Stolen Bullitt Cargo Bike

July 16, 2013

Stolen on July 8th from SE17 – Seen on July 9th on Walworth Road – Seen on July 10th South of Morrisons/Walworth Road.

This bike belongs to a friend of mine who loves it like nothing else, and her Collie Ben depends on it for transport. I would like to get it back, please spread the word.

Reward of £100

No Questions Asked


Rohloff 5 speed hub, black.

Alfine Dyno Hub at the front.

Black Tubus rack at the back

Brooks B67 Saddle

Headtube has red, gold and green spacers.

Shimano XT Hydraulic 3 finger levers

At the time of theft had a wooden box at the front, but this had been taken off when last seen in Walworth.

Please keep your eyes open, if seen please call Brixton Cycles at 020 7733 6055, contact Tee, or anyone, really.

Below is a .jpg file for download, to stick in your shop window/give to the local kids/cyclists etc. Thank you!

Sarahs Bullitt


My Little Friends

June 10, 2013

Vimrod - Little friends


Self Delusion.

March 3, 2013

Since I’ve nothing new, original, informative, interesting or useful to say about the subject of the road, I thought I’d delight you with some entirely unrelated, but highly applicable content. Enjoy.

Vimrod - Self-delusion


Now Sax’s bike…. Please bring back.

October 17, 2012

Last night from Walworth Se17.

Bring back asap…This is what he says – end of the page a pdf for downloading if you have a shop window to stick it onto.



Please call.07946 118 478
I just want it back


Recovered Red Gios 50cm Road

September 20, 2012

Enough excitement!

Woke up to discover bike was gone. Five hours later it was sold up the road in Heygate Estate for £20. Don’t know what the tears are for now, shock, sorrow or happiness.

Thanks for help. Remember to lock your bikes. Take care.


Much loved – Reward – No questions asked – Please keep an eye out


Please recover. Peacefully.



March 18, 2011

On a rainy afternoon, happiness is made of a spare pair of socks and some dry newspaper.


Posh Scrapper.

March 5, 2011

“How is your knitting going?”

“I’ve stalled, I haven’t got the white wool that I need. They don’t sell wool in normal shops here, I’d need to find specialist shops. Seems knitting is not something people generally do.”

“Yeah, people don’t make things. They buy things. Industrialization has alienated people from the industrial society they live in.”

“And when they do make things, it’s a special thing. It’s a ‘hobby’ that you have, not something you do to make ends meet.”

It’s a complex society this one we live in. You don’t just do things, for the sake of doing them, you’ve got to name them. Once named, they become something that defines who and what you are. Sometimes you do things in order to be perceived a certain way, rather than because you need to do them, or enjoy doing them.

You don’t just knit, you do knitting.

If you want to pop out for a walk, you go and purchase polar expedition level equipment and go walking or, if you’re a pro, perhaps you go hiking.

Because your hobbies define you, you must be careful in choosing which ones to pick. Some are better than others, they define you in the right way, as belonging to the right social class or subclass, whatever you perceive that to be. With the right hobbies you feel comfortable knowing who you are and how you relate to the society.

Hobbies that are cool are always good to have, if you can figure out what cool is at a given moment. Like fashion, coolness is evasive and unpredictable. Apparently knitting is cool now, who would have thought – back in time you did it because you shouldn’t waste time and needed warm clothes. Whatever made couriering cool? Earning a living on two wheels running errands for the banks, media industry and legal establishment, as a page boy of the capitalist society? What comes next, cooking your own food even if you can afford to eat out?

One common denominator seems to be that these are all things that people used to do because they had to. They were a means to an end, not an end in themselves. You’d be a courier to have money, not have money in order to be a courier, in order to be cool. You’d walk and ski in order to go somewhere, not go somewhere to walk or ski.

Is skiing still cool, by the way? If it is, it is the perfect hobby, because it is also posh, you need money to do it and that’s really cool. Posh hobbies, I’m guessing, never go out of fashion.

I’ve already heard couriering being referred to as an expensive hobby, rather than a job.  If there came a time when the working classes simply couldn’t  afford to do it anymore, would couriering then qualify as posh? A cool and posh hobby? Hilarious.

The future of the scrapper secured. Sort of.


Cold Feet.

January 29, 2011

It’s back again. Winter and the Battle of the Cold Feet. So far, the best solution I’ve seen is:


Waterproof socks

Neoprene liner

Winter shoes.

This is what I do:

That’s woollen socks, newspaper, shoes, more newspaper, overshoes. It works better than some of the things I’ve tried.

Good luck.


Wehey! [Edited]

December 2, 2010

Gosh it’s pretty. And unpractical. But fun. Didn’t know this could happen in London!

[Edit] I’m just going to keep on adding the snowy photos to this post as long as it lasts. The snow, not the post.

…and somebody’s constructed a giant snow man in front of the house. Only without the head, arms, legs and torso. [Edit] Apparently his name is Alfred.

Don’t Forget To Swipe Your Oyster Card.


Poetic Justice.

