This morning I arrived as a London cycle courier and have stationed myself waiting for work on Broadwick St. Broadwick St is a side street off Carnaby St. A street, many fashion enthused people from around the world might find as one of London’s most favoured destinations. Ironic I begin this story typing on my cell phone so close to a lavish type destination given my financial hardest of times. I can look but I cannot buy and this position is unfamiliar territory as throughout my working carriers, I had really done ok.
I sit outside the large shop window, on a narrow sloping sill with barely enough space for my rear. My upper thighs are straining under the constant effort in preventing that annoying slide forward. It is a draining uncomfortable seat only sat on when desperate. Desperate as in for that cigarette and there is nowhere else to easily perch without so much as a sharp object to contend with. At least I avoid the cold concrete and therefore avoid a returning of those unwanted piles. An uncomfortable seat is not all I contend with as the 4 degree celsius northern arctic wind is freezing my continuous runny nose.
Sex on the Beach Cloth
My cheap attire is not wintery and this morning provides little protection. Explaining my vulnerable fragility is the nickname sex on the beach. My cloths labelled only this morning, by the energetic Argentine hostel accomplice – Mariana. She really is classic when it comes to a Spanish speaking woman. Whenever she is mad and the hostel, (The Birds Nest in Deptford Church St) with an entertaining spirit provides many dramatized parts to the play. And in her bit parts are her moments of deserved frustration, when super quickly she reverts to Spanish in her outbursts. Always sounding comical as if every word is a swear word said three times the speed.
About me, vociferously, she’s made a few funny but mad assumptions but they are as always appreciated. This morning in the hostel kitchen above the somewhat noisiest of pubs, her comment, “you look like sex on the beach” said with a slight chuckle. This early morning flattering banter does give my ego that little bit of a needed boost. But as I looked out the window to see amongst the tree’s a gusty breeze, swirling with a sleek ridden air. My bottom lip pushes out as the cold reality returns over my face. I do look very odd, all summery for such a cold day but all I have is all I can afford. Everything about life has become a trying and wacky norm, under these the most poverty-ridden fallen from the grace of financially safer days.
Money makes the door go round
I am penniless and in depth to the gods over all the gold and money. Not helping things is my lower back condition that unfortunately I cannot have seen too. Believe me I have tried including an emergency visit to a doctor on Love lane in the city. Out of desperation for fear and pain, I could not go on with work and riding my bike, my only life line any longer. I did what any sane person would do and called an emergency number off Google. Made the appointment and half an hour into my appointment I became suspicious, (he seemed to care) but not suspicious enough. My unexplored suspicious subconscious hit home when trying to leave at the front door. It was an automatic round revolving glass door and upon reaching it, the automation appeared broken.
That was when my penny dropped, (shit this is going to cost!). My fingers grabbed at the round barrelled glass making that skin on window screak, before finally looking to the receptionist. One of them cleared her throat, ah hmm Mr Atley that will be £100. I was only weeks into my new job and for the 55-hour weeks, I had maxed at £70 per week so £100 was a tad more than I could afford. My low paying long hour weeks only explained via a conspiracy theory because nothing else makes any sense. So I will not go there. My choking response and a somewhat embarrassed all round affair got the attention again of the doctor on the other side of the surgery door.
The consultation was what I already knew
The South African doctor made common sense for the receptionist and instructed them to unlock the door. I must have appeared extremely naïve from the start of my consultation. Firstly voicing my frustrations and going on about why I did not know why every attempt to get medical attention was failing. Clearly, I like him came from somewhere else, (another planet and country) and he understood that I had an asleep system understanding. And my appearance, well sex on the beach cheap cloth an obvious sign to my wealth and status. Ultimately he was a good man who gave me the time. And as pointed out by the receptionist your consultation took 45min which is way above the normal 15.
After agreeing they were to post me the bill and they did, but I never paid it, ever. All I got out of the consultation was contact numbers for more expensive other doctors. I wouldn’t allow myself to ever feel guilty for the embarrassing moment.
My life’s lessons are all leading to this one fact, no money equals very little and sometimes no help. Really hadn’t thought about it before, but now I know it. Many months have passed since my desperate visit and I eventually had to lay some ground rules with the company. Explaining I simply cannot do some of the job requirements. Van helper jobs for me came at a cost I could not afford, needing one or two days off following most helper jobs. And still I am fortunate for this just one thing in the world and that is I am able to ride my bike. Although some mornings the leg swing over will take up several stiff and painful attempts.
Ah medical help!
This morning’s first attempt to mount my bike, (locked always to the railings immediately outside the Birds Nest) had not been successful with my stiff mornings back. My right knee without flexibility crashed into the seat and I grimaced at the pain and failed attempt as I rested my elbow down onto the seat. An unexpected voice startles my attention virtually at the same time.
“What the fuck are you doing V?” said Andrea’s as he surprises me with his early mornings presence. Just appearing from around the corner Andrea’s had not been seen for weeks.
Andrea’s, a mysterious Cyprian hostel accomplice who I would not be surprised is leading a double life. Firstly a cover job as a part time chef and secondly the secretive vacant times as a ruthless assassin. He has fearlessness about him that others living at the hostel have become weary of. But I find him largely entertaining because he has become my mate. I only hope he’s not contracted me with a job doc by the gods over all the money.
Standing to face him, I dust off a spot of dirt gathered on my shorts. It’s a symbolic dusting as if I dust away the paranoia that accompany Andrea’s presence and the short eerie feelings of just now stalked.
Everyone Needs More Money
“I’m going to work, where have you been.” This time it was early morning but Andrea’s had a habit of showing up at any time in the middle of the night. After a month of no show, you would firstly hear him arriving. He’d be screaming into his phone from the blackness of the night and tree’s area from across the road.
The whole neighbourhood knows his missus by name. “Angelina you fucking what.” ” What the fuck are you doing, Angelina.” ”Angelina, do not call the cops, Angelina you crazy fucking bitch.” All from the woods and so loud to eco down the streets into the large council estates.
“How the fuck do you ride that bike V, look at you” he said.
