Last weekend, as an excuse to make the journey, I cycled in the sun to the nearby tip and back carrying K’s ancient laptop. It was the sort of morning, with radiant solar power offset by cooling winds, that makes me want to cycle until all I could feel was the buzz of the tarmac and the buffeting wind.
Between the main road and the tip is a 20mph section, where despite touching that speed myself, I was still overtaken by cars, some going at crazy speeds. No cameras, no worries. Finally I arrived at the tip, ignoring the “no pedestrians” signs the staff always tell you to ignore, and witnessed the embarrassment of the Chief Ned saying “oy, watch out! this lady’s SPEEDIN!” Not my embarrassment: his.
(With my six-foot-two, broad build, bricky love handles and remarkable lack of effeminacy, the only situations in which I would expect to be mistaken for a woman on the basis of my long hair are: Oxfordshire; Spain; and the 1950s.)
I asked Second Officer Ned in my deepest growl where laptops should go and pointedly ignored the chief, whose triumph disappeared from all of his face except his stupid grin, which eventually fell off like a comedic afterthought. Of course I must have been speeding. Of course I must be made to feel unwelcome. Of course I was worth making a comment about, making it clear who ruled the public space. After all, not only was I enough of a heretic to not be in a car, but my long hair meant I was probably a woman and therefore fair game for faintly combative comment. Can’t take a joke, love? Well, you’re not laughing now, are you, you chump? You’re just laughable.
The best thing about the sort of person who bellows at (what they believe to be) women in public is that they find the idea of making mistakes about gender utterly abhorrent, so strongly gendered is their universe. And so, while the chief’s remarks ought to have ruined that feeling of clarity I’d had in the pure spring air, yet instead I was warmed by the sense of shamed wrongfootedness radiating from behind me as I turned away from him, and cycled with an even lighter heart, back in the direction of home.