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Leafy-lane encounter with White Van Man

PUBLISHED: 12:36 16 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:56 25 August 2010

Every time I wheel my trusty old bike out of the shed and head for the twisting narrow lanes that are such a delightful feature in my part of the world, I take my life in my hands. From behind and in front appear those massive machines designed, not for

Every time I wheel my trusty old bike out of the shed and head for the twisting narrow lanes that are such a delightful feature in my part of the world, I take my life in my hands.

From behind and in front appear those massive machines designed, not for Puddledock, Scords Lane or Hale Oak Road, but the mountainous regions of France and Italy - Avengers, Discoveries, Sedonas, Patrollers, Spartacus (I'm getting carried away). And they are driven by a set of people that just did not exist when I was a boy and could cycle in safety.

Worst of all are the commercial vans. I can hear them coming, the revs causing my legs to quivver and my pulse to quicken. You all know what I mean. White van man is imperiously immune to all obstacles. He drives fast and furious and God help anyone who gets in his way. My plan of action is simple. Anxious to live another day, I dismount and, if possible, take refuge in the hedgerow or on the grassy verge.

We live in an age in which the pace of life is double, perhaps treble, what it was. Speed today is important and it is terrifying for those who live, walk and cycle the country lanes. But who is to blame?

I was told the other day that it is down to the introduction of satellite navigation where a female voice takes motorists down the most impossible byways. That, of course, is a modern phenomenon. We could go back a few years and blame David Salomons. He introduced the motor car to our part of the world in 1894 and organised the first horseless carriage exhibition.

He also campaigned to get the speed restrictions lifted. Not satisfied with driving at two miles an hour in town centres and four miles an hour in the countryside he began a crusade that gathered momentum. The Emancipation Act, as it was known, went through Parliament in the late 19th century, giving motorists the right to drive at 13 miles an hour. Sir David was ecstatic and to celebrate he organised a great motor car rally from London to Brighton.

One person we cannot blame is Herbert George Wells, a son of Bromley. In a series of articles for the Fortnightly Review, which he called Anticipations, he wrote in 1900: "The abounding presence of experimental motors is so stimulating the imagination that it is difficult to believe the obvious impossibility of them. Their convulsiveness, clumsiness and exasperating trail of stench will not be rapidly fired away.

"Trucks one day will be used to distribute goods and parcels, and automobiles will be capable of a day's journey of 300 miles or more. The horse and pedestrian will be segregated from the high road.

"When that segregation sets in, higher, profitable, longer routes will be joined up... and the quiet English citizen will read with surprise in the violently illustrated magazines of 1910 that there are many thousands of miles of these roads. And thereupon, after some patriotic meditations, he may pull himself together..."

Another white van has just streaked past and I'm shaking with fear. It is time I pulled myself together!

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