I've always been mightily impressed at the power of the zebra crossing in the UK. My first ever trip to the UK was to visit my aunty and uncle in Liverpool, and on the Saturday, we were brought shopping in the city centre and crossing a road for the first time I was astonished to see the cars will slow down from the moment you begin your right angled turned approach to the road side. They'll stop altogether if you've got just one foot in the zebra crossing. Just one foot. We tried this out multiple times, standing with one foot on the crossing and not moving a muscle, then backing away and giggling when the drivers got understandably miffed.
However, the black and white stripes don't seem to have quite the same effect in the north London area, as cars merrily whizz past without a care in the world for the plight of the pedestrian trying to get from one side to the other. I am therefore incredibly nervous crossing at our zebra crossing outside The Apartment Of Co-Habitation Outside of Wedlock, and instead hover at the edge, waiting for a car to give an indication that they might be willing to let me cross without flattening me. Most drivers drive through without stopping - I'd say 2 in every 3 cars that past - but eventually someone will at least slow down and flash their lights to show that they're willing to let me live to see another day. I usually acknowledge this with a cheerful wave and run to the other side as quickly as possible, just in case I am an unwitting participant in a game of chicken.
This morning, then, I was half way across the zebra crossing, and a nice woman in a small white car slowed down, but didn't flash lights, so I didn't take the chance of stepping out into the traffic until she was actually stopped. I was mid-wave and mid-crossing when I realised that the motorbike speeding up the road behind her was not going to be able to slow down, let alone stop, before reaching us and I instinctively sprinted across the rest of the crossing and almost pressed myself into the wall on the other side. The sound of the screaming of brakes and the skidding of wheels was quickly followed by the sound of cyclist and motorbike screeching along the road on their respective sides, and the screaming of a woman on the other side of the road who thought that the bike and driver were about to collide with the small white car. After less than a second and more than a century, the bike came to a crashing stop, hitting both the back wheels of the stopped car with an almighty thudding and a sickening clash of metals. The bike rider continued his slide along the road, eventually coming to rest underneath the car itself.
The entire world stopped for a moment and a lifetime.
Then, the bike rider crawled out from underneath the car and started brushing himself down.
I walked away towards the train station. I didn't stop shaking for about 20 minutes afterwards.
I'm crossing at the lights at the bottom of the road from now on.