It’s ok to kill people as long as you do it by car

In August 2011, 75 year old Audrey Fyfe was cycling in Edinburgh when her bike was struck by a car driven by Gary McCourt. Mrs Fyfe somersaulted through the air, hit the ground, and died in hospital two days later. Mr McCourt was found guilty of causing death by reckless driving and was sentenced to 300 hours of community service, and given a 5 year driving ban.

Reasonable for a first offence that resulted in someone’s death? Mrs Fyfe’s family said they didn’t think a prison sentence would help and they wanted McCourt to get a lifetime driving ban. Some people might agree that he got an appropriate sentence for a first offence.

But this wasn’t a first offence. In 1985 Gary McCourt struck and killed a cyclist, George Dalgity, in Edinburgh, only about a mile from where he would later hit Audrey Fyfe. McCourt’s car struck George Dalgity so hard he was thrown to the other side of the road. He didn’t stop to help – he scarpered. He was caught, convicted of careless driving and sentenced to two years in jail although George’s family believe he only served 8 months. He was also given a 10 year driving ban. He didn’t learn from it though, did he?

If I had killed a cyclist through careless driving, I’m not sure I’d ever want to get behind the wheel of a car again. But if I did, you can bet I’d pay a bit more attention around cyclists in the future. There would be no “momentary lapses of concentration.” I would be giving them as much room as I possibly could because I would not want to kill again. George McCourt, however, didn’t seem to care that his reckless actions had killed once, and he went on to kill again.

And all he got for it was 300 hours of community service and a five year driving ban. He should not be allowed control of so much as a spacehopper for the rest of his life, let alone a car. He’s shown twice that he can’t be trusted to drive safely. And given that when he hit George Dalgity, he ran, do you think he’d have stopped if he’d hit Audrey Fyfe in the wee small hours instead of the busy early evening?

The Sheriff who presided over the trial should be ashamed of the ridiculously lenient sentence he passed, and he should be ashamed of his sentencing remarks.

I take into account that the accused has repeatedly expressed genuine remorse for causing the death of Mrs Fyfe.

I take into account that the accused has been ill and has suffered from depression and that he displays signs of post traumatic stress disorder.

Mrs Fyfe wasn’t to blame in any way for the accident. However, she was not wearing a safety helmet and that, in my view, contributed to her death.

Where to start with those remarks? Gary McCourt might be genuinely remorseful. I have my doubts. Did he not feel genuinely remorseful after he killed George Dalgity? Because if he did, you’d think he’d have been taking a bit more care. McCourt has been ill, depressed and has signs of PTSD? That must be horrible for him, but those things, like Audrey Fyfe’s death and George Dalgity’s death, are a result of his actions, and he should be sentenced according to the offence he committed, not how unwell he feels afterwards. Mrs Fyfe wasn’t to blame in any way for the accident. No, she wasn’t. Gary McCourt was entirely to blame for hitting and killing her. (I hesitate to call it an accident because that implies it couldn’t have been prevented, when clearly the collision could have been prevented if McCourt didn’t drive like an arsehole). And as for the helmet remark – Audrey Fyfe’s lack of helmet did not contribute to her death. What contributed to her death was being hit by a car. Bike helmets are only effective in low impact collisions – the sort of thing that happens if you topple over sideways while stationary. For anything faster than that, they’re useless, and possibly worse than useless (the slidey shiny smooth surface of a helmet can cause the head within it to scoot rapidly across the ground, causing shearing injuries to the neck). There’s lots of evidence about the effectiveness and non-effectiveness of bike helmets, most of it contradictory and lots of it poor quality, but even the helmet manufacturers themselves say their helmets only protect in low-speed impacts. Somersaulting through the air and landing on your head on tarmac is not a low speed impact and wearing a helmet would have made no difference.

Sheriff James Scott was wrong to state that Mrs Fyfe contributed to her own death, and if he took that false belief into account when sentencing, he has been overly lenient. The only person who contributed to Audrey Fyfe’s death was Gary McCourt and Sheriff Scott has done her (and George Dalgity) a massive injustice by not banning him from driving for life. But then, he has form for taking the side of the motorist against the cyclist they kill or injure.

Time for a hip update

That’s an update about my hip, not an update which is bang on trend, cool or fashionable.

I went back to work after the fracture was diagnosed, asked for (and got) an occupational health referral, and the OH assessment was a telephone conversation with a nurse who actually said “You obviously know more about managing this than I do.” 🙂 But it was useful because I then had something official to use in negotiating what I could and couldn’t do. Not that my boss was being difficult, she was being very supportive, but given our sickness policy, back-up helps. So we agreed that I could do shorter days if need be, no manual handling until at least the end of Feb, and to be guided by what I felt I could and couldn’t do. The shorter days was brilliant; I didn’t take advantage of it very often, but I was very tired a lot of the time, and combined with the effects of the co-codamol, one day I actually fell asleep at my desk. I just conked out where I sat. I had to be taken home, where I went to bed and slept for several hours. Co-codamol, by the way, is horrible. I’m not going into details about the side-effects, because they were somewhat embarrassing, so let’s just say I had to go back to the GP and the treatment was suppositories.