November 30, 2010

It’s 3.15 on a Friday when I spot 57 Calvin’s and 06 Hobbes’s bikes locked together in the corner and without much difficulty, locate their riders in the nearest pub and join them. Pints of Guinness in front of us we are gossiping away the afternoon calm, when the radio interrupts our natter.

Controller: Anyone up for a pickup in N1 coming back to W1?

Hobbes calls in with Calvin’s number, the cheeky monkey.

Hobbes: 57-57.

Controller: 57 it’s yours, sending details through.

Calvin: – !!!

Calvin’s face is worth a ton of gold. He looks at his pint, at the blinging XDA, the pint again, as if trying to fit them both in the same mental picture, and finally turns to Hobbes with an expression of not-yet-fully-comprehended-betrayal. Is there any way I’m going to get out of this, he’s thinking. You bastard, he’s thinking.

Turns out Wayne has been empty and forgotten about in N1 for some time, and he calls in for the job.

Wayne: 66, I’m empty N1.

Controller: Apologies 66, but I’ve already sent the job to Calvin.

Calvin’s face brightens up, but Wayne doesn’t want the job either. Radio manner falls by the wayside when the two riders call in over each other.

Calvin: 57-57, I think he wants it more!

Wayne: Uh, never mind, I’m already on my way back.

Controller: 57, N1 to W1 for you and apologies to Wayne.

Calvin: 57, oh, you know if he’s empty there he should really have the job, you know, really I don’t mind at all I think he should have it.

Now it’s gone on too long, the Controller has had enough and gets stroppy.

Controller: Right. 57 doesn’t want it. 66 doesn’t want it. Fine, I’ll just take it back and give to the first one on the plot.

The relief on Calvin’s face! His XDA blings a cancellation, we turn back to the pints.

24: Wow, that was lucky!

Calvin: And the funny thing is he [Controller] doesn’t even know what happened.

24: That was awful of you Hobbes, you deserve a slap.

Bling – bling – bling – bling – bling… That’s an XDA. Nearby. Right here.

24: What… who’s next on the list…?

Controller: 06-06.

Hobbes: 06.

Controller: Details for you in N1 for a W1 coming back.

With a defeated smile Hobbes manages a Roger Rodge with the two of us bending over with laughter.

Hobbes: I kinda deserved that didn’t I?

24: You more than kinda did. If that’s not poetic justice what is?

Calvin (relieved and in stitches): And he [Controller] still doesn’t know what has just happened, how funny is that?

Well, he does now.

Isn’t it wonderful though when the world works perfectly correctly for just one small moment, as though according to a plan?

To the Big Boy Commuter. To All of Yis.

Who unfortunately are not reading this blog.

The fact that I caught up with you means that I was going faster than you in the first place. Please don’t turn into a disturbing, annoying windmill and make a mess of the Road.


As Quick As You Can.

November 15, 2010

Only so many phrases are ever said over the radio. Details details. Rodge waiting pob empty. Come on back come on back got you down. – – dge.

Then there is As Quick As You Can. I can’t stand as-quick-as-you-can.

Just the other day my colleague mentioned it in the Corner. How, on as-quick-as-you-can, he will inevitably go slower than usual.


“I don’t know. It’s just really annoying.”

It really is. It implies that you don’t know what you’re doing, can’t read the docket times, don’t know what an urgent job is or what it means that jobs are getting old. It is double annoying when said in a situation where there is no real hurry, and simply aggravating when you are in a hurry loaded with work: I am already going as quick as I can am I not, will you stop insulting me.

I asked another colleague what he thinks of as-quick-as-you-can:

“It annoys me how much it annoys me when somebody says that!”

And look, I’ve worked out how to do a poll. What do you think?

Ah. A quiet go-go, on the other hand, what’s wrong with a nice go-go? It confirms an understanding the rider and controller already share. Low key, no fuss, work gets done.

Poppy Appeal

Poppies are everywhere again and I’m undecided as to what to make of them. Are they covert war mongering, or a genuine, good cause? Erring on the side of caution I’ve never bought one, even though I usually get the pins, patches and stickers for the deaf, blind and disadvantaged.

My friend assured me that The Royal British Legion who are behind the Poppy Appeal are careful not to glorify war, but to work to support and rehabilitate the victims of it. The Remembrance Day is in commemoration of the sacrifices of both civilians and military in times of war, with the date 11th of November marking the end of  WW1.

Fair enough, I thought.

On Friday I nearly went and bought a poppy out of sympathy, after reading about the disruption of the Armistice Day Silence by a crowd of fanatics burning a poppy and shouting  Islamist abuse. As much as I feel for the cause of the Muslim world against the western Axis of Evil, that was just rude. When a nation is remembering and showing respect to their dead, you keep quiet no matter what.

But then only hours later, at a railway station, I changed my mind again when I saw this bill board ad for the poppy appeal:

I thought, hold on, you poor young kid with a prosthetic leg, you’re only twentysomething years old. There hasn’t been an occupying force, or a threat of one in your country within your life time, how come you’ve been to war? Oh, so you were killing people in somebody else’s country, uninvited, when you got your leg blown off?

