Archive for November, 2010

Far too happy

November 16, 2010

Happiness does not make for great literature. Or even moderately entertaining blog posts.

What do you write about when you’ve had a couple of really good weeks on the road, when nothing’s currently wrong with either of your bikes, when you haven’t had a puncture for ages, when your feet have almost stopped hurting, your back’s calmed down, you’ve had enough sleep for the past few nights, work’s nice and steady, and occasionally busy, you’re getting on well with your controller, you haven’t made any career-ending cock-ups recently, no taxis have tried to kill you, you’ve got loads of shiny new winter kit to play with, and you can’t remember the last time it rained?

In fact, it did rain this week, heavily, and I was still happy. Not only did it rain, it was horrendously windy. I spent most of Thursday riding into a soaking headwind, and there were several times when a sudden strong gust very nearly knocked me off my bike. And yet I was smiling almost the whole time – from the moment I stepped out into the rain, started cycling up the very steep hill I live on, and was knocked sideways by a big WHOOOOOSSSSH!, like an invisible giant trying to blow me off my bike. Riding into the wind seems to take twice as much energy as normal cycling. When I got home that evening I was as thoroughly exhausted as I remember being my first few weeks on the job. I sat at the table, limply shovelling pasta into myself, trying to keep up a conversation with my housemate but failing to remember how each sentence had begun by the time she got to the end of it, eventually realized that I was no longer capable of anything but sleep, and was in bed by 9 o’clock. I dozed off within minutes, with a huge grin on my face.

Why on earth am I so happy?

Good question.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve (finally, after two winters) sorted out my rainy day kit, and am now smugly waterproof from head to toe, mostly thanks to Sealskinz (who made my waterproof socks and my amazing new waterproof gloves), and Chris from Swrve (who furnished me with a bagful of shiny new Gore Tex and merino last week). I’ve often been told that good kit is no substitute for toughness and experience, and I can now confirm that that’s bollocks. Buy a pair of £30 waterproof gloves, and you’ll end the day smiling, rather than whinging and weeping and shivering and going home early, no matter how experienced you are.

Or perhaps it’s because this is the best job in the world. (It is.)

Or perhaps…

Well, I haven’t wanted to admit to this, but…

I’ve gone part-time. I work Monday and Tuesday, and Thursday and Friday, and have Wednesday off in the middle.

I was very reluctant to take this step. Partly because I hate to sacrifice 20% of the job I love in order to accommodate the other work I hate (but which pays the bills). But mainly because it makes me feel even less like a Real Cycle Courier. Before, I could claim that – well yes, I’m not all that blokey or beery or fast or hardcore, but I still ride 50 hours a week in all weathers, and deliver just as many packages as anyone else, and am therefore just as much a courier as the rest of them, even if most of the time I eschew the post-work beers and ride slowly home to my Laura Ashley bedspread.

This is absurd, of course. Lots of the tougher, older, most impressive couriers I know work part-time, and I’ve never once thought of them as soft or lazy. And to be frank, I also consider myself a bit of a wimp when I wear full waterproofs and ride with more than one gear. Perhaps I just like beating myself up.

But it is starting to feel far too easy at the moment. I work hard for two days – then Wednesday hits me like an unexpected holiday, and on Thursday, which used to be the hardest day of the week, I’m as energetic as I am on Monday morning. I haven’t had one of those awful wooden-legs days for weeks. Suddenly, I’m working within my means, rather than constantly stretching my limits and never quite catching up with myself.

And, ironically, I’ve never been so in love with the job – though I’m under no illusions that this is unrelated to the fact that I’m doing less of it.

But isn’t happiness a bit boring? I’m starting to miss the heady days of last January, when I battled through sleet and snow and ice and temperatures as low as -12, didn’t take a single day off, and celebrated by spending every weekend drinking wine in bed. Yes it was hard, but the ensuing glow of satisfaction was so much better than my current glow of …moderation?

I don’t think I’ll stay part-time for long.



November 3, 2010

In all this fuss about winter coming, I’ve forgotten to appreciate autumn. In fact, I’d almost forgotten autumn altogether, in my rush to stock up on merino baselayers and waterproof gloves (none of which I’ve yet needed – I’m still in fingerless gloves, for goodness’ sake).

The best thing about autumn so far? Being able to watch the sun rise on my way into work.

I can’t complain about the days getting shorter when I have spectacles like this to enjoy.

Unsurprisingly, working outside all year round has given me a much keener sense of the changing seasons, and all their little nuances and milestones. But what still surprises me is – well, just how surprised I am by it all. I spend summer in a constant haze of disbelief that it could actually stay light until 10pm, because I remember all too well how early it got dark in December (and even now, I have to put my lights on for my homeward commute). As June ticked over a few months ago, I actually found the constant light a bit too much. I was going to bed so early that I never really saw proper darkness, and I missed it. So now I’m quite enjoying the gentle rides home through dark, quiet streets, tasting the nip in the air, feeling the cold start to bite my hands, and inhaling the scent of bonfires and leaves and frost.

There’s something about autumn that really tugs at me. Some sort of swirling ancient mystical feeling plunging right back to my childhood. And a feeling that now we’re really getting serious again, after all the frivolity of summer. Perhaps, because summer is the most celebrated season of the calender and the one everyone looks forward to, no one really thinks about autumn until it happens, which means our memories of all the other autumns we’ve known remain resonant, and the season has a freshness, and also a mystery, because we never wear it out by thinking it over.

And autumn was when I started this job, and got to know it, so my second and third autumns have been accompanied by a sense of getting back to how things were in the beginning; the things I know best; the solid, comforting bedrock of my experience.

So why am I still so surprised by it all? I really have no idea.

It seems more and more like magic to me that soon I’ll be riding to work in the dark, watching it get light as I do my first deliveries, putting my lights on at about 4pm, and making the most of the precious five hours of sunshine we might get in the middle. And yet, at the height of summer, if you wanted ride in the dark, you’d have do the Dunwich Dynamo or something – and even then, you only get a few hours of night to enjoy (and this is when I ride fastest). But honestly – the days have been reliably lengthening and shortening ever since I can remember – surely I should be used to it by now?

And surely I should be more intrigued by all those things I really can’t explain – like how my mobile phone works, or my wifi connection, or how people find this (anonymous) blog after searching for my full name on Google.

But I’m not. Those things I take for granted. Autumn, though, strikes me with new amazement every day.