The Independent’s columnist Christian Patterson today described Ghost Bikes as ‘rusty eyesores’. Here, our writer Will Coldwell responds.
The first time I saw it – I understood.
The white bike chained to the railings of Dalston Junction was not to be ridden.
Laden with bouquets in varying shades of brown, with one fresh bunch still tied to the handlebars, this was marking the scene of a death – the death of a cyclist.
And although, as time goes by with the flow of traffic, the bike will decay by the hands of thieves, this simple act of remembrance will be passed on to more than just the grieving family, but to the community itself.
And this ‘Ghost Bike’ will, for the years to come, remind us that a human died, in a way no different from how we have commemorated death since time began; with a symbol of their life, and a point of pilgrimage for reflection.
And someone who had never seen a Ghost Bike before might think that it was simply a bike painted white, but the flowers and cards tell the real story – and they should realize instantaneously, the implication of the objects before them.
They might wonder how it happened, and indeed whether anyone was to blame or not. They will probably realise, as they reflect, perhaps with the bike now out of sight, that blame is an irrelevant thing to a grieving family.
They might find it sinister, to see a reminder of death like this. And that’s because it is sinister when a person is killed, crushed in a mess of metal, swept away by sirens, and forgotten.
Then, one hopes, they will spare a moment of time to consider this, and think of their own loved ones, before slipping away into the pulse of the city.
Because a memorial doesn’t need to be for someone you know to have meaning. The thousands of people who visit the Somme each year can tell you that, or the concentration camps of Eastern Europe, or even those who just sit on a bench in Hampstead Heath with a name engraved on it.
And if that memorial makes you think about how that death, or others like it could be preventable then that doesn’t make it a campaign. Leave that to the lobbyists. A memorial asserts a small pressure on the minds of society simply because we are capable of empathy.
Just sometimes, we need a little prompting.