Various sorts of crack

Finally! I was back in work this morning. I couldn’t wait. Even though I didn’t get to sleep till after 1am, I bounced out of bed at 6.20, and clicked effortlessly back into my morning routine of porridge, sandwiches, tea, and watching the sky get light (earlier every morning!). By 8am I was ensconced in my usual coffee shop, sweating from my commute. By 8.30 I’d picked up my first job, and was heading towards the river, beaming.

But at about 9am, on my way back over Blackfriars Bridge, I started to feel a bit unsteady. Hmmmm. “Something’s not quite straight on this bike”, I thought (yes yes, apart from its rider…). I stopped and checked the wheels. They were perfectly (and uncharacteristically) true. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the cranks or the pedals. I examined the forks inch by inch – the bike did feel a bit like it did the time my last forks snapped, so this seemed a likely explanation. And then I saw it – my headset cup had a huge gaping crack in it. Like this:


I rode very slowly to Lawrence’s shop; no one in.

I went to Condor; they said they could get it done by 6. No good.

Same with that uninspiring new place on Clerkenwell Road.

So I wobbled over to Cavendish, and they said the mechanic wasn’t in yet, but he should be arriving within 20 minutes, and could probably turn it around within half an hour. And he did.

And while I was waiting I discovered Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street, where they have amazing cakes filled with cardamom and marzipan and cream, and sweets with names like Skum and Plopp and Spunk, and pictures of ABBA in the toilet. I think I want to go to Scandinavia.

And then I got back on the bike, and had an amazing day.

I often joke that my job is addictive, but I’m beginning to wonder how seriously I should take this. I’m wary of claiming to have what for many people is a chronic, damaging, and even life-threatening condition, but my relationship to cycling seems to have a lot in common with the more traditional addictions.

For example, I’ve been in a rotten mood the past few days, on more levels than I actually realized. I was very much aware of the stuffy, nervous feeling I know I’ll get when I’ve slept and eaten too much, and spent the day sitting still indoors. But it was only when I was riding around in the sunshine (yes, it was sunny today!), feeling that unique combination of exhilaration, calm, inspiration and joy, that I remembered that yesterday I was feeling overwhelmingly negative about my life – dreading the future, regretting the past, and beating myself up about all the things I should be doing, and am not. I’m a terrible invalid. I complain constantly, not only about how ill I feel, but about how fed up I am with not being able to get out and run around. And then I apologize for complaining. And then I complain again. I run out of conversation. I no longer find my friends interesting. I find myself unbearably boring.

I’m still not quite better (my throat and chest made today quite hard work), but I knew I had to get back on the road. I didn’t know how I’d survive another day inside. And, thankfully, all is now well. But what happens if I ever get injured, and have to spend a few weeks – or months – recovering? I’m frightened to think about it. And what’ll happen when I eventually give it up, and find a proper job? That’s always been my intention, but now I understand why people stay couriers for so long – and why some of them repeatedly quit, only to reappear on the circuit within a couple of weeks. How could I go from this, to sitting behind a desk again?

Last year a photography student called Lisa Brambilla documented the courier community in this book. The line that haunts me is from Alex (p.42): “Don’t ever start this job, it’s like crack.”

It is.


2 Responses to “Various sorts of crack”

  1. redbikes Says:

    Any ideas on what you would like to do?

  2. thatmessengerchick Says:

    I’m thinking of trying to persuade some hapless university to take me on. Failing that, I might go to the other end of the scale, and get a job where I have to wear a pinstriped suit…

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