“Andrea I gotta go, what is it you want or need, I haven’t got it.” I replied as if he always wanted something jokingly as he had never asked me for nothing.
“You got uhm four monkeys, you’ll get it back soon, at the end of week, I promise you.”
I ponder only to myself, how did I know this day would come? It felt eerie again and as if I had been thinking this moment through.
“Mate you got to stop gambling those stupid machines and nope haven’t seen a monkey round here for a while”. “And the last ton I ever saw was in a game of cricket.”
Making my escape easy
With the added motivation of holding onto what little money I have, from the half shut pocket knife bent at the waist I find the energy to push right through the pain swinging my leg over. “See you later Andrea’s.”
“Bring us a hundred,” he yells as I ride off getting away. I continue riding while I think about the hundred he needs. I’ve seen it before, when you give some people money, never to be seen again. Perhaps I will give him it this evening I decide. A £100 cheap stress test, testing over friendship I think and laugh to myself.
Sloths Who Ride
Providing shelter from the icy wind the window is set back from the street where the buildings alignment steps back and the footpath widens leaving a large old London style brick wall to my right. My stiff jittery fingers are typing on the phone texting to see what’s up with Paul, “where are you?”
Paul, a colleague rider who in his moments of peak form only leaves you reeling with, there can only be one. If you can imagine a poster boy image of a cycle courier. Paul the farthest thing from that but does a good impression of a sloth on a bicycle. He wears his cloth as if it is a code of honour and his sloth coat, a big army boots and winter jacket, worn no less than the duration of a year. And never to have taken them off despite 35-40 degree heat waves. I should mention quite mad.
Rain wind snow or shine
He carefully manages his snail’s pace enabling him to work longer hours and is definitely a huge benefit to the company. Like most long timers who would have you think, Paul cannot imagine doing anything else. The cycle courier addiction, outdoor freedom gets into most veins and bones.
Brings London Streets to Life
All who know Paul admire his tenacity and respect him for never missing a day or an hour’s work for that matter. Working longer days, rain, wind, snow, or shine, than all other riders and being mister reliable is his true strength of character. As riders become too tired, he’s always there to be relied on. Understandably, he is grumpy sometimes, but his wheels keep on turning, although in sloths rotations.
Accustomed to the London street life Paul thrives on a good day with all the freedom the job can offer. Always having time for that mingling with strangers and always there bringing the London streets to life. Many times, I have heard my name screamed from crowds and one of many faces of a long street. Which can sound childish but it is the sweet sound of life when someone is calling your name. Or it’s someone doing his earnest for embarrassment’s sake. Either way it always enforces one to laugh.
The Healthiness in Paranoia
Bleep bleep a text arrives,
Lincolns Inn, where are you?
Knowing we cannot meet I reply with a pointless,
Only a compliment, on his little groomed big rusty grey beard.
Now and again, my whole body shivers while patiently waiting for that first template message of the morning. And from the controller over the open channelled radio, “Z11 morning-morning details – details.” “Apologies again, for the long wait.” Trusting my senses, the apologies and long wait, always sounding a gigantic bit fake.
I text Paul
“Did you hear that…every day!”
“Remember you are paranoid.”
Everyone will inedible suffer the different states of being, but not without bloody good reasons. Your daily chores can surprise you with anomalies, springing either from the universe and the unknown or simply a surprise with a dirty little trick from the controller. Always out to catch you where it hurts (in my case working later than need be). I definitely get grumpy when I am tired and never appreciate finding myself riding the wrong direction or sorting out some of the craziest problems that spring up always right on home time. Paranoia, or if there is such a thing as coincidence, both are bloody annoying all the same.
The Best Controller in London
Bill the controller who has to be rated as the best controller London has to offer. Controllers are full time multitasking who sometimes are extremely busy over their 9-10 hour days. A multitasking I would equate to playing warcraft and competitively on the busiest days, all day. Although I do think, he derives a little too much enjoyment from his position of power and games. Position of power where he has the control embedded like perfect timing code in a computer game. When caught in this game can expose a fragment of the unknown and as if peering into the dark side of London. His position of power aligned with my own curious fragile position, over the radio gives him almost total control over my life. He or whoever occupies the controllers’ seat is god over your earnings and all too often (paranoia aside) over your time.
You would have to question, then where is the freedom? There isn’t any, as much as zero and it is a weird paradox. Undying in strength are the addictive feel good endorphins despite the occasional bashing across the face from a chippies’ soggy blue cod. Although I am the butt of his mischievous side, the games are surprisingly imaginative and leave me in these early days mostly in admiration and with something to laugh about.
Encouraging me under some of the most trying times, Bill, John and Sean the controllers have challenged me so far to break. I refuse to break under what I now see as a periodic use of torment controlling culture and for some stranger than strange reasons, although the games are insanely tough, I enjoy every moment of them. Pushing me mentally and physically, prodding for that limit. A limit I stubbornly refuse exists and I remain determined to show all that there is no such thing. That is my only game.
I choose to look at it as special psychological bullying treatment and remain grateful that it isn’t of the violent kind. But hey, this is what you get when you fall off the cliff of life. A lot of people care for you, even love you but boy will they intentionally on the edge of danger make things harder. My precarious vulnerability is not without some blame to fall at thy feet. The wisdom, If only I knew then what I know now is always too late a thought and arrives after all the unknown facts. As sure as a rendered wheel without spokes, that wisdom is always going to rise when you have rather fucked up. Yeah we will get to that.
Lawyers Damn Case Files
The most annoying notification tone rings on the company phone. The sound of a fire engine really gets on my wit but none others are loud enough. The job doc says pickup 7 New Square and deliver to a SE postcode on the other side of Tower Bridge. The job description is four case files and I cannot help but groan at the thought
Now four lawyers case files if they are full are at the maximum weight I can carry. With or without the damage to my lower back these together are about it. My disappointment I quickly diminish, like an override on my negativity. Murmuring with a shiver only to myself, “It is cold and at least I will be on the move keeping me that little bit warmer.”
