detour indeed.
I’m not quite sure how it happened but I got lost in the back streets around Sloane Square, not helped by a few more road closures, and my “detour” turned into a three-mile “excursion” that, at one point, had me going around in circles — or squares as the case may be. I think I went around Eaton Square a couple of times and I cycled past the Chocolate Society more than once.
Initially, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, I was having fun. The traffic was quite light, the rain was refreshing and the unfamiliar streets were lined with beautiful buildings and lovely London plane trees for me to admire. But after seeing the same street signs over and over again, I was starting to get the distinct feeling that I wasn’t having fun anymore.
Out of desperation I called my Other Half, hoping he’d be able to offer directions. He didn’t pick up the phone. Where’s an A to Z when you need one? Or a GPS? Or an iPhone with Google maps?
It was really pissing down now and I wanted to get home for a nice hot shower. My only solution was to cycle down the Kings Road. I knew if I got to the end of that I’d hit the river and I’d be able to navigate my way back home pretty easily. Sure enough that’s what I did, but boy, was the traffic busy along here. Cars, taxis, motorbikes, vans, HGVs, buses, coaches — and other bikes.
Eventually I got myself to Earl’s Court, although I wonder how given the running battles I had with (1) a succession of buses, (2) a 4WD and (3) a pizza delivery chap on a motorbike who didn’t like the idea of sharing a lane with me despite the fact there was plenty of room for both of us. Idiot.
The rest of my ride home was fairly straight forward — and quite quick because I had a bus lane all to myself for a one-mile stretch — but there was one scary moment when I was trapped on the middle of the A4, having been caught unawares by a change in traffic lights from green to red. I had to sit it out and hope none of the passing traffic would clip my rear wheel.
Once at home, exhausted, hungry and very very wet, I got stuck in the bloody lift. These things are meant to try us, right?
Tomorrow, I might catch the tube.
Total distance: 15.72 miles | Ride time: 1hr, 47min and 31sec | Average speed: 9.33mph | Top speed: 20.4mph