I haven’t been around much lately. Sorry.

As I’ve probably mentioned, there’s not much of a living to be made out of couriering these days, so I have another job to make up the surplus. That keeps me busy for ten hours every Sunday. And if any freelance work comes in on top of that – well, things being as uncertain as they are, I’m very reluctant to say no. So for the past week or so I’ve been doing a full day on the road, coming in, working on the computer till bedtime, and then getting up and doing it all over again. It sometimes adds up to a 75-hour week, which is ridiculous.

But I’m not really complaining. There are lots of other people who do the same thing – and some of them have even more commitments than me, like families and so forth, or jobs that actually involve some skill and talent. And we’re all a heck of a lot better off than the poor sods trying to live on couriering alone. A friend told me the other week, with some pride, that he’d managed to get his entire weekly shop for £6.47. (I think it consisted mostly of pasta, own-brand Weetabix and very cheap bread.) At least I can pay my rent on time, and have a coffee every day without feeling guilty, like I used to when I didn’t have the back-up job.

But I have mixed feelings about all this work I’m doing. In a way it’s quite exhilarating – I like living to extremes, working hard and being busy, and it’s very satisfying to get to the end of the day and know that you’ve made every hour count. And yes, not having to worry about going bankrupt is a huge bonus. But there’s also the nagging sense that I’m missing out on the fun bits of life – and that I’ve somehow failed in being a courier if I don’t live it 24/7, and have to have a second job to support my first one. It’s bollocks, I know – I still do 50 hours a week on the road, and there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ courier anyway. And one of the dubious advantages of work being slow is that I get a lot of my downtime in between jobs – I’m reading more, exploring hidden corners of London I never spotted when I was racing past them with four jobs on board, and even rediscovering the cafe-hopping I used to enjoy as a student.

But I do sometimes wonder, as I race home from a quiet day of snoozing in parks, to sit up all night stressing into a laptop, whether I’m getting it wrong. What would be my other options? Well, I could bite the bullet and try and talk myself into a management conslutancy [accidental typo; deliberately uncorrected] job – and join the ranks of my uni friends who are perpetually complaining about 12 hours of meetings a day, and backstabbing each other over cocktails, and looking forward to their two weeks’ holiday per year, which they’ll spend comatose in a £500-per-night villa, because they’re too knackered to wake up and appreciate it. Or I could quit all the jobs except the cycling, and just get used to living on nothing again. it can be done, and it’s curiously restful – you never have to worry about what to spend your money on, because you don’t have any. Decision-making becomes gloriously simple. But it’s tough. And there are always unplanned expenses, like dentistry and council tax. And you can never tell when something’s going to go wrong with your bike. (Aga’s frame suddenly snapped last week – I’m not sure if she has a new one yet. And I know people who can’t even afford to replace their tyres.)

There’s a big new freelance contract on the cards, and I had a chat with the fleet manager this week, about the possibility of couriering four days a week instead of five. I emphasized that I was much more interested in keeping this job than in getting the other one, which surprised him, and he asked what the new job was.

“Editing”, I replied.

“Oh – so is that what you do?” he asked.

“No, this is what I do. I’m a courier!”

There’s a widespread assumption that couriering is the kind of thing people only do to fill in the gaps between their real lives, jobs and ambitions. And it’s completely wrong. No one would do this just as a stop-gap. You’ll get better money and more job security working in Tesco. And there’s far too little recognition for the fact that some people take couriering very seriously indeed. I, for one, set myself high standards, and care about it more than any other job I’ve done. As I explained to the fleet manager, if there was more money in this, I’d do it for the rest of my life. And perhaps I will anyway. But when you’re having to work an extra 20 hours per week, just so that you can continue in the day job you love, you sometimes have to ask yourself whether it’s really worth it. The answer’s yes, but only so far.


3 Responses to “Workaholic”

  1. zero Says:

    As I said before, this a recognised phase in the career of a long term courier – the self doubt, the memory of money, yet still loving the freedom…
    You’re right – it’s not a stop gap job, but doesn’t mean you can’t do something else for a while. I’ve spent maybe five of the last 26 years not ‘on the game’ – still a real courier.

  2. Julian Says:

    Could you use your management consultancy skills to do a case study on how to make the operation more efficient, to pay the riders a livable wage and still keep the delivery times short.
    It’s always struck me that the “best” jobs often trade on people really wanting to be a …. (courier, ski guide, sailing instructor etc) and can make use of the over supply to get away with paying low. Offcourse some of the low pay is a result of low revenues… So get a good business development manager and sell more. However if you had staff who were paid better they’d be better fed so less ill, more loyal so less training time for newbies and employer advocates, so overheads become less.

  3. Claire Says:

    sucks to work so much… how about you bring your laptop with you on the bike and do your editing when you have a few minutes, in a lovely cafe or between snoozes in the park?

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