I see. Won’t be getting a poppy then. Sorry mate, I know it’s not your fault.

Just Another Pigeon. Or Sumink.


How To Use A Brake.

September 25, 2010

Yesterday, setting off from the Corner my brake fell off. Had it happened at any speed it would’ve been ugly, the caliper gripped the rotating wheel, pulled to the end of the cable and jammed. Of course, I had to take the issue of the potential dangers of having a brake into the office to the headmaster.

“My brake fell off man, you’d want to go out and have a look, that could’ve been dangerous.”

“Oh don’t give me that, you’re not one of these people coming in to say, my brake tried to kill me.”


“It’s only incompetence on behalf of the brake user — “

“Or the mechanic… (fully acknowledging that in this case they are the one and same person, the incompetent me.)”

“The thing is, people don’t know how to use the brake. You don’t just pull it. You use it like you caress a woman’s breast. You don’t attack it. You approach it carefully. If you don’t know how to do it — “

And then he proceeds to demonstrate. Not on me for chrissake, on the imaginary breast above the desk. But hold on, is he saying I can’t use a brake, or that I can’t caress a breast? Or both?

“Bill, you’d have to ask my girlfriend about that one.”

Thanks for that, you live you learn.

Rest of the day went brakeless then. Because of the Creative policy of requiring their riders to have a working brake, I’ve had one for some time now, and have found it quite convenient for slowing down in hills and coming up to traffic. It does save my legs and I use it frequently. It does create additional sense of security, either real or imagined: I could stop if I needed to. Maybe.

It turned out that I had developed a bad habit of coming up to junctions at full blast, use the brake to adjust to safe speed and then do the rest with the legs and steering. You can immediately see the complications following from having the failed caliper wrapped around the top tube: I found myself repeatedly pulling the brake lever with no effect and then having to manoeuvre through stuff at a ridiculously excessive speed. More dangerous than having or not having a brake is thinking you’ve got one.

The other thing I found, quite unexpectedly, was that brakeless brought the spark back to cycling. Heading to cut across oncoming traffic, judging the gaps, speeds and visibility, if I’d get it wrong there would be no backdoor out of it, I couldn’t change my mind and pull out. No second chances either, I had to get it right. Suddenly, the dreamy, drifty cyclist was gone and I was totally focused, 100% there, nothing else mattered except this very moment. Nothing else existed except  t h i s ,  h e r e ,  n o w . The whole organism that I am woke up to a heightened level of action and life, called up by the most basic instinct of survival. Was it Samuel Johnson who said that nothing focuses the mind  like the prospect of death?

Wow, I had forgotten about this!

After work I couldn’t help contemplating on the parallels between riding brakeless in traffic and living a life. In life, you can’t stop, either. You can turn, manoeuvre, avoid, adjust, fit your speed and movement to the flow around you, you can change direction. What you can’t do is halt.

In life, too, you need to judge fast and you need to judge correctly: it’s happening now, you need to react now. Do you know what’s going on, are there any black spots, anything you haven’t noticed? You need to be alert and see ahead: where are you headed at, where is this speed and direction going to take you, in relation to the speed and direction of the events around you?  Will it take you to where you want to get to? Are you going to survive it?

As with riding brakeless, you only get one go with life. That’s what gives it the spark. If we could have a practice run, and then the real thing, it would be meaningless. Oh, I got it wrong, let’s do it again. No, this is it. This is unique, never happened before, never to be repeated.

No brakes, no rewind button, and no rehearsal. You have to get it right at first go.

Ah, got a bit sidetracked there, didn’t I.

Now I’m not saying to ride brakeless, that would be irresponsible. Brakeless is dangerous and stupid.

The urban legend that has reached my ears says that street brakeless came about when couriers got a hold of a load of cheap old track frames that obviously weren’t drilled for brakes. That’s enough of an excuse to just get on with it and learn. But to do it for any reason other than that of practical necessity is just as foolish as is rolling up your trouser leg, throwing a timbuktu over your shoulder and walking to the shops in your sidi’s. Moreover, it is childish and selfish in that it shows total disregard for other people’s safety.

Just get on with the brake and learn to use it properly. You know who to ask if you run into any difficulty.

The true Creative brake: "But I've got one!"

Praise The Wayne.



August 20, 2010

I’ve rather enjoyed the fuss Mr Messenger Chick kicked up about the Knog patches and a woman’s place in cycling.

As for the porno patches, I’m more inclined to let that sort of thing go, to ignore sexist or pornographic pollution where it isn’t stuffed at my face. If someone is so lacking in taste to produce those patches, and someone else equally lacking to want to buy them, hey it’s a free world.

As for pretty women in dresses on bikes, why, doesn’t that make the world a better place?

But sexism in cycling, gender roles, girls and boys, chromosomes and what is expected of you based on gender, that has had me annoyed enough to almost have something to say.

‘A Woman’

What is gender anyway? A socially defined conglomeration of accepted modes of looks, behaviour and activity? Patterns based on archetypes loosely associated with sex, biological or acquired?

