Why soaps won't wash with me: a cyclist comes clean
Q. What do Coronation Street, Eastenders and Emmerdale have in common?
A. They’re all soaps?
Q. Yes, yes. What else?
A. They all have a pub in which characters consume alcohol well above the safe drinking levels advised by all the health agencies?
Q. Can you give me more?
A. Er, they’ve all featured storylines in 2010 that involved one established character murdering another?
Well, yeah. Okay, I’ll tell you. Nobody ever rides a bike in any of them. Obvious, really.
I know soaps aren’t meant to represent real life, but can it be right that in the three communities of Salford, Walford and… Emmerdale not one person has a push bike? And what does this have to do with a cycling blog? Okay, let me explain:
One of the many unrealistic conceits of the soaps is that almost everyone seems to live within comfortable walking distance of their jobs: Kevin and Sally’s places of work are even next door to each other; Molly used to work at Dev’s, barely twenty paces from her house; Tyrone could see the garage from his house etc etc. And even when they change jobs it’s usually for another one on the same street: tired of working at the Kabin, Tina? Here, have a job at the Rover’s. Tired of working at the Rover’s, Michelle? How about a completely unrelated role at Underworld? Eastenders has the Arches, the launderette, Ian Beale’s food outlets, the Minute Mart, that beauty place and, of course, the Queen Vic – all staffed by residents of the square (although I’ve still no idea where Tracy lives, bless her, even after all these years). Over in Emmerdale, Eric’s machinists lose their jobs, but worry not as many will find employment at a chocolate factory that springs up. Or the Woolpack (or garage or vet’s).
Where am I going with this? Well, personally I’ve always worked at places I could cycle to from home. For most of these places I’ve also taken the bus or driven my car, and for every one I’ve been able to walk or even – in a pinch – run to work if necessary. During the recent heavy snow there was a bit of a theme that developed on the local BBC radio station. Many schools closed for three, or even four, days and the daytime presenter, and a number of his listeners, had a pop at teachers. There was some suggestion that teachers couldn’t get in to school because they lived too far away to travel safely in the bad weather. This may well be true for some, but the decisions taken higher up to close schools had little to do with individuals’ travelling arrangements and more to do with the safety of the children. (I shall stay out of any further discussion on that matter.) But what was most amusing was the idea put forward by more than one listener that teachers should live right near the school they worked at so that they could just roll out of the front door and through the school gates in a morning. I think they must have been watching too many soaps. So perhaps that’s why not one cyclist lives in soapland: they just don’t need a bike to get to work.
But surely somebody – anybody – could own a bicycle even for pleasure in Coronation Street, Eastenders or Emmerdale? If you lived in soapland wouldn’t you expect to pick your way through a mangle of BMX and mountain bikes scattered on the flagstones outside Norris’s Kabin, or Viv’s post office or Kathy’s café? But no, not a bike in sight. How do the producers and others decide what characters to introduce from one year to the next? Might the conversation go something like this:
Characters from some ethnic background or other?
Like duh! And you want on-screen kisses, yeah?
What? Just the one?
What about having a character who uses a bike for getting to work, or just for pleasure?
Hey now hang on a minute. Let’s not get carried away here!
All we’ve had is that mountain bike in an old title sequence on Emmerdale, Graeme messing about with some contraption he used for cleaning windows (sorry, doesn’t count) and Kevin Webster’s dad being in that Yellow Pages advert from years ago. Surely it’s time to pluck a story from some other part of the media? What about the rise of the MAMIL? There must be some fun to be had at the expense of at least one of the characters wearing Lycra and holding in a bit of middle-age spread? I can imagine Dev wobbling away on a De Rosa, Bob stomping the pedals on a Bianchi, and Max getting his leg over a Milani. (Well he needs a new bike now that Stacey has left, and with Vanessa surely not far behind. Ouch. Saucer of milk for Christopher.)
The most recent methods of despatching murder victims have been through the use of blunt instruments in the urban settings and a shotgun out in the country. But various modes of transport are also useful in soapland, apart from their obvious utilitarian role of moving people about from one place to another. Pretty much every vehicle has been used to kill off a character after the actor or actress playing them asked for a better contract or more interesting storylines:
Train (oh, no he’s still alive that one, isn’t he?)
There has probably been the odd tractor mangling hasn’t there?
I have an idea for killing off a character in 2011, for which I expect no royalties in return. It would need to involve one of the means of transport listed above, but in conjunction with the bicycle. You see killing a cyclist is met with the most lenient form of punishment in comparison to any other method of homicide (or, ahem, accident). Don’t you see? What about this? Dev gets the insurance money for the shop, has a mid-life crisis (yes another one) and buys a flash carbon fibre road bike. He rattles over the cobbles and then whizzes along Rosamond Street. Becky, hearing that the CCTV recording wasn’t destroyed after all, thinks that Dev knows she looted the safe. She drives in to him (wait a minute – can she even drive? No? Perfect) ideally in one of Steve’s cabs (another provider of employment for the locals). Even better, she runs him over on her husband’s motorbike. Oh, no, wait a minute, Kylie sold it to that unpleasant man, didn’t she? Anyway, there are two ways this could go: she wipes the car then torches it on the Red Rec pretending it was the work of joyriders. Or – if she does get caught – she claims it was an accident and throws herself on the mercy of the courts.
Because the courts can be quite merciful to motorists who kill cyclists. You can Google plenty of cases for yourself, but this one says something about the attitudes expressed when cyclists are killed by motorists. There is also the suggestion that cyclists who don’t wear a helmet, or high visibility clothing, are asking for it. It reminds me of the defendant’s counsel asking the alleged victim of a sexual assault whether she was wearing a miniskirt at the time. I wonder how long this sense of culpability or contributory negligence will remain.
Anyway, back to my storyline. The beauty of it is that all the soaps could use the same one. Don’t believe me? There is the possibility that the garage owner cuckolds employee, female character exits soap: Kevin/Molly/Tyrone; Phil/Manda/Minty. Oh, wait a minute. That ended up being all in Minty’s imagination. (Admittedly, in Emmerdale it would have been harder for Cain to follow their lead; his co-workers are either a. gay; b. his daughter; c. mostly in prison.) Hey! I’ve just read that Manda rode a bike. She taught yoga and pottery, too, so the three things together marked her out as an odd bod and the actress left after her one-year contract expired.
But I digress.
Look out for that storyline in 2011, and remember you saw it here first
Resolutions for 2011: watch fewer soaps; get out on bikes more