Sunday, 10 January 2010

How I learnt to love cycle couriers

I used to hate them with their cool bikes, shabby chic and rollies. They lounge on Soho street corners exuding distain for all those for whom sweatiness and dreadlocks are not a sign of professional achievement.

Office rats trudge past them destined for long meetings and bad coffee. Only cheery Australian barmen inspire comparable annoyance mixed with envy. Bankers at least have the grace to look miserable.

“I love the freedom: your worst day on a bike will be better than your best day in an office," he told me wearing combats, lycra, leg warmers and a fur hat. “You're outside all day and you control London, not the other way round. You go where you like, quickly, and there's no waiting for buses, being stuck underground or in traffic. You deliver whatever it is and get home having biked 100 miles, knowing you've done your job and feel good but knackered”.

“I don't know a single courier who would rather be doing something else. There are rivalries – in some pubs if you've not got a walkie-talkie people look down on you. I used to deliver sandwiches and guys would take the piss. I don't know why delivering envelopes makes you better but it's a bit like school sometimes, showing off fancy bikes and gear and stuff. The rain's a bit shit but I'm happiest on my bike”.

For the office worker avoiding death whilst looking for lunch couriers are a menace. For those who dream of escape the expressionless faces staring into the middle distance, free from the oppression of inside, walking the line between freedom and bum-dom it's the attitude that appeals, not the work.

The cheery Aussie barman's on an extended gap year – temporarily running away from whatever real life will be. The banker has a life, if not a salary, of little freedom. The courier, battling the worst their less evolved brethren in white vans, cabs or buses can throw at them rides free into the distance – living the dream of 'the littlest hobo'. While part of a system which crushes so many they zoom past the rest both switched on and tuned out from the world around them.