Male or female, or does it matter?

Let me give you an example: my grandmother is a big, loud woman who worked on shipyards as a welder all her life… after retiring from the freight ships that she served on when she was younger (but that she doesn’t talk about much apart from the nonchalant “Yeah I got around.”) When they bought a piece of land in the woods with my grandfather, he cleared the woods into a road, but it was her who built the bridge they needed to get to their side of the rapids.

At the same time she bakes the finest cakes and crochets the most intricate rosy laces and knits and crafts pink and blue fluffy things for the new babies in the family. She is a contrast of gender attributes and would not fit into any box or under any single label describing gender specific modes of action. She is who she is without conforming to any fixed idea of  ‘a woman’.

And that’s how it should be, for both sexes. Freedom to be as and how you are.

Lads and Ladettes.

That freedom I’ve certainly found in the small-ish crowd of courier cyclists that I tend to stick to, where it’s taken for granted that girls and boys get their hands dirty, build and fix their bikes and their punctures and keep on pedalling until the day is over.

On the circuit, you don’t dress up, you dress down. You don’t emphasize your femininity, and nobody expects you to, you put it away.

If anything, this would be my first and main complaint in relation to gender and couriering: having lost, or at least temporarily misplaced my femininity after having so long and so well adapted to a manly environment. The oldest and best adaptation is that of identity: don’t be different, don’t stand out. For this purpose, don’t be a girl, be a boy – until you almost forget you were ever a girl.

Years ago the postroom guys called me ‘love’, and ‘sweetheart’ and ‘darling’. Or ‘pet’ and ‘petal’ and ‘sunshine’. What do they call me now? ‘Mate’. So much so that I’m beginning to miss the odd sweetheart.

On the other hand, when I get a sniff of a lurking patronizing attitude I call them ‘love’ and ‘darling’ back and immediately we have an understanding, pat each other on the back and shake hands. Sometimes all it takes is one look and they won’t say what they were just about to say.

In many ways, the courier world itself is an extremely gender equal environment. The nature of this job is essentially equal: you are rained on you get wet, you bust your legs it hurts, you hit the tarmac you lose your skin, it makes no difference whether you are a girl or a boy. Fair enough, a very small percentage of long term couriers are female, but when you are one, I have rarely heard it suggested that you wouldn’t be in par with the men.

It is the world outside, and the odd individual within, that reinforce the old gender stereotypes:

“Nice bike, who built it for you?”

“You’re quick… for a girl.”

The latter was an intended dig and a joke from a fellow courier, but the first one wasn’t.

While it’s true that much of the courier world is equal, I think it is only equal through learning. New courier lads can be sexist, until their attitudes are proven wrong by practice.

“Girls only do nice, local work.”

“Girls get fed.”

“Girls don’t cycle far or fast.”

“Girls bail out.”

“Girls have boyfriends to fix their bikes for them.”

Each one of these prejudices you have to tackle and break through with each individual who holds them — if you can be bothered. More often, I find, you simply don’t bother with the individual.

This is the other reason why you dress down, work hard and feel that you need to prove yourself. You come in early and leave late, you call in for “anyone for a pickup from W9 to N5?” You pretend you don’t care about being thought of as a “controller’s sweetheart” who sweeps the handy direct west ones and makes a fortune without doing any real work at all. You pretend you don’t care that your fellow couriers express genuine amazement if you’ve done over 30, 40 or 50 jobs.

These attitudes I don’t have much patience with. Fortunately, although they do exist, they don’t persist — even blokes can learn new things relatively quickly (!). It’s the world outside couriering that I haven’t much faith on when it comes to sexism, and girls on bikes.

With the outside world, the post room guys, builders and road maintenance workers, the real challenge is in the pre-emptive communication: how to project the cold, hard stare, raised eyebrows and can-just-about-waste-a frown-on-you BEFORE they have a chance to whistle or otherwise express their uninvited appreciation.

I’m a person, not an object. Please, and thank you.

Other Family.

My parents were over for a week. Mother was telling me about my four year old nephew:

“He’s so careful. He looks at something and says “I’m little scared… No, I don’t dare to [do it]” and then he won’t jump off the balcony.”

I’m trying to think back:

“My sister wasn’t like that when she was a child, was she?”

“No she wasn’t. She’d look and think – and then she would run and do it.”

“And me?”

“You? You had no brakes whatsoever, you were straight in.”

Ha. Little change there then.

State of Work.

August, eh?

A Very Busy Day in the Corner.


What’s Wrong With These?

August 12, 2010

Ok, ok, I am in a habit of wearing clothes to a point where there isn’t much left to wear.

So, what does my colleague do?

After weeks of nagging me about the state of my shoes and what they’ll do to my feet, like a right mother, I mean bother, he goes and buys me a new pair.

They are “Vans”, and will walk me straight into membership in the cool courier club — and they are lovely!

“You get what you give”

You give what you have ♥

Thanks, brother!