Sprinting from the west end to the pickup, I consider ‘what are you up to today Bill?’ The paranoia like the turning of spokes is a constant daily mind excersize. Arriving into the Lincolns Inn Field square, I catch a glimpse of Paul standing beside the corner public toilets.
The Game of Last Word
I leap up onto the sidewalk area in front of the toilets, jamming my front brake to do a back wheel stand. Coming to a stop in front of Paul was the intention but hadn’t quite gone to plan as my front wheel stops and butts slightly to his leg. A quick release to the front brake, the back wheel bounces on the path, up and down before coming to a shuttering stop. I look and feel only a tad foolish, after all I am just forty five, blushing just a little.
“Whoops sorry,” I say. “Need a bit more practice at that.” My mind instantly wanders to the game Paul likes to play. With these brief daily counters, he always likes to get the last word in. Whether to leave on a cuss or some attempt at putting you down. Not always terrible cusses, it will just depend on his mood and always just to get the last word. Sometimes they are just an acknowledgment of the game itself.
Game Set and Match?
“Have you had much work?” he asked. Frustration is on his face, a kink in his armour my thoughts linger towards the game.
“I have had lots of Paul.” I with a wind up in mind lie. “Been a really busy morning but I do wonder why I’ve come all this way when you are sitting just outside.”
“I’ve had an absolute squat, this is a joke”, he goes on clearly displaying his anger rising and I think to myself this is going to be so easy today.
I pull from my pocket a mobile device, pretending I say “hello, yeah Pauls with me now.” “He says he’s had diddly squat and also asked me why I’m picking up a job when he’s sitting waiting just outside.” “Ok bye I’ll let him know,” then pocketing the phone back away.
Turning to face Paul I raise my eyebrows and in unison referring to my now pocketed phone “he says that Paul is paranoid.”
Paul bites ferociously like an evil black cat that you drunken and in a dark alley might have just pissed on by mistake.
He starts to burble and instinctively I quickly show him the palm of my right hand. Yelling, “Speak, hand, face not listen.” Clicking into my pedals and riding off showing him my back, while quietly giggling away.
Harsh Realities or Materialist Delusion
I’m thrown into the bottom of the bottom of the hierarchies. Contributing to the extremes is my age and with no grounding or foundations. My fight for life remains focused on having a roof overhead and food to eat. The imaginative and sometimes intentionally cruel games are extreme for someone like me. It’s harsh on people who have failed and extremely harsh for all those at the bottom of society. Flipping the coin, this is where stories from the underworld may rise up into our universal mythology. Who really knows is ambition a Sharman’s illusion or simply a Materialist delusion.
Cycle Couriers Delusional Mind
Paranoia runs through my veins but not without reasons and there is a balance in my calculating brain. Balance is the order of nature, between good and evil, yin and yan, order and chaos. Calculating is my interpretation and method of weighing up odds to know if it’s order/truthful or you face something uprising from chaos/deceitful. And now if I am to learn anything about my life l am to learn all consequences to my actions and via the never ending use of spontaneous tormenting games. As if in the cycle courier game playing dodgems with cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians was not enough contending.
I can still hear Paul as I turn into New Square. Don’t know what he is saying but clearly I won that we encounter, a game he usually is the master of. And very rarely I come away with a win so I saver the moment expressing an extra big smile to the security at the gate. He nods as usual from the security house then shows his hand pushing a button to raise the barrier. Arriving into the corner of the square at no seven, I further raced up the old timber stairwell that creaks under every step. I am more energetic than usual as my celebratory mood continues up all three floors to the top.
The Smells of School and Money
If there was to be another great fire of London, the New and Old Square buildings are fire dreams. With thick wooden flooring and walls of panelling and my estimated carpenters guess built in the 16 – 17th century. And the smell is like that of a very old school. The mixture of paper and wood, smells an arsonist might have a mishap in his/her pants over.
I imagine who hangs out here, some of the QC lawyers daily the smell might drive them a little mad. Daily they enter the square after acknowledging the security on the gate with a smile and nod. Parking there Mercedes/Aston martin out front of the office. Entering via the swinging heavy wooden doors and firstly taking a big sniff and saying only to themselves, “ah old boy that smell, that sweet smell of school and money.”
I do like the smell as I appreciate the wood, as any good carpenter will do. The odour now drifts up my nostrils smelling of history and tends to give me a mystical high. A wondrous high that mystically feels something of a passing through, cutting the air, layer upon layers of wooden odorous aristocratic ghosts.
Contending with More
Overloading your back with heavy weight and sharp objects sometimes perceived as a controller’s stitch up. You can refuse but the game of limit in my stubborn opinion is then lost. Faced with problems to sort out that are and should have nothing to do with a courier’s work, can make life interesting. Unusual problems will provoke unusual questions from unrealistic people. I’ve been asked questions in psychiatry, medical or life coach advice and as if Johnny on the spot is the general know it all guy.
The pantomath mister reliable, who should know as much as to where your car keys lye, it is not so much the mystery of the question but the manner in which the question is asked. She never really got why it was a dumb idea to ask. She never really got why I did not know. There is also my favourite, the repetitive question “what is in it?” Always greeted with a smile and an odd little shake of the envelope/package “do you want me to open it?”
Or when feeling a little sarcastic “uhm we are not allowed to open it.” Looking at them blankly even surprised while waiting for that penny dropping moment.
And I think priceless bringing a smile with the change in expressions is the moment they realise who they are asking and what. Or in the case of the one woman and her keys, her piggy bank was only empty without a penny. Who would have known life could be one big odd and mysterious beyond the call of duty psychic knowledge game? Then one day you find out, the more you know, the less you know about the world. But the car keys are where you left or lost them, always!
I Hear the Ghosts Laugh
As I drag the bag towards the exit door jam-packed with four busy case files, I estimate 35 kg. All the doors are fitted with door closers that are not from the 1700 but old just the same. In the less financed offices, they are of the old type door closer. Therefore, they do not have the adjustment so tend to be rather stiff.
