Roadblock on The Regents Canal

For the purpose of this blog we’ll call him Brain. But let’s identify that he does work for British Waterways. Brian is about five foot ten and probably around fifty two yearsold with a full grey beard and  paunch to match. He has glasses which tint with the sun.   Affable would be the description proffered by many.  Not I.  About ten days ago Brian was stood on The Regents canal towpath wearing an official British Waterways  coat.

 Like hundreds of cyclists each morning  I ride the canal but this morning as I approached a small canal bridge on the towpath the pathway was blocked,  full of people wearing   bright jackets  giving out leaflets and talking to bike riders. I did what bikers are instructed to do and in good time rang my bell.  Nobody moved so I  dismounted and worked my way through the bustling and obstructive crowd. “Brian” stood square on in my way talking to another cyclist. “excuse me” I asked.  Brian continued his discussion.   Unmoving he held up a leaflet for me to take. I held out my hand in the the manner to say no thanks and  said “no thanks”.   But brian didn’t move  “Would you take a leaflet” he replied stillholding the leaflet. “No thanks” I replied   

“I noticed your attitude earlier ”  he said.  I paused to let his words settle. Did he just say that.  How in the few seconds of our communication after blocking my way could he come to the conclusion that it was I who had attitude. On what planet is that  valid. In what planet is that not offensive and confrontational.  I regard myself  a calm cyclist. Eventually a woman on a bike requested we sort it out so she can pass.  I noticed that Brian didn’t accuse her of having attitude. I simply left circumventing him.

It was a horrible way to start the day.  Today as I biked home from a wonderful day atthe Southbank I  saw him again but this time I got off my bike and walked up to him. I took off my glasses and asked  politely if I could speak to him.  After about five minutes I revealed my true reason. I wanted to speak to him to ask to whom I should make an officialcomplaint. “The director of British Waterways” he complied. 

We then embarked on a conversation. Here I feedback to him my concern that a young less articulate black man may have heard his “attitude” comment as disempowering and confrontation.  I felt this confrontational approach unsuitable and counter-productive.“but this is why we are doing what we are doing” informed Brian. “It is to stop hot headed bikers from rushing on the towpath and to show them alternative routes.”

It was a flawed response.  “Everybody has got attitude of one kind or another” he furthered.  I wasn’t going to get into semantics. “Let’s just accept our  difference’s of opinion” he said. I think it was dawning on him – the gravity of the situation.  “I’ll accept nothing less than an apology Brian” I said.   “I apologise” he replied. I shook his hand  and got on my bike.   “Will you take one of our stickers”   Brian said. I agreed. And he  placed a luminescent sticker on my bike and I rode on.

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