No difficulty, no trouble, not that I’ve heard of. Maybe we are a bunch of semi-grown-ups, after all.

Some fierce showing off though, in the middle of the dead calm of August. Re-establishing the pecking order, showing who is who and who stands where. Hoping – or fearing – of a change in your position.

The circuit has a new feel to it, it’s looking for shape. Riders and the controller shifting through rules, ways and practices: what will stay, what will go.


Kids are good at that.

You Seen Any of My Mates?



August 10, 2010

Andy Singer: Life Cycle. Carbusters.

Andy Singer: Rinse Cycle. Carbusters.


One Of A Kind.

July 31, 2010

Right so. The sharpest and smoothest controller of all time is gone and the circuit won’t be the same. It won’t be worse, but it will be different. You will be missed.

The farewell picnic was last Sunday, it too was one of a kind and went on and on and then some more, but nobody slept in the park for all I know. What a lovely day and night on a grassy hill with the Corner away from the corner and the only jobs going to the the nearest offie, wait and return.

Now that was a proper picnic. I had forgotten how much fun it is to turn up at work on a Monday morning without ever making it home, in a mess in your party dress, all tired, shaky and mellow. Gaffertape a second radio onto the weekend bag: wibbly wobbly, stupid and slow and off you go. No map, no brain, no pockets; no hurry and no stress. You’ve done your bit, you made it in and not much more can be expected from you today. All you need to do is focus on Survival.

Final Drinks.

One more time:

“All pedalbikes switch to channel two, good night good night. It was fun!”

And then we all went to the Duke to send Martin off with style.

I don’t really have words for the private feelings we have, not words to be published anyway. What says more than words is the work people did: Wayne came up with a true gem for a truly unique controller and Xander designed and printed an absolute masterpiece of a tee with everybody’s heart in it. Xander seems to have found the words, too, that I’m only looking for.

We had drinks, chat, hugs, laughter, memories and I made sure there were some tears, too. What sort of a send off is it if no-one’s crying?

It’s a strange thing, change. It always happens whether you want it or not. People come and go. Sometimes you get more attached than you think, without even noticing until the person is gone.

One time in a plane to Croatia I got talking to the guy next to me and he said:

“People who come in and out of our lives are like small deaths.”

Small deaths. For the small thing that it is, losing your controller, that’s how big it is. Mourn today, tomorrow be ready for change.

Simply the best.


How Did You Get Here?

July 29, 2010

heil hipster

“self employed” “leave a comment”

give hipsters a brake

if we had more tea what will happen

self employed payslip

how to be cool

securispeed job

“yun nan bai yao stings like hell but wi

some more tee for 24

irish shamrock tattoo

24 tee


“you can’t” “it’s not going to start”

mental map of tea

bitter nail tea

more tea for 24

couriers baggot street dublin “dublin co


more tea for 24 tee

excuses for having more tea

cool bike courier clothes

bloody hipster

cycling hipster

Yes they are google search terms. Now who searched for cool bike courier clothes? Get out of here! (Or see below.)

Can't remember the photo source. Sorry for posting without permission.


Check Matess.

July 21, 2010

Nr 28 is the Kasparov of this lengthy single round tournament after my Queen committed a totally unnecessary and purposeless suicide. Now we are just playing, no pressure. Might even learn something, like patience and seeing ahead.

That’s Pretty Much It.

Nothing ever happens anymore. I nearly got doored twice today which hasn’t happened for a long, long time. Nearly took a pedestrian (or two) with me because I was kind of fed up with them and wasn’t giving them the usual funky chicken clearance.

I wish they’d look first.

Apparently a pedestrian got killed by a police car on Piccadilly today, they were coming up the wrong way on the bus lane and the pedestrian stepped out, or so I was told.

What can I say? Look first, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was when you’re lying under a gravestone.

Friend of mine cycled past just after the scene was cleared, he was looking at the blood on the ground trying to work out which way, and what, had happened. He has this weird gift of always arriving at the scene when someone’s been crushed under the rear  wheels of a cement mixer or has a bus parked on top of them and their bicycle. I rarely see those, thank god, but sometimes when I cycle past a scene the air goes still, I get goose pimples all over and the hair in my neck stands up, then I think there’s someone dead in the middle of it.

Talking of traffic and safety and police, there are so many pushbike police around it is getting stupid. I try to give them little bit of respect and take my feet out of the pedals and tiptoe across the lights but it’s just a pain, and how does it make traffic any safer? Assuming that is the purpose for having them go around bothering couriers. If I wasn’t becoming increasingly safety conscious I’d leg it and take them on a proper ride, but the incentive to cut through anything and everything would be even higher than in an alleycat and that’s just not on.

What else? Oh yeah, had a pickup in E1 that turned out to be a tent, one of those roundy things you see in festivals. Not particularly heavy, but if it had been any blowier I could’ve flown it to the destination.

“24-24 POB sailing in”

He had booked a car and we sent a pushbike.

“I thought it was a bit cheap.”

