Have you ever heard that expression about how the journey is more important than the arrival, or destination, or something like that?
I have no idea who first coined it, but I am absolutely certain that it was a man. Absolutely certain. Without a doubt. Because no woman would have ever said anything quite so ridiculous.
Take yesterday, for an example.
Our friends were in London for a few days and we were meeting them for lunch at a place they liked the look of, near where they were staying. I had never heard of the restaurant, or the street for that matter, so I looked it up and discovered that it was practically around the corner from the American Embassy, right in the heart of town.
Tom says ‘Let’s bike there. It will be an adventure’.
An adventure? Biking through the busiest sections of one of the largest cities on earth?
That’s when I made my big mistake. Instead of saying ‘No’ and knocking this on the head, I said ‘Bike there? Hmm…..well, let’s think about it’, which of course everyone on the planet knows translates into…’No’.
Sadly, not Tom, because the next morning I found him pouring over bike maps trying to figure out the best route. Seems he couldn’t quite decide what we should do at Marble Arch, since getting around it involved cutting across several lanes of, very fast, traffic. Still, he thought we would ‘probably be ok’.
At this point, I realised that I had to inject some sanity into the proceedings so I said ‘Maybe we shouldn’t bike’. He looked at me in horror and told me the only alternative would be to take the car, and that the traffic would be a total nightmare and parking almost certainly non-existent.
Now, I was trying to figure out why the only other alternative to hurtling myself around Marble Arch on a piece of metal and rubber, with absolutely no protection, was to take the car. After all, we live a short distance from two train and three underground stations. Not to mention all those buses. All of which were heading directly to where we wanted to go. But, when I started to point this out I suddenly realised how much he wanted to do this and that he would be disappointed if we didn’t. And I thought about the fact that life is full of enough disappointments as it is without adding any more to the pile if you don’t absolutely have to. And I guessed that we, probably, would be ok.
So we got ready, got on our bikes, and off we went.
Within a few streets it started to rain. Not the full-on rain that soaks you to the skin, but the kind of mist that gets you wet while you are still wondering whether or not it is raining. A few streets after that, it got hilly. The worst kind of hilly. The long, gradual kind of hilly that slowly wears you down and which, yesterday, was even harder to manage because of all that wind.
The weather conditions, however, didn’t seem to bother the buses, because there were millions of them, especially around Victoria Coach Station, which I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised about. What I hadn’t previously considered, however, was how desperately each and every one of those bus drivers wanted to run us over. That was unanticipated.
Still, we survived and got to the relative safety of Buckingham Palace, where every tourist in the known universe was waiting for us. Apparently they had held a meeting earlier in the day and decided that it would be great fun if they all stood on the curb, looked in the wrong direction and, with no warning at all, suddenly stepped out in front of us. They seemed to enjoy it. They must have done, because they kept doing it.
We eventually waded through them and got to Green Park, where we encountered dozens of signs telling us ‘No Cycling’. Frankly, by this point, I didn’t care and so we went in, pedaled up the hill that I had never previously noticed, came out the other end without having been either arrested or fined and made our way the short distance to the restaurant.
When we got there, we discovered that there was no place to park. I know, how ironic was that? Every building on the road was fronted by beautiful black iron railings, all of which had signs saying that bicycles chained to them would be removed ‘without notice’. They didn’t actually say what would happen to those bicycles, but you knew that it wasn’t going to be something nice like a wash and a tune-up. So, we wandered around a bit and eventually found some out-of-the-way lamp posts, chained our bikes up and went inside….
…what turned out to be a very nice place. And found our friends, John and Joan, looking happy and relaxed and very well-groomed.
We, on the other hand looked like people who had just arrived from the gym, without having bothered to first stop for a shower, or a general tidy-up, or a casual glance in the mirror.
And that was when the real difference between men and women became glaringly apparent.
Tom didn’t seem to notice how we looked and, filled with an enormous sense of accomplishment, happily dripped all over Joan while announcing ‘We cycled here’. I, meanwhile, headed off to the Ladies Room, where I considered, but sadly had to reject, the idea of climbing into the hand basin for a quick bath, and settled instead for trying to dry my hair using the hand dryer – an irritating device that cut out every five seconds.
I emerged some time later, looking only slightly more presentable, feeling damp and conspicuous and desperately in need of the wine waiter. It was then that it hit me. The awful truth. Something I had, amazingly enough, never really thought about before.
I had to go home again.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)