I got chatting to a receptionist in Mayfair today (whilst waiting for my Xda to come back from the dead so she could sign for a package), and after a couple of minutes she asked ‘do you do acting?’ My first response was incredulous laughter (wondering where on earth she could have got that idea from), and then I started to wonder which minor celebrity she’d mistaken me for. But it was my voice. Apparently I ‘enunciate very nicely’. Hmmm.
It’s true, I suppose. For better or for worse, I sound like I was brought up on a diet of silver spoons and elocution lessons. And that’s not how cycle couriers are supposed to sound ( how are they supposed to sound?). So she clearly thought I must have some kind of secret double life as a RADA student, or a RSC spear-carrier. Or the women who does the voiceovers for lifts (“second floor … doors opening … please remove obstruction from the doors” (that’ll be my bag)). And that I’m just doing this as my day job. In fact, there was an article in the Guardian just this morning about the alternately tedious and fascinating day jobs artists do to keep body and soul together.
Unfortunately I don’t really have a secret double life, but I know lots of couriers who do. My friend W. is a graduate of UCL, has made appearances on Radio 4 and in Alan Bennett’s Diaries, and is a gifted photographer. My friend N. used to run a cafe, and is capable of colossal feats of vegan bakery – and recently worked as a mechanic on the RAAM. Another courier I know illustrates graphic novels based on Shakespeare plays. Lots of couriers seem to moonlight as musicians and writers. Some of them race professionally. Some of them support families. Some of them probably do things I couldn’t even imagine.
I found myself thinking ‘I bet none of these suits will be thinking any of this when they sneer at us in the lift’ – and then realized that I was dismissing the suits as much as I imagined them to be dismissing us! Because, of course, there’s often so much more to people than their day job. The immaculate banker I rub shoulders with at 11am might well be the Assos-clad lycra lout who leaves me for dust on the Embankment at 6pm. He might compose operas in his spare time. He might speak six or seven languages. He might run a charity that builds wells in Malawi. He might know more about postcolonial theory than I do. He might be going out on the town with his boyfriend after work. I think I’ll give him a smile next time.
On a completely unrelated note, I have started making my own bread – which makes me sound all earnest and earthmotherly and efficient, but shouldn’t, because it’s quite ridiculously easy.
Nonetheless, I have been riding around with a huge glow of achievement and satisfaction all day.