My lovely boyfriend and I went to Skye for a few days at the end of Feb. We couldn’t do any walking or cycling because I just wasn’t up to it (and the weather was vile) but I was managing short distances without my stick by then and it was nice to just have some time away.

By the beginning of March I was doing without my stick altogether. I’d have given it up earlier but for the risk of ice; as long as it was icy I wanted the additional support. I was walking slowly, with not much power – I remember trying to walk into the wind one day and going so slowly I could have been overtaken by a glacier if there had been one nearby. But I did get back on the bike, doing very very short distances, and by mid-March I was commuting by bike a few times a week. But my hip still didn’t feel right, and in fact still doesn’t. I don’t have a full range of movement in the joint. Flexion is fine, I haven’t assessed my extension, external rotation is limited, abduction is limited and external rotation while in flexion is ridiculously limited. I had to go for a smear at about that time and I couldn’t get into the position – I had to get several pillows under my right leg to support it because my hip joint couldn’t cope at all. And sitting on the saddle of the bike didn’t feel right either – still doesn’t – the parts of me that are on the saddle that are not my ischial tuberosities, the more forward groiny parts don’t feel symmetrical on the saddle – I feel like the right side is sitting on much more prominent bones. Plus, I still have an almost continuous ache in the fracture area, and intermittent aches around the femoral head. So I referred myself to community physio. I was at my GP about something else in mid-March (possibly about the side-effects of the co-codamol, now I come to think of it) and mentioned the joint problems to her. She did a quick exam and looked at the range of movement and offered to contact the community physios and ask them to move my appointment to the community specialist ortho physio team, because she thought my symphisis pubis might be knocked out of alignment.

The Commie Pool opened again at the end of March so I started doing some yoga and pilates, thinking it would be a good way of strengthening the muscles around the joint in a controlled, non-strenuous way, and hoping it might help with any alignment issues. I don’t think it’s made things worse, but I’m not convinced it’s helped. It did make me realise just how limited the range of movement is though. I can’t sit cross-legged for more than about ten seconds, and when I do my right knee is pointing to the sky because I can’t get my hip down any further. And one day at yoga we were on our backs with our legs up the wall and then abducting our hips, widening our legs further and further apart – the difference in the movement I could do with each hip was nearly hilarious. If you imagine my legs on the wall as the hands of a clock, it was about seven minutes past nine.

So, things continued much the same while I waited for the physio appointment. I wasn’t doing more than about 4 miles at a time on the bike because it just hurts too much. My lovely boyfriend and I cycled down to Portobello last weekend and I’m not sure what the passers-by thought of me saying “ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch” along Brighton Place – when you have a sore groin on a bike, cobbles are not a good thing. I didn’t do the Pedal on Parliament either, because the thought of the entire cobbled Royal Mile was just too much.

Anyway, I had my physio appointment last week. She did a check of my range of movement on my right side and didn’t seem to think it was too bad until I said yes, but see what I can do with my left side, and then she realised how much worse my right hip is. She then said if she’d seen the referral when it came in, she wouldn’t have accepted it, because really I need to go back to the Infirmary for ortho assessment there – she thinks the fracture might not have healed. That might be the case, but given how the area feels, I think the GP’s right – I think there’s a misalignment in there somewhere. So she’s referred me back to the hospital, and I’m back to waiting.

Girls’ things are shameful for boys, I see

Oh the horror! Chris Hoy’s first bike was a girl’s!

Chris Hoy is a wonderful athlete who has achieved incredible cycling success, and he seems like a nice guy too. His parents must be incredibly proud of him. But isn’t it a shame that his mum seems to think the fact his first bike was a “girl’s bike” (whatever that is, it’s not like frame shape makes much difference to primary school kids) is something amusing/embarrassing/shameful, or at least that’s the tone the Edinburgh Evening News have given it. Mind you, it’s a pretty crap paper these days.

This throwaway piece has pissed me off. The tone of it is just more of the “male/masculine = default state = good, female/feminine = variant state = lesser” culture that’s all around us. Putting aside the gender stereotyping of girls’ things and boys’ things, we all know that girls who like boys’ things are regarded with affection for their tomboy ways. Boys who like girls’ things are treated with derision. Tomboy’s a much nicer word than cissy. A girl who wants a boy’s bike, a toolkit, a football – well, she’s viewed as energetic, brave, refusing to accept limits, wanting to be as good as a boy. A boy who wants makeup, sewing kits, ballet lessons – he’s an embarrassment, he should be shamed out of his preferences and sent off to boxing lessons.

So the idea that an Olympic medal-winning cyclist started on a girl’s bike – well, that must be so embarrassing for him.