When I was a junior reporter, I went everywhere on my push bike. Sometimes I felt so embarrassed about arriving on it to interview somebody that I would hide it round the corner and walk the last few yards. My car? I would say to people who thought I had parachuted in from nowhere, Where did I park it? God, it’s so difficult to find a space, isn’t it?
Trouble was, I couldn’t drive. Actually, I could drive perfectly well, except that the local driving examiners didn’t share my opinion. And, really, what did they know? I mean, they’re such prima donnas. One of them had hysterics just because I backed up on to a pavement and then drove along it for a bit. One of them kept putting his foot on the brake every time I came up to a set of traffic lights, and another got out of the car when I finished a three-point turn and refused to get back in.
So, like I said, I spent a lot of time going places by bike. Which I mostly didn’t mind, except when it rained. I liked being able to talk to people as I rode along; people cutting their hedges, or walking their dogs, or coming out of banks with stockings over their heads and carrying bags marked swag. No, scrub the last. That never happened, although there was one never-to-be-forgotten morning when I cycled past an enormous traffic jam being gradually brought to order by several rather flustered looking policemen. I knew some of them, but rather to my surprise, none of them responded to my jolly greetings as I threaded my way through the skewed cars and on to the office. Once there I was greeted by the chief reporter with the kind of enthusiasm that he normally reserved for a mass murder (not that there were any on our patch; we just read about them in the national dailies). ‘Well?’ he bellowed. ‘Well? Well? Don’t keep us in suspense. What’s happening up there?’ I looked at the ceiling and then again at Max. ‘Up where?’ I asked uncertainly.
‘Up near your house,’ he said ‘Where do you think? The bridge, the big road bridge, girl, it fell down at about seven this morning. Absolute carnage. You must have cycled straight past it. Did you get any interviews? I’ve sent the photographers up, but the traffic jams are hell. I want everythng you’ve got.’
The bridge. I pawed weakly at the fog in my brain. Had something happened to the bridge? Trouble was I had spent most of my journey thinking about, well, stuff. Like what it would be like to interview Warren Beatty, or possibly Neil Armstrong, and did Derek, the head printer, really strangle moles for a hobby? I hadn’t noticed the bridge (or sudden lack of it) at all.
I suddenly became aware that the other two reporters were looking at me, and there was that kind of silence and feeling of slowed down time that you get when you’re playing netball or rounders and the ball is coming straight at you and….I shook my head. ‘It’s really bad, Max. I couldn’t get anywhere near. I’m just checking in, and I’m going straight back up there again.’
‘Nobody can get through,’ he snapped.
‘I can,’ I replied loftily. ‘I have my bicycle.’