Cowardice

Heading through Kidmore End today going north, part of a decent road ride on a classic story-book blue-sky-big-white-clouds English summer day, I passed a ‘Community Grocer’ van.

Blues skies and white clouds

Blues skies, white clouds

Firstly, I thought what a sensible idea that was – that has to be a help to people who’d otherwise be cut-off in villages like that, now that rural bus services are so dismal. Secondly, it made me smile a little bit at the way so much that’s seemingly new isn’t – when I was a very young lad living near Plymouth there used to be a commercial (as opposed to community) greengrocer’s van coming around, and a bread van too. And thirdly, I wondered if the chap driving it was dying.

As I rode by, I caught out of the corner of my eye the sight of a man kneeling in the driver’s seat, seemingly doubled-up as he faced backwards, with his arm across his chest. It was a totally unnatural position to be in. This was as I rode by; by the time I’d reached the village nursery – just a few yards further along – I’d concluded I had to turn around to see if he was OK.

As I rode back I was working out whether it would be quicker to turn my mobile on to call an ambulance or ask the nursery school teachers I could see out in their garden to dial 999. When I drew level with the van I could see the chap was fine: false alarm.

Not long later I was riding through Nuffield. There was a baby bird – probably a blue tit – in the road. I would guess it had just fledged or perhaps been disturbed from the nest. As I rode by a car overtook me and the draught from it knocked the bird over. As it struggled to right itself, I thought it looked injured.

I rode on. It worried me just as much as the chap in the grocer’s van but unlike in his case, I couldn’t formulate a plan of action. I didn’t know what I should or could do if I did go back.

I doubt I could have rescued it; I doubt any bird charity would have taken it in if I had been able to pick it up. I had some vague idea in the back of my mind that if it was fine but I touched it, it would be abandoned by its parents and I’d be making the situation worse. (I have no idea if that’s true.) I feared that if it was injured then the kind thing to do would be to kill it – but that I’d be too much of a coward to do it. And so I rode on – which is just as cowardly.

I can’t say I felt happy with myself; I still don’t. Cowardice isn’t a great trait – to witness in others or to find in yourself. What it boils down to is that I only went back to the grocer’s van because I would have been able to call on the resources of others – the emergency services – to sort it out.