I’ve had the mixed blessing of having to go into work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I am obviously luckier than some to have a job but that offered me no protection against the envy I felt towards those working from home. As reduced timetables pushed my daily commute to nearly two-and-a-half hours combined with my pre-existing belief that I am more productive working from home I would trek into work, grumbling about work-life balance, as I passed other people taking advantage of their reclaimed travel travel time by going for a run or a stroll.

It was almost inevitable I would start cycling in. First of all with a borrowed Brompton which I’d use to miss a few stations at the beginning and end of the commute as I built up to using my hefty old bike that would creak and groan as I finessed my form and route to get the daily travel time well under two hours. And I enjoyed it.

Even during this summer’s heatwave I would cycle to and from work, taking it a little easier in the morning to try not to get too sweaty but making it a little more challenging on the way home. I would set little goals. Try to stay in higher gears a bit longer uphill, have secret races with cars that could clearly beat me on the straight but had to slow right down for traffic calming. I’d obsess over segments on Strava, usually wondering why it was so slow when I’d felt so quick. It all added to the enjoyment.

When it wasn’t a fair-weather thing, and I found myself opting for the bike knowing I’d have a headwind the whole way or that I’d get soaked in the rain, I felt I had become a proper cyclist. I was just enjoying it.

And then I stopped enjoying it. I don’t know exactly when. But at some stage I realised I’d not had a moment’s pleasure while cycling for a while. It had changed. No longer free and fun, it had become more stressful. The secret races with cars morphed into constant threat assessment. Do they know I’m here? Are they really going to try to turn left just in front of me? Did they really need to pass so aggressively? And the journey got slower as cars blocked cycle-lanes using them to peek out so they could turn, or drove close to the curb preventing cyclists getting to the head of the line at lights. While I optimistically assume that most of this was unintentional, rather than anti-cyclist, behaviour there isn’t much room for nuance when competing against one-and-a-half tonnes of car.

Looking for an upside I only had one incident of abuse, but that’s probably because that’s mainly reserved for women.

It was also quite notable that it felt distinctly worse cycling in Wandsworth (my commute would take in four boroughs). I don’t know if this was something to do with the nature of Wandsworth drivers or the transport policy in Wandsworth Council. My previous experience suggests the latter, although the recent entitled outcries by drivers aggrieved at cyclist-friendly policies might suggest the former has a part to play as well. It was both sad and sadly predictable that Wandsworth, in so many ways a like a discount version of the current government, would u-turn on its attempts at rebalancing streets in favour of pedestrians and cyclists.

I do, of course, get why people would want to drive. Public transport is filling up and might not feel safe. Time tables are still restricted. Buses a split between schools and everyone else. But the pressures on people to get back to work to save Pret A Manger are there. I get that there are a mix of motivations and that while there are undoubtedly some who fervently believe in their God-given right to drive an over-sized 4×4 on narrow urban stress most are probably just doing what they think is right. And perhaps they are, it’s quite hard to know what is right when the current rules are that you should work from home except that you should go to work but never be with more than six people unless there’s money involved because it’s a shop or a pub when you should wear a face covering apart from when you shouldn’t.

It is just another example of mismanagement, both nationally and locally, the pandemic and its consequences. It just feels a shame that having seen so many benefits of a city with fewer cars bring air and noise pollution we are so desperate lose them all. It does, I suppose, just add one more reason why I rather like home-working.

When I first became a councillor it seemed the big issue – everywhere – was controlled parking. I found myself put onto the Regeneration and Transport Committee, where every meeting was dominated by parking issues.

As a non-driver I won’t pretend I found it anything but dull. Of course, there was a degree of being the callow youth – I’d got on the council to do things, not talk about parking. But perhaps most importantly I’d not fully understood Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum: “all politics is local.” I’d failed to appreciate that, for many many people, this was the most important issue they faced. I was lacking empathy.

Now you could argue they should have had bigger issues, and that might be a perfectly valid argument, but my youthful zeal didn’t even get there – it didn’t interest me and that was that.

I happen to think that my empathy skills are fairly good, and that I just wasn’t employing them. You would certainly think that being older and wiser I’d be much more attuned to them. But my stint of being a new man has made me realise I’m not.

For a start I’ve realised that life as a responsible parent is much much harder and more tiring than I ever expected. Having to give all your attention to a little one who isn’t quite as keen as you are on not making a mess and staying out of danger is, frankly, draining – especially as there is no break. No chat at the water cooler or 10 minutes outside for a cigarette.

And you see the world outside in a totally different light. Crossing a heavily parked street becomes a challenge as you have to navigate not only yourself but a pram safely not only across the road, but between narrow gaps between cars. Even the pavement becomes a potential mine-field when you spot dog-fouling ahead. Any trip must be planned meticulously and contingencies prepared.

And even where buildings are suitable they aren’t necessarily thought through; yesterday I realised it was going to be much easier to drag a pram down the steps of the Post Office than fight my way through the huge queue to get to the step-free exit. Given that there is always a huge queue there I suspect this is a decision that has to be taken regularly.

I would hasten to add that this isn’t just about seeing the bad that people face. I was surprised to get multiple hellos from other pram-pushers I passed, something I would never have got if I had been walking past as a single man. There’s clearly a camaraderie – if not a community – between Battersea’s stay-at-home parents. Sadly I know that my gender and lack of enthusiasm for NCT classes precludes me from full participation in lunchtime gatherings at baby friendly cafés.

And this brings me to cycling. A few weeks ago I was invited to attend some cycle training by the Wandsworth Cycling Campaign. The idea being that if they can educate ‘Movers and Shakers’ (links to a PDF file) about the needs and concerns of cyclists then those needs and concerns are more likely to be addressed in policy-making.

My initial reaction wasn’t eagerness. I know little of cycling but I do know some key facts: I know traffic lights don’t seem to apply to bikes in the same way they do to cars and pedestrians; I know that no man looks good in a cycling helmet; I know that the one time I rode a bike in the last 20 years it left a part of my body (of which I know the medical name but modesty forbids me repeating here) hurting for two days afterwards.

But after the revelation that my empathy needs brushing up, perhaps I should put my ignorance, vanity and perineum (there, I said it, happy?) to the test – if only to remind myself that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t always as easy, natural or straightforward as you might think.