Ah well. Drop off wasn’t far and it’s one of those things, it’s more trouble refusing than just getting on with it and really, it’s much better to have a job to knock out than to come back empty. Upgrading the docket would be sweet but being greedy isn’t so there you go.

The tent goes on the random list of the “less un-interesting things I’ve carried”. Two whole coconuts. Diamonds. Gold. Blood samples from an STI clinic. Champagne. Roses. Suits. Shoes. Toilet paper. Forgotten mobiles, laptops and handbags. Drugs, prescribed or otherwise. Huge amounts of cash. A full sized Djembe.

A colleague of mine once had a cheque for 1000000 (that’s meant to be a million, not sure about the zeros) — or so the client claimed and yes it was a big law firm drop to the bank — and it happens to be the only package he ever lost. The same courier forgot to deliver a job one time and found it in his bag the next morning, you know how that never happens but sometimes it does, and of course it was an envelope full of cash and of course the sender was in panic by the time he got around to delivering it the following morning.

And that is it. So you see, a load of unrelated nonsense ↑↑↑ because nothing ever happens anymore.

Except that there is the   b i g  c h a n g e   ahead of losing a controller and getting a new one who really is an old one and it will be just fine but is nevertheless unsettling.


Paranoid Android

July 11, 2010

Or: Do Couriers Dream of Electric Dockets.

Or: You Fed Bastard.

[Courier paranoia. Envying each other. Listening to the radio. How many dockets? Am I on the list? Who’s being fed?]

My adventure into Eastern philosophies and practices has totally changed how I look at the human being. The Chinese think we are influenced by elements in our lives, not only physical things like external heat from the weather, but non-physical things like emotions and life patterns. Things like over-work. Rushing around. Competition. Repetition. Exhaustion. Insecurity. Fright. Anger.

Most things we face on the road cause internal heat, in heaps. You know it yourself after a several hours’ urgent run, the panting, staring idiot that one becomes. That’s Heat. Notice a hot flush in your head after having a close call? After a road rage incident? That’s Heat.

Heat confuses the thoughts, unsettles the mind and makes a base for anger to flare up. It makes thoughts run round and round too fast in a nasty way. At the same time, repetition causes repetition, which in the mind turns into obsession and the thoughts can’t escape. Round and round and round the same old track, who’s doing more work, who’s being fed, who’s doing work going my way.

When you’re new you’re fine for a while, until the heat starts building up and you contract the seed of paranoia from older couriers. Then, once you’ve been with a company for a period of time, it gets easier again: you know you’ll be looked after to an extent, you won’t be ignored or forgotten about. The problem is that by that time you will have endured enough of seeing the older riders bomb around while you’re standing by that paranoia has become a pattern of your mind that is triggered by the smallest things.

The absolutely worst thing is starting with a new company when you’ve already been through that progression, maybe several times. You’ve stepped from being looked after to being at the bottom of the pecking order again and you know exactly how it works. You’re paranoid and unfortunately it is justified paranoia, it’s experience based knowledge and not a mere suspicion.

I look back and can’t believe the rage my mind has driven me into at times, despite all my efforts of ignoring it. I’ve sat down, spoken to myself, sometimes written down what is running through my head. It’s only a game, I’ve said, it’s not real, get out of it. Nice attempt. The paycheck at the end of the week is not a game, that’s all too real.

Only once in my courier career have I exploded and gone home in the middle of the day and that was caused by paranoia. On a busy enough day my controller forgot about me for something like two hours, and instead of calling in and asking if he had me on the list, I let my head spin myself into a knot. I stormed into the office:

“I’ve been standing by for two fkn hours I’m going home!”

“Surely not — ” [he checked the screen, realised it was true, and had one look at my face:]

“So you’re going home then.”

“I fkn am!”

You gotta laugh even if it wasn’t funny at the time. Years later the same controller gave me a good advice that he himself got from someone else who again had probably got from someone else:

Don’t listen to the voices.

How hard is that to put into practice though? I developed several distraction techniques. Ok, what else is there that I can apply my mind to? Have I got study to do? Excellent, I’ve no jobs to do I can go over my notes. Great, I’ve had an uninterrupted hour doing work I’d otherwise have to do tonight. Newspapers. Charity shops. Taiji. Taking a nap. Catching up with friends. Watching the world go by. Now of late, the chess we are playing at work — if only my opponent wasn’t being fed and not there to play!

Share It Fairly But Don’t Take a Slice of My Pie.

Companies and controllers are very different in how fair they are sharing the work. And there is the question of what is fair. Does somebody coming in for couple of days deserve the same amount of work than a reliable five-dayer? Should the newbie’s paycheck match the veteran’s? Slow rider vs. fast rider, lazy moaner vs. hard worker?

One of my ex-colleagues said,

“We all make roughly the same. I think they are too fair.”

And another one,

“There’s no perks in this jobs, it doesn’t go forward in any way. If you’ve been doing it for a decade and a new kid turns up making exactly what you’re making, that’s just outrageous.”

The most conducive environment for paranoia I’ve experienced was the old SS dogbox in Dublin where we would stand by between jobs. In the box, no matter how much or how little work you did, you must always keep the same miserable face — otherwise it would seem you were being fed and you would feel the wrath.

