Woman on a bicycle, part 2

I rode about the West End and the City of London a good deal, and enjoyed the traffic. Once, in Manchester, I was cycling to a Hallé concert at which Joachim was to play, when, in a congested part of Oxford Road, I espied him in a cab, with two of my friends, to whom I waved my hand. In great apprehension, the kind old gentleman cried out, “But she will be killed! She will be killed!” Once I was returning from spending two sleepless nights in a caravan in Surry, and I was so tired and absent-minded that, crossing over from Trafalgar Square, northwards from Charing Cross station, I came into collision with a horse-van coming south down the Haymarket. When I picked myself up, a policeman was already there with his notebook, and he seemed puzzled by the flood of assurance from both the van-man and myself that, “It was entirely my fault; I could not decide whether he (she) was going to cross first.” So he asked me if I were hurt and I said no, and he departed. The van-man and I nearly embraced.

I was much interested in reflecting on what my thoughts had been when I saw the crash was inevitable. The interval of time between my realisation of this and the actual impact seemed long. I thought, “Well, this is an accident. Now I know what it’s like.” Then, “Here goes! Get it over!” I rode on to Kensington with only one useful hand, and on cutting of my left glove, I found a very swollen thumb-joint. I went at once to a surgeon who said he could do nothing with it while it was so swollen. So I kept it in a cold-water bandage for a wee and then, as it was still in a very painful state, I went to aManchester surgeon who remarked, “This ought to have been attended to at once; It’s dislocated.” You never know!

This was the only accident I every had that was due to my own carelessness, and I have felt, ever since, the extreme danger that people incur who drive a car when they have been suffering from insomnia. One is apt to go mooning about. Unfortunately, though one may, and should, refrain from driving a motor when one is not fully up to the mark, it is not possible to refrain from all walking on the roads unless one is in good athletic trim. This is a distinction which people are apt to overlook who are more desirous of “blaming the other fellow” than of finding a remedy for the present nightmare condition of the roads.

As recently as 1920, when motors had been on the roads for a score of years, my mother, then ninety, was accustomed to cross Kensington High Street alone with perfect equanimity. When her friends remonstrated with her, she said, ” I am quite safe. If I can’t get across, I just stand still and hold up my hand. No one runs over an old woman who stands still and holds up her hand.” You could not say that now. I developed a sound “road sense” when bicycling, and I always look both ways before attempting to cross a road, but, if I get half way across one of our terribly crowded arterial roads and, finding I cannot finish crossing, stand still and hold up my hand, the angry motorists, furious at being expected to slow down, hoot as if they wish they could blow me off the road, and I proceed only at my dire peril. Far too many motorists run it so fine that they can be sure of getting through only if everyone is mature, agile and alert. It is not possible for all pedestrians to be so, but no person should be armed with a lethal weapon like a motor-car unless he or she is.

Helena Swanwick I Have Been Young Victor Gollancz 1935

Woman on a bicycle 1891, part 1

In 1891 Fred and I took to bicycling and our lives were greatly enlarged thereby. The so-called “safety bicycles” attracted my husband more than the “penny-farthing” had, and the dropped frame adapted it to the skirted sex. By means of these machnes we were able, in ten minutes, to leave Manchester behind, and we scoured the Cheshire and Derbyshire lanes with a radius of twenty miles. There was only one other woman in our part of Manchester who took to bicycling in the same year, and I was frowned on by some of the college ladies until royal ladies took to riding round a London park, and I was suddenly in the fashion.

Near Manchester the boisterous mill-hands would play pranks on me, linking arms across the road to upset me. The only way to cope with this was to avoid looking at them and, putting down my head, charge full tilt, when they would scatter. In London, bus drivers were not above flicking at me with the whip, and cabmen thought it fun to converge upon me from behind. I was once pulled off by my skirt in a Notting Hill slum, and felt a bit scared till a bright idea struck me. I said to the loutish lad who had seized my handle-bar, “I say, they seem rather a rough lot here. I wonder whether you would kindly help me out?” He instantly clutched my arm with his other hand, and bustling along with great dignity shouted, “Now then! Make room for the lady can’t you?” He saw me through and helped me to re-mount with the recommendation “Cut away now, quick!” And I did.

My long skirt was a nuisance and even a danger. It is an unpleasant experience to be hurled on to stone setts and find that one’s skirt has been so tightly wound round the pedal that one cannot even get up enough to unwind it. But I never had the courage to ride in breeches except at hight. Then, oh then, I sang, jubilating with Clärchen: “Welch Freud’ ohne Ende Ein Mannsbild zu sein!” (What glorious rapture to be a he-man!) In Dieppe we saw fashionable women in wide breeches like Dutchmen, strolling about the Casino grounds. But that fashion never caught on here.

Our first machines had solid tyres and only one gear, and no hand-brake or free-wheel. Yet we toured many miles on them. Some of our tours were in Norfolk and others in Warwickshire, the Western Highlands and Normandy. I never rode more than sixty-five miles in one day, but we used to do our forty and fity fairly often. Here again, owing to my husband’s weak knee, I was not a gret handicap to him. I gave up cycling after an operation I had in 1915, but the increase in motor traffic would, anyhow, have necessitated this sacrifice.

Helena Swanwick I Have Been Young Victor Gollancz 1935