|Once bitten, twice bitten
2 Mar 2001
Known as the bicycling baronet – and MP’s could have unkinder nicknames –I have come off my bicycle twice; each time in the same place and for the same reason.
If you bicycle to the Houses of Parliament along the embankment from the west, the first entrance you come to is at the House of Lords end. It is a tribute to their Lordships that, while the lower House has declared war on them, they still allow us to enter the building at their end.
I give away no security secrets if I say that one’s identity is checked; if in a car, the underneath of it is searched with the use of an ingeniously shaped mirror on the end of a stick - cyclists are spared this indignity – and, if all is well, a man behind a glass screen presses a button. A barrier the shape of an oil drum on its side and sliced in half then lowers itself flush into the ground and the vehicle passes over. A second button is pressed, and the sliced drum returns to the raised position to deter members of the Animal Liberation Front and other challengers to the democratic process.
Going over the barrier in the early months of this Parliament, the gentleman behind the glass screen pressed the second switch as I was bicycling over the lowered drum. The front wheel cleared the obstruction, but the rear wheel did not. The bicycle remained stationary, but its rider – impelled by kinetic energy – continued, horizontally, and then vertically. I landed hard on the cobbles, fortunately with no damage done. I explained to the man behind the screen what I thought of him, in language that the Speaker might have ruled out of order. I picked myself up and went on my way.
On the basis that lightening does not strike twice, I continued to use that route in to the building. We cyclists believe that we should not be deterred from our chosen means of transport by accidents such as this. Riders who are thrown from their horse say that it is psychologically important to remount and continue.
Cycling over the drum a few months later, the fateful second switch was depressed prematurely and lightening struck twice. This time I was going faster; I sailed over the handlebars with a majesty that is fortunately captured on CCTV, strategically installed for security reasons. Blood was drawn; limbs were bruised; clothes were torn; tempers were shorter.
There have been two consequences from these accidents. First, I now do what I should always have done, namely never ride without a crash helmet. Second, I have found another way into the building that does not involve going over a lowered drum. But it does take me under some scaffolding….