I was on the way home from a reunion with a childhood friend. I was planning to change trains at Brighton, get off at Shoreham and cycle home from there, but thanks to a cancelled train it was actually faster for me to cycle all the way than wait for the next train. And I had my bike, so off I went.
I was cycling on the seafront cycle route, just west of the i360. This is a bidirectional cycle route, somewhere between a track and a shared path; a little narrow, and at this point, between the pavement and Hove Lawns. (Street furniture such as parking meters prevent it from being closer to the road, apparently, although to me it seems like there's plenty of space.)
A group of friends were walking along, laughing, chatting, playing with a small ball. At least, that's what I vaguely remember. I wasn't really paying conscious attention to them until one of them dropped the ball, ran to get it and ran straight into the path of a cyclist, and the bike went up, up, up into the air.
The man on the bike, as it turns out, was alright. The woman who got hit had grazes and scrapes and something very, very wrong with her leg.
He was untangled from his bike, and immediately he went over and apologised to her, but gritting her teeth through the pain she insisted that no, it had been her fault. Somebody phoned for an ambulance. Another somebody found the ball and gave it to her to use as a stress ball. "I hate this fucking ball," she screamed, quite understandably. I handed over my hoodie for her to rest her head on; I didn't have much else to give. The ambulance dispatch didn't know when they'd be able to get an ambulance out, because they were busy, but one was coming soon.
We were right beside the cycle path, and even though it was a Sunday, it was the end of rush hour. There had been some kind of event on and all of a sudden there were more and more people coming through, so we stood as lookouts to make sure that we didn't have a second collision. Mercifully the majority of them had the sense of mind to slow down. One woman stopped and asked if she could do anything, but there wasn't much else to be done, so she set off again.
The ambulance arrived, and the paramedics inspected her leg and quickly declared it broken. An IV line was set up, and the gas-and-air machine came out. The police arrived, and started taking notes. They spoke to the woman's friends, and to the cyclist. A fire engine arrived (although, thankfully, that was completely unrelated - somebody had dumped hot coals into a bin after a barbecue). A third paramedic arrived, and after administering more pain relief, they were eventually able to remove her shoes, straighten her leg, splint it, and lift her onto a stretcher. She went off into the ambulance, followed by her friends, and the cyclist and I went home, after taking down contact details to check on her later and after I gave her friend a piece of cake (given to me by the aforementioned friend, who had been celebrating his recent engagement) to give to her, because she would probably appreciate it more than I would.
And I thought.
I thought about how I was the next cyclist but one behind the man involved in the collision, but the man in front of me just swerved around them and kept going, and I was the one who stopped.
I thought about how there was no animosity at all between the woman and the man and the friends. She saw it as her fault, and he saw it as his, and neither blamed the other.
I thought about how so many people had slowed down to see what was going on, but only one had stopped to ask if she could do anything.
I thought about how as we were sat down next to her with the paramedics, a man cycling by shouted at us to 'get out the cycle lane', even though the ambulance with flashing lights right beside us was probably a decent indicator that something had happened.
I thought about how the policeman had commented to his coworker that even though all parties agreed that she had been the one who stepped out, and there was no time for the cyclist to react, that anyone cycling along there should watch out for people crossing the path. I thought about how he was right, in a fashion, because despite it being distinct from the pavement, there are always people crossing from one side to the other, perhaps because it's not quite distinct enough, or perhaps because the path itself is in the wrong place. I thought about how it was odd that you never hear police officers making similar comments about drivers.
I thought about the incredible work the paramedics did, calmly and reassuringly explaining everything they were doing, making jokes to keep the woman at ease, and dealing quickly and efficiently with a passerby who wanted to know if they could have a look at his eye, please, it's sore and a little bit swollen. I thought about ten billion pounds and about an NHS crisis (although whether it's a crisis of overspending or underfunding, nobody can seem to agree).
And I thought just how much worse it could have been if the woman had instead been hit by a motor vehicle on the four-lane road ten metres away.
Mistakes, thank goodness, are not always fatal.