Cambridge is a bustling little city. Many weekends in summer there's some kind of event on, sometimes there are several - and this was the case a couple of weeks back when we had both the Town and Country festival and Arbury Carnival.
I was surprised not to see folk from Cambridge Cycling Campaign with a stall at either - there were many other local groups at both events and they're such regulars at these things that its always odd not to see them. I'll confess I was also a little relieved the Campaign weren't there - I always used to be nervous I'd run in to (then) Councillor Rosenstiel at the Liberal Democrat stall, but I think he kept his head down in this part of the city after putting his foot in it once too often - and I worry rather that the disgraced ex-councillor will turn up at a Cambridge Cycling Campaign stall and I'll end up being one of those too disgusted to stop and talk. As it was, I ended up having a lively discussion with the LibDems at the Carnival, when they made the quite unlikely choice to defend Rosenstiel after I expressed relief he wasn't there. I remain contemptuous of anyone not willing to distance themselves from him.
But this got me thinking about the Cambridge Reality Bubble. Jokingly its referred to as a student thing, but Cambridge is a strange city in many other ways too. I wonder, is a bland acceptance of people acting in ways that would get them ostracised in other cities also part of the same phenomenon, allowing us to have a broad based cycling culture? Is Cambridge Britain's only cycling city not just because of the influence of the University, but in part because this city is, by UK standards, barking mad? Do people cycle here because they're not negatively judged, because you can identify as a 'person who cycles' without that being a negative?
I've touched upon Cambridge Eccentrics before. Several times, in fact. Its not a city where there are a few eccentrics to be aware of, its a town where you just don't bat an eye if a chap walks past dressed as Russian doll, where performance art meets parody on the streets of the city and no one really cares. A town where if you cycle throuh with a giant dragonfly scultpure on your back the only comment will be 'Quick, somebody call an entomologist!' So is Cambridge unique as a cycling city in Britain because fewer people feel the need to 'perform' socially? Is Cambridge a cycling city because its somehow less prone to people worrying about people judging them on appearaces (whether they drive, WHAT they drive, how they dress etc.) than other cities? Free of the social imperative to be judge on what they drive, do Cambridge residents more often than not freely choose to cycle because its a more practical option? And as such, is the problem we face in getting the rest of the UK to cycle not one of identity rather than infrastructure?
The Cambridge 'reality bubble' certainly goes way beyond Reality Checkpoint these days - both spatially (encompassing the wider city and surrounding hi-tech industrial sites) and conceptually (its not just the University now - if it ever was). Do we simply have to accept that this city will remain an outlier both for cycling uptake, and for accepting a range of behaviours that just wouldn't be condoned elsewhere? I don't like either possible answer to that.