Holding the door open with my back leg, I kick giving it a shove and not able to withhold from my efforts as I gave out a little grunt. Not a barking grunt or groan but a minor groan that maybe one day the QC, who’s always seated in his paper stormed of an office. Always seated at the end and in sight, might click onto one day. Just let him know that your door is a very stiff and awkward groaning grunt.
While with both hands on the straps, I pulled the loaded bag as quick and hard as I could across the slippery wooden floor. I wasn’t quick enough as my bag is stuck on the inside, only managing to assist the door to slam and the door security lock goes click. I have to buzz the door entry again as it clicks and opens immediately. Pushing the door open I firstly look down towards the QC, there’s no reaction, not even a raise of the head. I yell to the secretaries who are seated out of sight round the corner, “sorry!”
“That’s ok, are you ok round there,” she said, sounding like she was doing an impression of Basil Fawlty’s wife, Sybil. “Yes I’m ok, just the door you know is a little stiff.”
“Do you need a hand?” she yells. Hand said like a final of final word tethering off towards the end. “No, no I’m really ok thanks all the same,” pausing for a moment as my mind just went empty blank. “Ah bye then.”
The Steps Creak in tune of the Ghosts
From the third floor why I don’t swing that bag up onto my back before getting down the stairs is because I simply can’t. Without something to firstly pirch the bag on the mission is truly impossible. Once I could have easily but with a bad back, you just can’t. For lifting stuff, you have to find other slower ways. It’s a bit like laying a brick wall without a bricklayers trowel. And the use of only your hands for mixing and spreading of the acidic cementing muck. Life can get awful and dirty sometimes then you go and work for a courier company with a bad back.
Keeping my back straight as possible, straps held to my stomach and resting the weight on my shins gradually I step down one-step at a time. Arriving to the bottom floor and dragging the bag out the front door as the bag clatters down the front steps coming to a rest beside my bike.
Freedom of Choice?
Having lived what feels like a many lives in the one, crossroads appeared before me as moments of choice, the intersections of life. It seems I’ve chosen the most difficult of paths and looking back it’s foolish of me to think I ever had a choice. I find it hard to imagine I ever took a wrong turn but for now early in this story, given my bottom of the bottom London status we have to assume all my turns were in fact stupidly taken wrong.
My wrong turns in life, an unconventional life is the true reason why I have to sit in the freezing cold but to survive I am lucky for this one thing. I am able to ride my bike and even better, for me it pays a little money ensuring more days on earth.
With Steve the boss after the interview/tests, I opened up and told him of my sins. My sin was to lose everything I had worked for and more via spread betting on the markets. I rolled the dice and this type of losing is mostly summarised by society as addiction but for the one thing, I’ve never been addicted to gambling.
I like most people have had a good day out at the races but never felt any urge to replicate that day. Any attempt to do so would only have bored me. And like most people I have felt the flashing lights of the money machine. The dopamine has hit their receptors and vibrated through my ears the sound, “Vern come play,” but only allowing a quid or two if I could afford to lose and in those moments of boredom, the pub life would always give rise to.
Why I told Steve I only now see as one of the many flaws in my personality and nature. Knowing the appropriate times to be open and take into account the implications of when and what comes out of my mouth, has so far eluded my brain. Another flaw that bends my reality is being incapable of thinking things thoroughly through. With this hindered personality trait nearly, always lacking in any good planning.
With the telling of such a ridiculous (loser) story only exposed me to further more punishment. Inevitably, they think I am nothing but a stupid fool and mostly I’d agree. But now because of their judgement, I will have to face a true dose of reality and as best they can do. I’m now exposed, enslaved in a position with zero power and my only defence is to learn each variable to their games. If I am to remain with any humility, I have to defend myself against the forces of man’s nature. Man’s nature and the power of gods, creators or aliens, haven’t worked that one out yet.
Don’t be fooled, this job has been one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever done. It is not a career but it has me when abled, as a pocket knife is determined to open, I bounce out of bed every day. Some would find it sad but I actually look forward to my Mondays. More often than not, not two days experienced are the same leaving an open almost mystical experience with daily life. I wonder how many jobs are truly like this.
Snakes and Ladders way to lift
Getting the bag up onto my back takes skill equivalent to playing snakes and ladders. It can be a one-step forwards and a slide back affair but when the weighty bag is finally balanced, resting on the crossbar of my tipsy bike. I crouch backwards looping my head and shoulder through the one strap. With one jerk and the strap cutting into my throat I lean forwards dragging the heavy bag from the cross bar to take the full weight.
“One day I am going to get a two strap bag,” I mumble under the most strangling of strain. The veins in my temples feel as if they are about to pop bursting out of my skin.
Like many times, playing this snakes and ladders lifting game, this time the bag catches the seat and pulls the bike over. “Let me help you,” a passing voice says. “Ah thank you sir,” I instinctively and gratefully say.
The man picks my bike up and asks “Are you sure your bag is not too heavy?” I see him steering into my temples or at the fully inflated vein running down my side head.
“Yes it is a little but I will be ok, thank you anyway.” The man smiles and says, “It looks kind of dangerous and unstable” a slight concern appears on his face.
And that is that
I decide to continue with this game of let’s state the obvious and reply, “It is too heavy and awkward with the one strap. The bag tends to swing round under your arm while riding and all that weight drops to the one side of your bike. Dangerous, so I have to keep my right elbow busy holding the weighty load back there on my back.” ”At least I get to keep warm.”
“Oh,” he said, “well you have a nice day then” and continued on his walking way.
I’ve lived my life on a spontaneous edge where I am most comfortable in my skin. I tend to make snap decisions and generally, once an idea is in my head I will stick with it. Was it a snap decision to follow the path and find out what it is like to really lose without clearly thinking it through, (yes).
Caught in a Game of Ping Pong
You would think a courier’s work in any economy is basic and simple by nature. Via a text, you receive the jobs; you pick them up and deliver them making all three parties happy. Providing a quick efficient reliable service for your company and clients is the number one strategy behind your work. Yeah right, this leaves out when you are dehumanised as the GPS dot on the screen, caught in a game of Ping-Pong and when strategy of the company does not exist. Romanticism could thrive here (if bouncing off cars is your thing) but the world I have discovered balanced between order and chaos will not permit a smooth or easy ride.
