Since moving to London, I have witnessed precisely two motorcyclists being knocked off their bikes by oncoming cars, and both times I have felt at least partly responsible, though thankfully not for any reason that could see me in court. No, I operate on a more philosophical plane.
The first time was when walking home from work along Holloway Road. For the uninitiated, Holloway Road is a greasy and congealed artery that links the much lovelier areas of Islington and Highgate. Although there’s a large branch of Waitrose fighting for gentrification, it’s mostly greasy spoon cafés and fried chicken takeaways with suspect names that sound like unsavoury sexual acts, like “Lickin’ Finger Chicken” and “Chicken Cottage”. It’s the sort of area where one might go to get stabbed, if one didn’t feel like making the trek to Hackney.
So, anyway, I was walking that way from work when it was still daylight and the stabbing risk was still low, and I thought to myself “God, this is a boring road. Nothing interesting ever happens on this road, I wish there was something other than crappy shops to look at”, at which point a motorcyclist pulled out in front of a car and promptly skidded to a halt in a heap only a metre or two away from me, his limbs at unusual angles, twitching slightly.
Now, I don’t think anyone could argue that I didn’t bear some responsibility for that. Not all the responsibility, just some of it – I didn’t actually specify what the nature of my entertainment ought to be, I’d have been fine with maybe just a near miss rather than a head through the windscreen, but still, it’s hard to miss the connection between my thought and the event itself. For the rest of the walk home, I just tried hard not to think much about anything.
The second time was a little more abstract. I had ordered a curry online (online because I am FROM THE FUTURE) from a local Indian takeaway, and had dithered a fair bit because, well, that’s what I do every time I order takeaway. All those choices, it’s a mystery to me how anybody does it without constant fretting. The dithering this time took the form of whether I should have rice or whether the naan bread and poppadom I was also ordering would do the job. Eventually I made the decision (I went rice-free) and sat back to wait. About 15 minutes before the meal was due to arrive, I went to look out of my front window to see if I could see the delivery man, and as I looked out of the window I saw him, and then saw him drive out into the path of an oncoming vehicle, take said vehicle full in the face, and come crashing to a halt in my driveway.
I am ashamed to admit that my first thought was not “I had better call an ambulance, I hope he is ok” but “I hope that wasn’t my dinner”. I don’t feel very good about that, so let’s gloss over it.
Events unfolded as I watched from my window. Concerned civilians called for an ambulance and organised traffic, trying to appease the angry drivers beeping away, outraged at the audacity of someone having the temerity to crash in their way, and I thought to myself how this could have been avoided. Obviously, the motorcyclist could have looked both left and right before pulling out, but — what if I’d ordered rice? What if, instead of having that sudden and unprompted internal discussion about the nature and purpose of the presence of rice in a sauce-based meal, I’d have just ordered unthinkingly? Well, I would have placed my order at least five minutes sooner, so the delivery man would have left the takeaway at least five minutes sooner, and may have missed the car completely.
My thoughts continued in that fashion as I went back throughout the day, looking for ways in which I could have prevented this accident by just acting with purpose instead of so much pondering. I came up with about 20 events, and then I ended up wondering what other calamities I had caused but not witnessed, but at that point there was a knock at my door and I realised that a delivery man had arrived with my dinner, so either I wasn’t involved in this accident in any way after all, or Chilli and Spice of Archway Road offer outstanding service. Either way, it was a good meal, and I didn’t miss the rice at all.