Of nobbers and numpties

Crunch time

Snowfall in Britain is traditionally the signal for all road-going activity to grind to an embarrassing halt; embarrassing because no other country in the snow-affected world seems to have trouble dealing with the stuff.

This evening provided the perfect example. Sometime around 16:30hrs, just as darkness fell and, fittingly, immediately preceding the winter solstice, steady cold rain over my part of south east England turned to a soft, thick snow that settled nicely over roads only recently dried out from the last dose.

Venturing out to buy some crumpets, I had the perfect grandstand from which to watch the antics of car drivers caught out in what were undeniably difficult driving conditions. Although the precipitation was only just cold enough to have turned to snow, it proved tenacious once fallen and, compressed by car tyres, readily packed to ice. This then began to melt, generating a nice lubricating layer of water on top of the ice.

By the time I reached the high street, I had seen one car slide clean across the road, smashing its nearside front into the rear of an unfortunate car parked innocently on the other side, while several others had veered into the gutter as road camber pulled them sideways. Pedestrians were equally vulnerable, especially those wearing high heels and smooth-soled shoes; several went base-over-apex on the slush that walking left instead of ice.

For sure, on such surfaces any driver or walker can come to grief, but there were enough skilled, careful drivers about to suggest that there’s more to it than simply getting caught out. Wearing unsuitable footwear, for example. Or spinning the driving wheels uselessly as they simultaneously polish the ice and slither inexorably into the gutter. ‘Numpties’ do that, but this unkind label indicates nothing more than that the recipient lacks the skill or experience needed to accomplish some particular task.

Your ‘nobber’, on the other hand, thoroughly deserves to be on the receiving end of what is generally meant as an insult. A classic example made his move in an attempt, always doomed to futility, to bypass the vast jam of cars in which he was stuck. Driving a dented base-model small hatch, he pulled out of lane to exit a T junction and attempted to set off semi-sideways along the wrong side of the road, only to find his path blocked by an oncoming vehicle. The catcalls coming his way from vehicles in the vicinity indicated that, in less gentle times, he and his hooded companion might well have become the victims of a lynch mob.

What defines a nobber? I’ll venture that this person may be seen to act in a way that he – it is always ‘he’ – intends to and believes will display expertise and casual mastery when, in fact, it infallibly demonstrates the precise opposite. Like the person who overtook me on my ride home a couple of weeks ago. One of the aspects of riding fixed wheel that both appeals and limits is cadence; to go faster, you must pedal faster and, if restricted to a general purpose road gear of around 72″, even the well-conditioned fixed rider will be close to maximum cadence when riding quickly on the flat.

This leaves him or her relatively easy meat for any fast rider on variable gears with a nice high one to engage prior to clearing off, which is fair enough and something that has to be accepted – by those who are bothered. Anyway, said cadence is bound to be way higher than any expert rider would willingly choose with a lower alternative on offer, which is why the person who passed me while pedalling at 160rpm on gears as I pedalled at, well, around 150rpm on fixed was as good an example of a nobber as one might ask for.

Maybe it would have been less absurd had my tormentor been able to sustain his cadence once I speeded up in response. He was not, and soon resorted to the big ring shortly before turning off down the Old Kent Road to save further embarrassment. Satisfying? I guess, but more than that it was a timely reminder of how easy it is to act the nobber and of what happens when you get caught out.

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