Saturday, 29 November 2014
Plebgate et al: what is it about bikes?
When last Tuesday I went to the church in Leeds where we run classes of English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) for immigrants and asylum seekers, there was a bicycle chained to the rail by the South Door. I thought little of it: it certainly didn't impede access. But half an hour later the caretaker interrupted my class to demand if it belonged to anyone and a young Somali chap said it was his (given later events in the week I might have thought "pleaded guilty.") He was asked to move it and did so without any fuss, though for all I know he may have muttered a few Somalian imprecations under his breath.
Then last night I rode my own bicycle to the little amateur theatre where the drama group to which I belong operates. I was there to help with the bar rather than to watch the performance, so arrived early. Normally I chain my bike to a drainpipe outside, but as there was a slight drizzle I took it inside and parked it in the lobby. No-one complained, even though, with my glasses covered in rain-drops I couldn't see very clearly and, in manoeuvring the bike accidentally knocked the star from the top of the Christmas tree. Indeed, people seemed to think this rather a joke, and the house manager for the evening, a gifted young cartoonist, quite cheerfully climbed onto a chair to put it back again amid general merriment.
However, shortly before the performance began our president asked me to move the bike. I explained that I'd brought it inside in order to avoid a wet saddle, which I believe can lead to piles, and was invited to store it back stage. This involved getting it through a door way with a heavy door, then wriggling it round a corner and down some steps. It was difficult enough with the help of the gifted young cartoonist (who felt that the bike by the Christmas tree enhanced our lobby with the air of a John Lewis advert) and even more difficult getting it out again at the end of the performance when, after remaining behind fora bit of washing up, there was no one around to help. However both operations were carried out without any ill feeling or bad language.
Not so poor Andrew Mitchell, ex-Tory minister, who some two years ago was prevented by a policeman from riding his bike through the main gate of Downing Street, which he claims he normally did, and ordered by a policeman to wheel it through a side gate. Strangely enough it was not that in the resulting angry exchanges Mitchell used some very rude adjectives beginning with f. . . that resulted in a court action, but that he allegedly called the policemen "a pleb."
A judge has ruled that he probably did, and he's probably right, since, although "pleb" is not used as a term of abuse by most of us, I'm told it is so used in some of our posher public (ie private and fee-paying) schools, and Mitchell went to Rugby, the one made famous by "Tom Brown's Schooldays."
In coming to his decision the judge claimed that the offended policeman" "would not have had the wit [or the] imagination. . . ." to invent the disputed term. Frankly I'd find that rather more insulting than being called a pleb.
As another Tory MP has pointed out, had Mitchell left Downing Street in the official chauffeur-driven car to which he is entitled none of this would have happened, and he wouldn't be saddled with the loss of his reputation (he was quite a well respected and effective Secretary of State for Overseas Development) or saddled with a ludicrous £1.5 million legal bill.
Just what is it that make people "clothed in a little brief authority" want to take it out on cyclists?