But romanticism does that truly exist or in reality is there a balance to all things. I don’t use romanticism lightly because if the control and games were a little less this was the most suited job on earth for me and many others to be doing. I like exercise and the bike in my opinion is the most evolutionary best thing for our bodies. To be on the bike all day and every day, our bodies’ by designed are physically perfect for and not for the many hours in a seat. Studies have proven the average cyclist will live ten years longer. There must be an obvious something in that. Not sure of statistics on a cycle courier though, it’s definitely inherently dangerous and the mounted scars remind me.
No need for Romanticism
And it is a shame the inherently dangerous job is not rewarded with a wage that is more suited for living. But logically what would there be for the less able people (the Pauls of the world). If the position demanded all couriers had speed, competence, and efficiency, the job would transform employing only the best athletes. So in reality would it be fair for romanticism to exist. All the same, there are loads worse off in the world but this is humanity with no holiday pay, no sick pay, and no accident pay. As far as workers’ rights go, they do not even exist. The sympathetic gods, I think, should admit life without them, would just like black cabs bring the city to a motionless halt.
At the end of the day
Arriving home to the Birds Nest this evening I was feeling a little under the weather as if a mild case of the flu was setting in. This day a Thursday and usually the busiest day of the week had not turned out so bad. Only one of the more profitable days once the strangling lawyers case files ride was out of the way. The day felt a case of do me a favour Geeza and I will see you alright sort of a day. If only all days evenly balanced as today was. I muse over the thoughts whilst needing to blow my nose and eagerly I head towards my room to prepare for my daily shower.
Opening the door to my shared bunk room quickly swings my mood as if I had opened the door to a blizzard in the sahara. None of the roomies are in which is a rare thing. Having watched two of them spend the entire summer in bed with the curtains pulled, can if anything helps understand some of human nature. I’ve talked about the sun and vitamin E but hilariously nothing would ever budge them.
Talented Mr Ripley
After my shower, I walk into the kitchen and am instantly greeted by Sean and Andreas. Two close friends together swing me back from the snowy desert land, forgetting almost immediately about my lurking flu symptoms.
Sean, a man of many talents and something of the talented Mr Ripley type character hangs over him. He is definitely smart, funny, and when in form firing on all cylinders he entertains us all. All will go to bed with feelings having witnessed a good West End show.
But from the dark side he’s displayed in character, a trait that I judge powerful and dangerous. He is a master of the populist’s game. This is my worst game and with little care for, I simply do not know how to play. Although I am aware of one’s impotence in this game can be disadvantageous even dangerous as you never really have a grounding, foothold or belong anywhere. I still am unable to play that game which at times makes me I guess unpopular.
The Threshold to Cold
Instant silence is broken by Sean “Hey V, mate, have you got £100 to get me through the week?” “I’m truly screwed as I have had no work.”
I cut him short “wait a minute, have you two conspired or something,” laughing as my thoughts drift on to more serious thoughts.
I already knew Sean leading up to this had shown some of the most irresponsible behaviour. All had noticed Sean was going to work less and less while drinking a little more. Mr Ripley might be all about something else I wondered, as his behaviour did not line up with his intelligence.
The threshold we all share at the Birds Nest only leads with a one-way ticket to living nowhere outside and in the cold. The neighbourhood and outside the windows is a daily reminder to those cold hard threshold facts. All of us know it including Mr Ripley and his drinking economics was always going to lead to this.
Sean said, “What do you mean conspired?”
Good time to lie
Andrea’s butts in sounding as if he is doing me a favour, “I already asked him this morning for a hundred.” And an opportunity presented itself with a deeper voice, “By the way have you got it V?”
“Yes I got it on the way home” I hadn’t lied but instantly I realised how am I now going to say no. Asking myself why hadn’t I responded with a simple lie.
Sean continues, “Well can you also loan me?” I reply straight off, “no sorry Sean.”
He roars into a fit as if Shakespeare himself had walked into the room. “What you will give him a hundred but not me.” “What the fuck you trust him over me, well I’ll be …”
Cutting him short I interrupt a rant that may never have stopped, “no Sean, nothing to do with. It’s because it’s hopeless to try and save people from drowning when I’m close to drowning myself and once out there, nobody is going to save me.” I wanted to go on and ask why have you been drinking all your reserves but there now is no point.
In the heat of the argument, big Rubin, a 6-foot polish hostel accomplice walked in sitting down with a smirk quietly on his face. The noise had drifted through the hostel rooms and as always, whenever a dispute, all ears popped up and listened. Rubin has decided such an occasion only deserved of a front row seat.
Never cross Mr Ripley
My words fell on death ears as a heated Sean rants “what a **** you **** I cani believe****, well, I’ll set Rubin onto you, ‘to beat you up’.” I couldn’t help to notice, (beat you up) taters off keeping only those in the room to hear the threat.
A sudden populist move I could never see coming. A twist in character I imagine in keeping with Mr Ripley. I crossed my fingers in hope he did not mean it.
Soon as Rubin’s name was mentioned I glanced over to him and the smile had disappeared with his head already dropped and pointing to the floor. I couldn’t help but think wholly shit Rubin’s just might do as he’s asked and blimey never cross Mr Ripley.
A little nervous I have to let go with something, anything, “fuck Sean whatever, I hardly think that is fair, It’s not fair on Rubin or me, fuck it Sean I don’t care whatever.”
Lets Meet Jesus
Suddenly, a drumming and screeched bass guitar roars into life from underneath in the pub. All inhabitants to the building polarized as if a meteor had landed directly on top. Synchronized, the building vibrates with the old single glazed windows all shaking like in a mad earthquake. A death choking voice blasts through the speakers and only intensifying the window shake.
All stand frozen looking at one another in an attempt to understand what we are together hearing.
“What’s that, that sounds as if being strangled, murdered through a microphone?” I asked.
Rubin takes the opportunity to further break the spell-ridden atmosphere and said, “Let’s meet Jesus.”
