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The London Eye

Chris Neill on zebra crossings, courier cyclists and The Beatles

Published on December 6th 2011.

The London Eye

APART from the man dressed as a wizard who I happened to follow crossing Oxford Circus last week – that I can attest, being downwind of him, smelled like one of his spells had really gone off – most uses of zebra crossings go unremarked. Millions of us make our way across these things on the way to the office or the shops or lunch every day of the week and no one takes a blind bit of notice. 

Least of all courier cyclists who operate a no-prisoners-taken policy when it comes to pedestrians; there they whizz with headphones the size of a GCHQ listening device welded to their ears and who only stop texting to take the time to tell the pathetic types who use two legs rather than two wheels to **** off out of their way.   

I'd like to clarify that I'm not slighting all cyclists who, as a rule, make traffic in London a little less vile than it might otherwise be, I'm really not.  Courier cyclists are Lycra-clad zealots whereas your run-of-the mill non-commercial type of bike user tends to make do with fewer manmade fibres, usually skips the texting until stationary, and is of the opinion that one tiny, twinkling light at either the front or the rear of their vehicle should be enough for you to spot them on a dark, wet night. Let this be my public information message of the week: it's not.

I digress. One particular image of some chaps traversing the black and white stripes has fixed itself in the public imagination as firmly as a courier's conviction that other road users are mere scum to be treated as such (sorry, this really has been bothering me of late). 

The legendary Beatles' album Abbey Road depicts the foursome striding purposefully off to work. The photographer Iain Macmillan was only given a few moments to take the picture one August morning in 1969, but in those seconds he snapped one of all time's most important signifiers of pop music. 


There they go: John, Ringo, Paul and George. So totemic has the image become that almost anything in the frame beyond the Fab Four has proved worthy of consideration, too. The number plate on the car to the left of the picture was stolen repeatedly until it was eventually sold at auction and the chap in the background looking on has even been deemed worthy of mention. A Mr Paul Cole, as you ask.

With some regularity other images from that morning surface from time to time and one I saw recently seems rather sweet. It's taken just before The Walk commences and depicts Paul sorting out Ringo's jacket wayward lapel while to the group's right is a short, middle-aged lady in a housecoat, the kind women of that period donned between the hours of eight am and tea time as if it was a criminal offence not to do so. 

She is having a word with Mr Starr while he's being attended to and it's not clear whether she's there to do the make-up or is possibly some local cleaner out taking a breather from her chores who happens to spot those young chaps her daughter likes so much. Maybe she's telling them just that.

George Harrison seems incapable of seeing anything as his vision is entirely impaired by his hair and John Lennon standing there at the front of the queue with his hands on his hips has lent himself a rather distant, snooty look, only fuelling my irrational dislike of the man further. 

How much longer it was before the biggest pop combo of all time took to putting one foot in front of the other I cannot say (although I'm sure there are types who can) but I can't help myself thinking that Mrs Mop might have been alerting the boys to the presence of the reckless cyclists around that way. 

Without her words of warning who knows? Maybe one of all time's most recognisable album covers might have alternatively depicted a member of the Beatles going flying while rushing into the distance pedals another young man on a bicycle turning back to yell that they're only lucky text messages hadn't been invented yet.

Chris Neill is a comedian and broadcaster. You can make him feel more popular than he actually is by following him at @chrisneill on Twitter.

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