Hello, long-forgotten blog…
I’ve made this excuse before – but when life is at its most bloggable, blogging is exactly what I don’t have time for. My life has entered an unexpectedly rich and exciting phase over the last few months and that’s why I’ve gone quiet. I’ll try to condense it into a post that isn’t too long.
It all started at a meeting in March in central London that I nearly didn’t go to because I had so much editing work to do. I made it, though, and one of the presentations was on school streets (closing them to traffic during school run hours – something I’d like to see happen in Enfield). The speaker mentioned that in Tower Hamlets, air pollution has reduced children’s lung capacity by up to 10 per cent.
TEN PER CENT.
The talk went on, but I didn’t hear the rest. Ten per cent! It’s outrageous. It’s completely unfair. Why are children in one of London’s most deprived areas paying for our selfishness and stupidity? I remembered a TV programme about 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debra’s death, likely linked to air pollution from the South Circular. One health expert on it said that children are suffering because of ‘convenience and habit’; in other words, because of our addiction to driving. I sat there for the rest of the talk wiping away tears.
I immediately began thinking how I could get more done in Enfield. If only I could give up the day job and focus purely on campaigning! At the end of the meeting I wandered around the room asking people how you got funding to work as a campaigner, a question I have never asked or even thought about before. One person said she’d email me about a job at London Cycling Campaign. I read the email that evening and replied straight away, explaining that it wasn’t for me because it wasn’t based in Enfield. I nearly added jokingly, ‘But if God appears to me in a dream telling me to apply, I’ll think again.’
That night I had an extraordinarily vivid and exciting dream. I knew pretty much from the moment I woke up what it meant, and that conviction grew throughout the weekend. On Monday I got in touch with London Cycling Campaign and applied for the role of Community Outreach Worker. I got an interview, during which my bike was stolen* – oh the irony! but it was worth it, because they offered me the job.
The role is half time, so I can still interfere with streets in Enfield. But for three short days a week I’m based in LCC’s office in Wapping, learning the ropes and getting my head around central London as well. I’m such an Enfield country bumpkin, and so bad at geography, that I might as well be learning about Bangkok. But I’ll get there.
So, six weeks in, how’s it going?
Good of you to ask. Well, I got shingles just before I started, then I spent the first week on antibiotics for a secondary infection caused by the shingles, then two weeks later I got flu and had to work from home while nursing a sick 12-year-old, then a week or so after that I started jury service, but was excused the second week because I got a chest infection. So I’ve only been based at the office for three of those six weeks. But I can still say unhesitatingly that it was all worth it, because I have the Best Job In The World.
I could explain why with dozens of examples. Like having office Bromptons on tap. Or getting to be an actual cycle commuter at last (9 miles each way), with a good train connection for when I don’t feel like being one. Or having my LCC colleagues, mentors and heroes as workmates. Or working in an office on the bank of the Thames in a converted Victorian warehouse.
Or I could describe one particular working week to you and you’ll see what I mean.
Wednesday. Cycle training is laid on for anyone involved in marshalling the protest ride planned for Friday. I came by train so I get to borrow an office Brompton – woohoo! (Am told to use the white one as it’s the least glitchy.) Like all cycle training I’ve ever had, I start off thinking I know it all already, but by the end I wonder how I’ve survived on London’s roads thus far. I now have Level 2 Bikeability – the same level as my children when they were 11.
Thursday. A meeting in Westminster. It just so happens that central Westminster and the office in Wapping are connected by London’s best cycle route, the East-West Cycle Superhighway.** As I glide along the Embankment cycle lane with its iconic views of London Eye and the toy-sized red buses going over Westminster Bridge, I am totally overwhelmed. How can this be my actual job? (Nope, still doesn’t feel real.)
Friday. The staff team gathers at Russell Square to marshal the protest ride. We are supporting Parents for Future, a group supporting the School Strike for Climate kids. The idea is to ride with families cycling to the start of the School Strike march at Parliament Square. (LCC has just named its next big campaign Climate Safe Streets, calling for zero carbon road transport by 2030, so this is pretty appropriate.) I have never marshalled a ride before, never mind one with 300 riders.
Wendy is the ride leader and she is a force to be reckoned with. We pull up to a massive junction, or perhaps it was Waterloo roundabout? and Wendy bellows, ‘Marshals! HOLD THE JUNCTION!
We surge forward and HOLD THE JUNCTION. I’m stopping a whole queue of vehicles with nothing but my bicycle and a friendly smile. 300 people on bikes stream past whooping and ringing their bells. It’s one of the best moments of my life.
I’m having lots of those moments. I can’t believe this job wasn’t invented for me personally, purely for my own entertainment.
But seriously, the more I get to know London Cycling Campaign, the more respect I have for it. I remember coming to an evening meeting (in my role as a volunteer campaigner) about a year ago in the old grotty office in Southwark before they moved to Wapping. I was standing in the tiny poky kitchen looking for a mug to make tea in and I remember thinking, ‘This organisation is changing the world.’ Not in a way that most people would notice or consider important. But it’s important to those of us who’ve realised that making a street better makes lives better – for the very young, the very old, the parent, the disabled, the isolated, the poor, whole communities – and that if you change a street, you change the world.***
This work is a calling. I’m called by someone who cares about this stuff, because every person I’ve just listed matters to him. I’m glad I had that dream. I’m glad I have this job.
*Not locking it to anything may have played a part. I leant it against a sign post and meant to lock it, but I guess my mind was on other things…
**Now called a cycleway, which is a much better label than cycle superhighway, but you might not have known what I meant.
***According to Janette Sadik-Khan, who should know.