We all look at him as Andreas says, “you what?” “Let’s meet Jesus, that’s the name of the band.”
“Holly fuck’n shit” Sean says, “thought I’d heard it all before but that huh!”
As I head for the door, Andreas calls “V, V, that money.”
“Oh yeah sure,” while I pulled the hundred in five twenties from my pocket, I biffed it into the air and kept walking.
“See youse all I’m going to meet Jesus don’t know what you fella’s are up to.”
Lets Meet Jesus – Advisable to wear headphones
After the transcending experience of Lets meet Jesus, I woke the next morning with a sore throat and the obvious flu symptoms had come on a little more. Couldn’t believe my luck as it was a Friday and all I needed was the one day’s work to complete a full week. The ten per cent bonus on your weekly wage was at stake and I really didn’t want to lose it so chose to go to work. Thinking I just needed to survive this one day.
I took some painkillers that masked how I felt but by two in the afternoon, I went downhill superfast. I called Bill and explained I had been trying to survive the day but it’s apparent now, I simply cannot. He said that’s ok mate go home and tuck up in bed, look after yourself.
From the west end, it is a seven-kilometre ride to the Birds Nest, which usually is nothing. But this ride became eternal without an end in sight as I started to shake. The temperature as if in synchronicity with my energy level had suddenly dropped to 0 degrees. A cross between a dumb and dumber and let’s meet Jesus out of control shake had set in.
This kind of shaking and cold, I had never experienced before while getting into bed. The journey less battle to make it home finally, I felt I had won the war. Only rewards before me now with a warming of bed but I did not know the worst was yet to come.
Rigor Mortis was setting in
The intense and violent shaking took place for three days and nights. It was so intense when through the second night pains set in to my right ribs. I mistakenly thought the tensing of the body had pulled rib cartilage badly. Having done this before on the rugby field and the targeted area of pain and its effects was very similar but only got multiple times worse.
There were moments of consciousness and only woken by the rigor mortis pain in my elbows but also in all joints. Straightening them to relieve the extraordinary pain, it felt as if the body was dying before the mind. After the effort, I would drift straight back into a convulsive sleep. I knew this was now no flu but I had no idea what it actually was.
My breathing became so shallow and at times, there wasn’t enough oxygen making to my brain. Whilst managing to get to the toilet, in the cubical I let out a small cough. The pain screamed everywhere in my lungs. Setting off a snowballing that required another bigger cough. The explosion goes off through your body and lungs, you sudden become desperate for air. Your lungs cannot inflate as you panter like a Chihuahua.
Thank goodness for drugs
Trying for that tiniest extra bit of air only ignites the lung pain further. And increases the chance of an uncontrolled cough that quickly threatens your very consciousness. A catch 22 realizations, there is not enough air getting to your brain as consciousness gets darker in your vision and any further gasp for air will only ensure you suffocate quicker. It’s like the grim reaper is standing over you with a bag ready for putting over your head.
Panic had set in and I needed to calm down as quickly as possible. I calmed my thoughts with if I am unconscious I will not feel the pain enabling my body’s automated breathing and natural survival to take over. But I do not know this for sure, what happens to those out unconscious with collapsed lungs. I push the thought, the mirage of the reaper through the cubicle door.
My choosing to believe in the positive worked calming myself with those thoughts and I only just did not pass out. But I learnt how I needed to survive with whatever it was I had. Pain was the enemy that set off an uncontrollable everything. So I hit the painkillers co codamol, chewing every two to four hours and waking to take them throughout the night.
Surprisingly and a God send they are sold over the counter in the UK. I ate them like lollies keeping me stoned as fuck and more importantly calm. They did not get rid of the pain, as it is out of this world intense but they kept my mind calm, enabling myself to control my reactions to a thunderous of pain.
After three days I researched the symptoms via Wikipedia. Sure enough, I had for the first time pneumonia and I only blamed my stupid self. Why did I need to go to work just for a stupid ten per cent and I knew better, of what happens when you try to ignore the flu. Only I knew how close to death my body actually was but how I actually looked after a week in bed gave all to witness a bit of a shock.
Little John is a local publican of a bar and as big as his name implies. A six foot one bulk of a man with a baldhead reacted all feminine and like, as you would expect from a girl or even your mother. Shock horror with his hands covering his face almost too scared to look. Peering through his large fingers asking what the fuck happened to you? It really is amazing what a week can do to change your appearance.
After one week, I manage with tiny shuffle steps to make the journey to the doctors. With a restricted oxygen capacity, taking half an hour to cross the 800 meters required. 74 kg was my weight when I registered and now I was a mere 63 kg. My face completely sucked in and my ribs and body looked more like my precious, Galadriel’s in lord of the rings.
She said you have a chest infection. I thought no shit and said, “Do you think?” and should have gone on to say pneumonia but I did not. She did say you will have to go to hospital sometime, “but looking at you I guess you right now don’t want to go.” It was somewhat obvious looking like an anorexic Fish off the american sitcom Taxi, all I needed right now was the closest bed.
I went away thinking there really is no help but I should not have. I could not think straight or couldn’t be bothered thinking at all. When I got the prescription read out by the chemist, painkillers that were more expensive than buying over the counter. “Screw it up, I’ll just get some co codamol thanks.”
Over the next week, I had the common sense to taper off with the co codamol. And two weeks after getting ill I made the journey to the hospital for a scan. Instantly they in the hospital reacted with an urgency. From the radiographer who asked after my scan, “why were you sent here?” I went on to say “my doctor said I have a chest infection but I believe I’ve had pneumonia.” He said “how do you know its pneumonia have you had it before?”
“No” I said, “Wikipedia, rigor mortis, the pain and symptoms were all spookily exactly the same.” He went on to say, “no, no your right we were just wondering why when you say it’s been two weeks why you are not in hospital?”
Under another rock
He was looking at me strangely with concern and it was then I realised maybe there was help but sometimes in life, in this strange new world you have to look under the right rock. Just maybe when you have the right information such as the beauty of Wikipedia in front of you, it’s up to you to take it seriously and nobody else, including your local GP.
