FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
So are you one of those ‘cycle couriers’ then?
Er, yes. Yes I am.
How many miles do you do per day?
I’ve never worked it out, but apparently the average is around 60. Sometimes I think it’s probably less than that. Sometimes it feels like much more.
You must be incredibly fit…?
Yes, I am. There’s no way you could do this job and not be incredibly fit, at least by normal people’s standards. But usually when people ask me this I wave my hand dismissively, and say “no, I’m just permanently knackered”. Both are kind of true.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Not if you know what you’re doing, no.
What do you do when it rains?
I get wet, and complain a lot more.
So do you ride one of those fixie bikes then?
Do you wear a helmet?
No. Last time I had a head-on collision, the car came off worse. My head is clearly the hardest thing on the road.
You must know London like the back of your hand, right?
So what kind of things do you courier?
Oh, you know…
envelopes of various sizes
legal files of various weights
large sheaves of internal mail for companies with multiple premises
big heavy model portfolios
tenders for big contracts, usually right up against the deadline
essays, coursework and dissertations, ditto
CDs, USBs and hard drives
passports and visa applications
train, plane and bus tickets
stationery and other office equipment
bottles of wine and champagne
prints and proofs and plans rolled up into tubes
more money than I’ll ever earn myself
shoes, usually between shops, magazines and press offices
clothes and jewellery
contact lenses for people who don’t have time to pick them up themselves
my controller’s forgotten lunch, from his wife’s office in EC4
mobiles left in meeting rooms
cartons of milk, for some reason
tapes of what you’ll be watching on TV this evening
…that sort of thing.
How do I get to Piccadilly Circus?
It’s over there.
Can I borrow your lighter?
Sorry mate, I don’t smoke.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No. Do you?
LESS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are the main annoyances of the job?
Complicated loading bay regulations. (See here, here and here.)
Regular low-key sexism (rarely from other couriers, but often from almost everyone else I encounter).
Having to spend obscene amounts of money when things go wrong with my bike.
Why do couriers smell so bad?
Aren’t couriers just dangerous hooligans who jump red lights?
No, they’re not. Not all of them, anyway.
Why do you stick with it when it’s so badly paid, and there’s no job security, insurance, annual leave, sick pay or guaranteed minimum wage?
Good question. Which is just another way of saying ‘I don’t know’. When you put it that way, it does sound like an unremittingly crap job, and I often ask myself this very question, particularly when I’ve been sitting on the same park bench for 90 minutes, not earning any money.
Because I love it, I suppose. Though that doesn’t sound like a good enough answer. Surely just loving the job isn’t enough to justify putting up with all the crap it throws at me? As 24tee points out, that sounds an awful lot like an abusive relationship. And maybe it is.
Nonetheless, that’s the best answer I have. Despite everything, being a courier somehow still makes me happy.
How has couriering changed your life?
Completely. In ways I could never have imagined. I came to this job fresh from a master’s degree. I’d always wanted to try being a cycle courier, but I never suspected that it would suit me any more than any of the other jobs I’d tried. I thought I’d maybe stick it out for about six months. Three years later, I’m still here.
Unexpectedly, in couriering I’ve discovered the perfect symbiosis between the physical, the social, the intellectual and the practical. I loved academia, but somehow I never quite managed to justify (to myself or anyone else) why someone should give me money to sequester myself in a library and study life as it appears in books. On the bike I’m involved in the world in so many ways. I’m part of the process. I see life as it happens. And I see more of it than most other people are ever privileged to.
I thought that doing a purely physical job would sound the death knell for my intellectual life. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the past couple of years I’ve been more creative – and had more to say – than ever before. And I’ve discovered the thrill of speed, and muscles, and endorphins, and adrenaline. I feel fulfilled. And I’ve become a very different person from what I always expected.