You wouldn’t get your book out while someone else could see. It was considered rude to try and see how many dockets someone else had done, let alone ask. And often it was true that you wouldn’t want to: in the same box sat people who went home with a cheque for €300, others with €800, and yet someone with a €1000+. You never knew what someone else was making, but you always suspected it was more than you did.

We had the phone jobs. We had no XDA’s so at first you thought you could listen and know who’s doing the work. Then you started wondering, some people were never in the dogbox and when you saw the back of them on the road they were going far too fast to be heading for the coffee shop.

Then one day your phone rings. You get a run of Directs which is complemented by couple of Standards over the radio as  you go on. You’ve climbed up in the pecking order, but your peace of mind is gone: now you know what’s going on.

It worked both ways. You’d be paranoid about everyone else, even the newbies, and everyone else would be paranoid about you.

That must have been one of the unhealthiest environments I’ve ever spent time in — we didn’t even have the option of standing by somewhere else, once you’d finished your run it was back to the dogbox until “NEEEEEXT!!!” was called through the hatch.

Step Back.

I don’t actually know how couriers deal with paranoia. It’s almost too personal to ask.

We joke about it, wind each other up but there is often a drop of real sentiment behind it. Our replies are evasive:

“How’s your day?”

“Yeaaah it’s not brilliant but not too bad.”

On a miserably quiet day you look for confirmation from others:

“I’ve only done five dockets… … … (and you?)”

It’s great if you can reply, “oh I’ve done four, all crappy west ones” and absolutely awful if you’ve done way more.

How I deal with paranoia is first of all by being a bloody part timer. The heat doesn’t get to accumulate quite the same way as it does when you’re on four or five days. Even so, as irrational and unwarranted as it is, I still get the habitual paranoia on occasion. Last time what resolved it was simply saying to one of my colleagues:

“I’m about to get paranoid what do I do?”

He replied in some roundabout way, but the air was cleared and it turned into a nice enough day.

Working for a good company and good controllers helps. Today I do work, tomorrow someone else does work. If my morning is bad, afternoon will be better. Monday bad, Tuesday better, this week bad, next week will compensate. Now, this does work the other way too, which is slightly depressing: if you hit a busy day it is likely to mean that you’re going to get a quiet day for it later. But that’s just how it is.

My last transition from a city to another and a company to another was the hardest. In my memory London was really good for work, there was plenty of it and it paid well. Although I had been told work had gone down, it still took me by surprise. Week after week the same paycheck, almost like being on an hourly wage. I didn’t have to work hard for it, but that wasn’t the point. I knew I wasn’t on the work roll and I wasn’t used to it, not for a long time then.

In the end I had to sit down with myself and ask what it is that I’m doing. Am I cycling for money? Obviously YES, but is that the only reason, or even the main reason? Do I have any higher, superseding motives for doing this than money? I thought maybe.

What I did was I stopped opening the payslips. They were never going to give me that happy rush of “is that how much I made?” again, so I decided to put them away. From there on I’ve managed my spending according to an estimated minimum income, and apart from the rare exception I store the unopened envelopes in a drawer until I file them weeks or months later. Sometimes I look:

Ah, it seems that couple of months ago I had a £25o week. And look, there’s a £95 week.

At that point it makes no difference whatsoever. I can’t even remember how many days I’ve done.

I enjoy the cycling, small nice things about runs, friendships, coffees and I don’t feel like a money slave. Does someone on the circuit make more? They probably do. Does someone make less? They probably do. And what do I do?

Pick up and deliver small parcels, for all the things that I love about it.


Totally forgot about the contributory factor of smoking the green stuff. Thanks for reminding.



July 2, 2010

I got home from work and my room’s been taken over by ants. They are everywhere, coming in trails, my bed is black with them, the floor is crawling underneath me.

Fkn ants? What else now.

I called in my dog and tried to set her on them with no success. The vicious beast that she is, she eats wasps, snails, spiders and flies but apparently not ants.

So after a bit of googling I now have my window sill caked with salt, surfaces wiped with vinegar and the hoover full of ants. Creepy crawlers. What do they want from me?

So far so good, the infestation is under control.

One Less Rider.

When ever is someone going to produce a new version of the One Less Car/Fixie/one-or-other and make stickers for those lucky/smart ones who manage to jump out of the wheel:

One Less Courier.

I want one.

This morning I had a coffee and a chat with a friend who reckoned it was time to move on.

I asked him why, and yes something had triggered it, but it’s never just the obvious. We all have done it, in one way or another. One day you just can’t go to work. Your cup is full, you’ve reached your limit and that’s it, thank you very much, if I stay there is no knowing what will happen.

Is it a burn-out? I think maybe, it builds up with small things, you manage it, ignore it, live with it. Some go further, push it back down and hang on – until they blow up with a BANG. Some give up easier, are perhaps more sensible, don’t push it more than they should. Some adjust the number of days on the road to keep within the comfort zone.