After the day in an isolation and drip-fed with antibiotics, they let me go with a prescription for the coming weeks. I was given a doctor’s note relieving me from work and ensuring I got paid by the government for seven weeks. Following that seven weeks they prescribed another. It took 14 weeks to fully recover and I needed every hour.
Returning to work my commitment because of money priorities had changed. I convinced myself that 10% of not very much money. 10% of fuck all is fuck all. My emphasis on money my whole life, had me into this dire position and working, as a cycle courier will never change that. So it was time to concentrate on what I can get out of a poverty life.
I didn’t want to turn to drugs and alcohol so I needed to concentrate on hobbies or what I enjoyed. I needed challenges but firstly, (turning myself into a nightmare for the controllers) as I needed a way of not putting up with some of the games. Especially when already exhausted I did not want to ride the wrong way on home time.
Best Controller in London
I could not have had a better controller in London to dish up trickery like a three course dinner at the Ivy. Bill is a super quick thinker and equally witted with a radio voice that I often think is wasted as a courier controller and more suited as a radio host. He himself was a great cycle courier and now that he sits in the controller’s seat gives him so much knowledge about the topography, the buildings, different clients, timings, and taking into consideration a rider’s capabilities with all aspects to the job.
Also maintaining his fitness with ironman, which tells me a lot about what he and I share. The addictive nature of exercise has had us both. An inherent part of the job that can make the hardest of times equally enjoyable is the slow release of feel good hormones running through veins and he knows of an endurance athlete’s experience on how to manage their body. Therefore enables a person a higher tolerance to more suffering and games. (The Bill type controller might chuckle when he first identifies you as the fit type). He also shows a great understanding with a sympathetic ear as was evident whenever I’ve told him I was burnt out. Burnt out, another inherent part of the job that will periodically require a convalescent unscheduled unpaid day off. (Exception, Paul). Bill would never question it and would leave me to recover at home.
Master of Games
Complicating things is one of Bill’s utmost talents because he’s great at it. Having been on the receiving end of countless games he’s left me impressed with how intricate in detail he is with the up his sleeve trickery and his timing to such tricks is always very precise. Not quite at the level of the stock market but imaginatively, trailing only just behind. Remarkable when you compare the power behind the investments with algorithmic trading and the stakes driven games. The houses tools of perception, games, and insistence to win eventually always. The greatest example is what I’ll nickname (Brain Shredding). Where the whole empathises on confusion rises to a new next level.
The Preinstalled Contract of Urgency
Firstly, you need to understand the psychology of any good cycle courier. There is a mind-set and like a contract, that is preinstalled and very difficult to break. It is always there and plays on your consciousness. Once a job is on board you want it delivered and out of your bag quickly as possible. This contract is unwritten and serves all involved parties, company, clients, riders, and industry very well.
The contract of urgency can work in your favour and make the jobs filled with loads of adrenaline type fun. The Controller always knows the true urgency to each job. This gives him under his mischievous moods a key and an extra tool. With this tool, he knows how you are going to act in many given situations. Mostly you set about your work riding and delivering efficiently as possible. If the day is busy, your efficiency will allow a greater number of jobs to arrive soon as your bag is empty.
Poetry of London
Poetry to this job is the topography of this bombardment of secretive, colonial, historic, worldly powered city of London. The cycle courier’s catchment area measures around four miles in circumference. Although trips outside can also be regular. The divide between the West End where the clients are the industries of finite production companies, medical and fashion and the city of London holding mostly business, banking and law. The West End and city of London separated by just two miles where in between you will find Lincoln’s inn field, Stone buildings, and Temple, most of the law.
Cycle paths along Embankment
Dividing the north from south is the river Thames. The river always makes for a relaxing ride on the newish laid cycle paths. On a day when treated with lots of work, the perfectly laid out city allows the controller to keep jobs ahead of you, doing circuits to the city. Your bag is almost never empty as continuously you are on the move. On busy days, from the start until finish you will not stop. Not even for a snacking break, eating when needed on the move and bike.
How far do Cycle Couriers Ride
I never measured the distance of my days as I never felt a need to know. From experience of long distance riding, I had a reasonable idea without measuring. Feeling how the legs felt at the end of each day told me all I needed to know. Measured by Steve the boss was a friend early at 50 departed and another Stevie, over a day rode 80 to 100 miles for his money. The BBC documentary on adrenaline followed Stevie (sometimes known as the singing courier) and interviewed him over the period of a day. When decided by the controller that I needed to earn those distances where reasonable. And not needed to earn half and quarter those miles.
Brain Shredding Tools
Bricks for Tools
Bill for the purpose of the Brain Shredding skulduggery would use every tool at his disposal. The tools consist of this. The office insists all riders use three sources of communication. That being the company phone used for receiving job doc’s and the added use of being able to receive phone calls. Required also is the use of your personal mobile and finally the open channelled radio which is usually strapped somewhere out front.
In days, where clear communication is paramount for the profitability of any company you would think these couriers have all bases covered. If one network malfunctions, at least you have two as cover right. There are obvious problems for the cycle courier. One is while on the move storage and safe accessibility of the devices. Switching sides depending on which phone for me personally was challenging. Emergency stops only achieved via the front break. As some of the smaller companies prove, all really needed is the phone with job doc’s app. The open channelled radio although not always needed is a real benefit for quick contact and decisions.
What Brain Shredding Feels
With the requirement of three communication pieces and in traffic with the contract of urgency and the added pride of just wanting to do well at the fastest pace you have. Bill can really take you to the extreme edge of danger with all those things. The peak of the Brain Shredding is at the absolute height of confusion and at the point of absolute need of clarity. He then plays into one of your phones the sound of an eighties cassette tape screwing itself up while on your blasting stereo.
My brain felt as if a ball of string and at first slowly tightening. Then while that blasted into my ear at the end, every twine connected pulled tight as possible before every strand snapping and shredding my mind. At first, it is an awful feeling, probably nothing worse while your broken neurons search to reconnect. You realise how possibly dangerous it could have been as it registers, ‘all for a game!’
