A Word About London Traffic

Author’s Note: (I’ve gotten this uploaded at an obnoxious little internet cafe/headshop. There was a really nice, quite helpful and

The night before, Thursday, I had arrived in London with a Dutch couple I had met at the Herwich train station, where the ferry from Holland (Hoek Van Holland to be precise) had dropped us. Herwich is an old port and has all the charm of a good slum, with some nice English houses thrown in. I’d contemplated staying there before making the journey to London on Friday, but had changed that plan before the ferry had even stopped, based on what I could see out the windows.

The Dutch couple and I had started talking at the station, and they had been exceptionally friendly and helpful throughout. By mid-way to London we had decided to travel to the Hostel together since we’d both been aiming at one of the St. Christopher’s hostels that dot the London area. They had reservations, and I was hoping to find something available with a little luck.

We had wandered down town from the station, taking a detour to look at the office building that Xander (the male of the two) would soon be working in when he had relocated to London, until we reached the appropriate light rail station. These are above-ground rails that lead towards the outer part of the city. They’re timely and clean, and though they don’t allow bikes, the various conductors had taken a look at the overloaded Thog and decided that it was ok, just this once.

When we arrived at the hostel, in Greenwich, southeast of downtown, they had lost the reservations for my traveling companions. The staff made up for it as well as they could by moving some long-term guests around and letting us take their spots. This forced Xander and his wife (whose name was something nice and Dutch, and which I eventually forgot, for I am a loser) to share a bunk. They graciously decided to do so, which gave me a place to stay and earned my heartfelt thanks. There are some really cool people out there.

The next morning we talked to the staff about accommodations in town and they told us about another St C’s that would have open beds. We took the rail into the outskirts of town and made plans to transfer to the Tube (the London Underground) for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately the Tube definitely did not take bikes, so I was going to have to ride from The West India Docks to London Bridge area, via Commercial road.

Let me translate; I would be riding my bike, with full 100+ pounds of pack, through about 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) of an Indiana Jones movie.

Now, for reference, the weight on the bike isn’t so bad on longish straight runs. Once I’m moving I don’t notice the extra weight much. But starting and stopping are much more complicated and energy intensive than I would like, and in London traffic ….

A word about London traffic. The British have two major problems to contend with. The first is that the roads are based on a road plan that accreted around the Tower of London over the past thousand years, as described previously. The second is that the cars have no drivers. Instead, the British, some time during the tail end of the Victorian era, when they were reluctantly admitting that cast iron was not an ideal material from which to make buggies

It’s mistakenly believed that the Enigma code machine that the Germans used to send all encrypted radio traffic in WWII was broken by a primitive computer purpose-built for the job. In reality, this computer was the product of that steering research. By the early 1940s, when the British were finally convinced that cast iron did not make good vacuum tubes, and had switched to glass and cast iron, it was a simple task to convert these prototype computers to decode German Enigma trasmissions. In fact, at the time it was the only thing that could be done with them, since the one attempt to build a Bentley large enough to take one had been mistaken for a luxury liner and torpedoed by the Germans when it went off course and headed for Brazil on holiday.

Eventually, around the end of the British Empire, when their supply of cast iron was finally cut off, the British adapted these computers to steer their cars and made them small enough to fit in them. This was a huge relief, since now the torrent of renegade Bentleys that had terrorized the winding streets of downtown London for generations, spanging off huge granite buildings and each other under only minimal control by their occupants, like some sort of gigantic pachinko game, could finally be brought under control. It was too late to undo all of the damage, like the circular M26 highway that had been built around London to keep ricocheting Britons from shooting off into the countryside and frightening the sheep, but it was definitely progress.

Now the English cars have no drivers at all, and the computer handles the whole kaboodle. Unfortunately there was a slipup in the QA process somewhere, and some legacy code was left over from the Enigma/Ultra days. The end result is that the cars now all drive on the wrong side of the road and occasionally backfire in German, which explains the look of mixed terror and consternation on the faces of the passengers. The British, not being particularly change-agile, have not yet hunted down this fault and corrected it.

I think. I’m guessing.

So, No Shit, there I was in London riding down Commercial street on the extreme wrong side of the road trying to dodge double-decker buses and irate British computers that knew I was in Quality Assurance and would have blocked their release sure as the sun rises had I been able to, sweating profusely in the balmy London grey and wondering if that pain in my lower back was the disk squirting out to the side or a shattered vertebrae rubbing against my kidney, when I crossed the Thames on Tower Bridge and got my first glimpse of the Tower of London and realized that I was probably going to die soon.

When I made it to my destination, Borough-High street, which had been High Street, London Bridge, and Bishops Gate in the last 2 kilometers and would soon be Newington Causeway, Newington Butts, Elephant & Castle, and Kennington Park Road within the next 2 kilometers, I stopped the bike and dismounted by allowing it to tip over until my head rested blissfully on the curb for awhile, wondering if I would ever feel my legs again.

When I got tired of dogs coming by to find out if I was dead, I locked up the bike and went into the Hostel, looking forward to a nice room and maybe spinal surgery. Xander and his wife were already there, and as I entered Xander informed me that the Hostel was already full, that the nearest hostel with space in the UK was in Iceland, and ….

A bright, silent white light enveloped me, and for a moment I thought I could see the face of Dog.

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