I put one toe onto the pavement outside our Paris flat. I am holding La Fille's hand as if her life depends on it because it does. We step two paces out and are nearly flattened by a mad motorcyclist racing down the pavement. I have a sense of déjà vu: didn't the same thing happen yesterday and the day before and the day before for as far back as I can remember? I have been here before. What's more, I am reasonably certain the same thing will happen tomorrow and the day after and it bothers me that by the law of averages, or even Murphy's or Sod's laws, the chances are one of these days we are going to take a hit.
Sometimes, just to vary the risk, we go out the back door. This pavement is marginally safer. Being narrower the motorbikes, scooters and cycles cannot get up a good speed, but they often swerve off the road on to it to dodge a parked delivery van or traffic light queue.
The walk to La Fille's nursery is a daily heart-stopper. The other morning, having dodged the motorbikes, scooters and 20kg Ve'Lib cycles hurtling past the front door, we were forced into the main road because of a car parked on the pavement, ran a dash-of-death across a 'green-man' pedestrian crossing that every motorist ignored and were nearly wiped out by a car jumping a traffic light a good five seconds after it had turned red. I had only just stopped hyper-ventilating about that near miss when a cyclist swerved around the halted cars and nearly ploughed into La Fille.
I dropped her off at the nursery and, still shaking, met up with a girlfriend for coffee. As we walked along the pavement a scooter headed directly for us, swerved at the last minute and nearly flattened her dog. Both of us shrieked simultaneously and shouted at the rider. He yelled something that sounded like "Ta geule" (Shut your face), the French pavement assassins' insult of choice, revved his scooter and sped off slaloming between pedestrians.
My friend said she saw the same thing happen recently in front of several police officers who just stood and watched. When she remonstrated with them one shrugged and said: "What do you want us to do? It happens all the time." She said: "But that doesn't make it legal," and asked if their apathy indicated an official tolerance of dangerous driving on pavements. She was told: "Not exactly, but it depends on how much traffic there is on the road..." We'll take that as a "Yes" then.
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