Swerving through traffic reaching back and forwards between the different devices, more jobs arriving, radio cuts in and out of transmission, mobile connections cut short and hung up, answering useless information that you rather knew was already in front of him on the computer screen. While you are preoccupied with jobs on board with jobs to pick up, mapping routes in your mind. Everything stacked on top of each other as if all at once. (A Screeching-scratching- screech blasts into the phone).
Game of Life and Fun
An instant first response is one of pure gasping disbelief. Had I imagined that noise, ah paranoia? Have I lost my mind? Then is to ask yourself, why someone would be so terrible in risking your life and all that. Then you remember you had been participating in a test. Instantly releasing myself with laughter as I realised how ingenious it all had been. It was not just an ordinary test on finding out what you are capable. Not just a test on how fit, strong, and efficient of a courier you can be. The test also was to be on your mind. How much will the mind take on, before giving up on simply trying to do its best.
Seeing it all differently almost immediately, I now felt I had won this little game. As he was in the need with the final stop to make me realise it was all a game. I was never going to give up on knocking out all the work I was being treated. My ability to face more work and pressure only wanted more. I in my own reality saw no limit and in that state, I would feel myself challenging only myself and fully free having fun. My game of life might be crazy but I could chose to feel what a nasty vindictive dangerous sabotaging prick. But I don’t because I enjoyed every moment.
The first of only two times Bill used the Brain Shredding trick was on a day he had warmed me to. While still learning he really tested me to see what I could do. For me it was a highlight in many memorable days, but mainly for knowing the great distance I had to cover for the most doc’s I ever did. Unfortunately, it was a day never repeated as Bill eventually retired young at 55. In all honesty, I was still green and still reliant on maps. I had not yet learnt thoroughly my postcodes, clients, buildings, and light sequences.
To be fully tested at the peak of my confidence I felt all the controllers who followed either did not have the desire or were not up to Master Bill’s expertise. They had not come from a cycle courier background so I could easily see where Bill was definitely different. Bill had mastered his patterns that made him rather unique. He knew how to stretch things to the limit and have you riding maximum distance while also maximum earning with the work he actually had in front of him.
Scenic runs through London
Thrill of the Chase
Later in the day, with a couple of jobs on board and the slow release of feel good endorphins running through all my veins. I turn the corner of Oxford St & Portman Pl. There are three lanes to the one-way system, with two lanes of traffic on the left. I see Gaby’s undistinguishable large upright frame and bike paused between two cars at the traffic lights.
His large well-built torso appears even bigger above his narrow handlebars. Narrow handlebars that only dispatch riders take full advantage of while squeezing between busses, trucks, and cars. Anticipation of a chase quickly excites my mind so I raced up to trail him centre lane on the left. Cars are in front also trailing coming up to our rear. By the time I catch, the lights are now green and all traffic is on the move.
From the edge of his eye, Gabby has caught a glimpse and must have decided (as I had predicted) he was not to tolerate someone, on his rear wheel. He lays his bike over to the right across the back of the car. I follow with a grin from ear to ear already enjoying the thrill of the chase.
Edge of Death
His bike stands upright again at the centre of the two right lanes. Side to side over top of his broad shoulders his head is scoping all the traffic of three lanes. As quick, again he lays the bike back down to the left, shooting back to where he came from. I continue to follow while thinking he cannot shake me if I have the unfair advantage of his slipstream.
With that momentum he shoots up between the two cars, still glancing right then left. I was thinking he was further trying to identify who was cheekily behind. But just as he gets his rear wheel in front of the accelerating car, yet again he uses the laws of gravity to lay the bicycle violently down to his right.
His head ducks down horizontal to the underside of the bumper. His tyres take grip biting into the road. From about 20 degrees from the tar, the centrifugal forces maximally stressed his steel frame. The frame bent right to the cusp of fold and was to ping back on him with a sharpest snap like force. He springs back perpendicular, his head only missing the front edge of the bonnet by a couple of feet as the back tyre shortly skips leaving the tar seal before taking a bite again and shooting him diagonally across the face of the car. Speedily he races continuing over, to what was an empty inside lane.
Belief in Destiny
Briefly, I had been stunned by the power of the pinging steel frame and by Gabby’s perfect timing for a stunt on the edge and in front of death. Some would believe this was a risky manoeuvre from a highly skilled street rider. Truly gifted street riders and cycle couriers do not believe in risks. In fact, they ride as if everything is destiny and when observed looks like zero fear.
Sprinting to get ahead of the car, I did not want to concede. Quickly the thought of a curtain ambulance ride rose with the now accelerated traffic and mounted impossible odds. I sat up and blew the breath I had grasped on to. Equally compelling he did not glance to see whom he’d quickly dispatched leaving in his trail. There was no acknowledgement as was evident in his body language, only showing his back while shooting off down a side street to collect his pickup.
Full with admiration, I knew I had witnessed someone who was prepared to take things to the extreme edge, a foremost champion at his trade. I was also to reinforce a little safety knowledge about courier riding. As far as I was to know, with that little chase, Gabby never knew who was behind. Only looking from side to side and being very careful with his glancing. Be very careful in looking back because danger that is partially controlled happens only in front. You cannot avoid directionless cars coming from behind.
Weeks after this, Gabriel, a good and powerful rider with all his skill did not prevent his head shattering a London’s black cab window screen. Following the accident, he required metal plates for reconstruction of his cheek and jaw bone. Another reminder on how some of us will survive the narrowest of escape and evidently, some in this work do not. It would be so easy to judge others who take risks as Gabriel does but there is a knowing amongst cycle couriers. That knowing is a true accident happens very quickly and there is no way of avoiding it. It will just happen.
With winter comes summer and with glances, I see jealousy and envy. With fully inflated tyres comes relief and new bicycle parts are not only shiny and awesome to shop online for but given the hours and miles one does to afford them, brings a large sense of fulfilment. The extreme good and extreme bad and especially the people who are good and bad, come together to make the most in equivalent balanced and fulfilling (extreme highs and extreme lows) jobs until date.
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