I’m cycling to work when my rear brake cable snaps, trapping my little finger momentarily (but painfully) between handlebar and brake. I signal left and pull over to survey the damage. The cable lies forlornly in the street. I don’t know any bike shops nearby, and, as I’ve slept badly and past my alarm, I’m already running a few minutes late. I decide to press on slowly with just one brake.
Minutes later I’m nearly flattened by a black cab which accelerates aggressively to overtake me, then cuts directly across my path without signalling. As the cab speeds away down a side road, its driver honks the horn loudly and shouts incoherently from his open window. I am left standing shocked and panting in the gutter as passers-by newly arrived to the scene shake their heads, clearly under the impression that I’m just another idiot cyclist with no respect for the rules of the road.
Really shaken now, I dismount and cross Hammersmith Broadway on foot. As I wait at a pedestrian red light, someone shouts ‘lucky girl’. It is a young man sitting in the passenger seat of a van. He and the driver of the van, a man in his forties, look very pleased with themselves.
Before I can react, they are gone. I review my appearance: there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly lucky about me today. I am wearing my favourite dress (black with white polka dots, knee-length, V-neck). Black opaque tights. Black brogues. Hair drying into its usual curly hedge. Glasses on top of my head. No shamrocks. I cycle on.
A few minutes later I am freewheeling down King Street when I spot the same van again. It’s pulled over on the left, and the two men are unloading things from the back. I’m almost past them when the young one addresses me again. Except this time he’s closer, and I hear him properly, and its not ‘lucky girl’ he’s saying, it’s ‘lucky saddle’.
I pull over (which takes a while, because I have only one brake), dismount and wheel my bike back to where the men are standing.
‘I’m sorry, what did you just say?’
‘Yes, you did. What was it?
‘It was a joke. I said “lucky saddle”. It’s a compliment, love.’
He smiles and looks to his friend for approval. The older man looks worried.
‘OK. Why is my saddle lucky?’
‘Nothing. It’s just a compliment.’
‘Are you saying my saddle is lucky because it has me sitting on it?’
The man smirks. ‘Yeah.’
‘So you’re saying the saddle is lucky to have my genitals pressed against it?’
‘That’s not -’
‘And, when you say that the saddle is “lucky”, I suppose you mean that you envy it?’
‘No, that’s not -’
‘What you’re saying is that you want to be pressed up against my genitals, is that it?’
‘Listen, you’re taking this too seriously. It’s just a joke. I’m trying to be nice.’
‘I don’t know. A stranger shouts at me in the street, twice, saying that he wants to touch my genitals. That doesn’t seem nice to me. Do you understand why that might actually sound quite intimidating?’
‘Listen, you’re blowing this way out of proportion. Most girls can take a compliment.’
‘It doesn’t feel like you’re trying to flatter me. It feels like you’re trying to humiliate me.’
The man rolls his eyes and winks at his colleague.
‘Oh, that’s what this is about – you’re trying to impress your friend. Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you both just get in the van, take down your trousers, and show each other your willies? That way there’s no need to involve me OR my saddle.’
I get back on the bike and cycle off to work. This has been, without doubt, the greatest feminist victory that Chiswick has seen all week.
Except it doesn’t happen in Chiswick. In fact, it doesn’t happen anywhere except in my head as I sit in the toilets crying before work.
When I leave the cubicle to wash my face and hands, I look in the mirror. There’s a huge smear of black oil across my forehead.