MID-afternoon Monday and the Falls Road is sweltering in the kind of weather we only seem to get when the schools start back. Squinter’s dandering countrywards past St Dominic’s, grateful he brought his sunglasses but sorry he left his hat in the house.
A heat haze rises from the tarmac, throwing the heavy traffic softly out of focus and from the line of vehicles gradually emerges a bloke on a bike, like Peter O’Toole in the opening scene of Lawrence of Arabia, except wearing sports leisurewear instead of a white thawb. Occasionally he’s on the pavement, now and then he’s weaving in and out of the cars and lorries, taking whatever way offers the path of least resistance.
Nothing odd about that – most cyclists see the pavement and the road as interchangeable, after all. But what is slightly odd is that he’s riding the bike with one hand. Not advisable but hardly uncommon, Squinter hears you cry – probably holding his mobile phone in the other hand, or just showing off a bit. But no, the reason he’s only got his right hand on the handlebars is because in the crook of his left arm he’s carrying a
Yes, you did read that right, and no, Squinter wasn’t suffering from heatstroke. This bloke whizzing along the Falls one-handed on a bike had a three- or four-year-old little girl clutched to his side. Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither was helmeted.
Squinter’s not sure what the cycling proficiency manual has to say about transporting small children on your pushbike. ‘Not a good idea,’ most likely, or maybe even ‘Absolutely feckin’ mental,’ because while cyclists are famously vulnerable in traffic, how much greater the danger when you’ve only one hand and one brake and three stone of toddler on one side? It all rather reminded Squinter of the time another bloke and another toddler graced this column. It was the Big Snow of 2011, you may remember, when massive falls were followed by an Arctic blast, leaving the city under two feet of rock-hard permafrost. As Squinter moved his car slowly along the Glen Road in treacherous conditions, out of St Teresa’s church came a man who’d just been to mass with his daughter. He was walking slowly and carefully, as was everybody else, except for some reason he had the toddler on his shoulders.
Squinter’s not entirely sure which would be more detrimental to the health and wellbeing of a young child – being driven one handed on a bike along a busy road under somebody’s oxter, or facing an eight or nine feet fall backwards on to cement-like ice. Squinter has to say the child on the bike probably had better prospects, if only because the RVH was just across the road.