Certain things about couriering are hard to tolerate, and to an extent, should not be tolerated. Yet, they are a part of the job and your options are limited: you take it and find a way of dealing with it, you take it but don’t deal with it and let it get to you, or you decide you’re better than that, you don’t have to take it and you’re better off without it.

Oddly, Summer is touchy, sparky time in this respect. You get too hot, small things balloon, paranoia is rife. Weird that, you’d think Winter would be the back breaker but no, you hack over winter like in a bad dream and when the temperatures rise, the sun is blazing, town is sticky, mucky and humid, you blow up with everything that got to accumulate over the cold months.

This ‘having had enough’, I’ve talked about it with a number of people, we’ve described it in different ways, but we’ve always known what the other one means. Some know it is approaching, “I’m coming to the end of the road”, “I can’t see any further”, “I fear going to work”, “It looks like a dead end”.

Sometimes you go over a threshold in simple ways, even just by working too hard, pushing yourself physically and mentally over the edge: “I got home and lied in the middle of the floor for something like two hours and wouldn’t answer anyone. I just couldn’t get out of it, it was spinning my head.”

Then one morning you ride to work, and instead of calling in from the edge of the circuit you keep on riding. You can’t bring yourself to  push the button and talk and so you ride, until you get to the office. You don’t quite know what you’re doing there but you go in anyway and once you’re there, you have no explanation but you take your radio out of the holder, take your XDA, put them on the desk and say thank you and good bye.

You walk out of the door, feel relieved, little shocked, empty, very sad and quite lost.

The world looks different. And you’re already missing something.

End of an Era. Ish.

With my friend we talked about waves of people coming in and out of couriering, and how it sometimes happens that a whole load of people leave and you find yourself wondering where all your friends have gone — and how it is that they are gone but you’re still here. Then you make friends with the new wave of people and forget, until the same happens again.

It’s that sort of wave that I feel is in the air. Bloody hell, on a daily basis I already miss more people than I get to say hello to. And this can only get worse.

Come on, somebody come  back.

Well, no, don’t.

Ants, Again.

They came back. It’s going to be a toss between window sealant and a prayer and I think I will go with the sealant for now.


Auntie T’s Advice for a Hot Day.

June 23, 2010

Use your freewheel bike.

Stay on the back roads.

Don’t try to get anywhere very fast.

Don’t take anything very seriously. It’s only a game.

Wash arms from elbow down and legs from knees down with cold water, it lowers body temperature. Sprinklers on Soho Sq, Cavendish Sq…

Take off your shoes while standing by.

Eat and drink cooling things:

  • Cucumber, pineapple, mango, pear, apple, lemon, orange, grapefruit, watermelon, salt, tomato.
  • Foods with bitter taste: greens, lettuce etc.
  • Drink green tea (Rice and Wine Shop Brewer St, bottled&chilled.)

Avoid heating foods and drinks:

  • Chillies and curries. Ginger, garlic, onions.
  • All peppers: green, red, black, white
  • Red, fatty meats.
  • Alcohol. Coffee.

When nothing else helps, try singing Christmas Carols.

Other Business.

Raffle tickets to mend the broken clavicle, sorry, to help out Janky while his collarbone slowly and laboriously mends itself, can be bought of Ryan or from Look Ma No Hands on Old St. 49 Old St or something like that.

£10 and you can win a custom frame and loads of other shit.

Why Janky’s mates need to do a raffle to help him out, well it’s all in here.


French&Finnish Championships 16-18 July

June 18, 2010

A month or two ago standing in the Corner I had something delivered to me by hand – by a courier – from Paris.

“It’s from J Boule. He asked me to give it directly to you.”


Championnats De France & De Finlande Des Coursiers A Velo

Paris, Fr. 2010 17&18 Juillet


*Get a free beer during the event!

French & Finnish Cycle Messenger Championships??? In Paris??? A hazy memory from Copenhagen, no, Basel, makes its way to the surface:

A crowded, dark beer garden. Fires.  Drunken couriers falling over all over the place. Bikes. Dancing. Music. Loud things. Across a large wooden table sits this nice French bloke with long, dark hair who introduces himself as J Boule. We have a drink, we have another drink and at some point between some more drink I’m ranting and raving (!) how it doesn’t matter that there are only three, or four, or six bicycle couriers in Paris, they SHOULD DEFINITELY bid for the ECMC’s and put on a show and it’s such a great city and they should DEFINITELY and… Off my face I’m too busy saying the same thing over and over again to tell whether he’s actually listening, or interested in my drunken ramblings.

Nice talking the ears off you Mr Boule! How are you doing? I see you have hooked up with Hattara No Sleep to put together an event that the weak bodied and/or spirited will take a lifetime to recover from.

I am obviously hugely flattered by the invitation and if there was any way I was ever again going to parttake in another courier event, I wouldn’t miss the French Finnish Championships for anything in the world.

If I was looking for a venue to watch improvised bicycle mastery, fall off my bike, hang off the waist of a dozen sweaty, smelly, scruffy, ugly-but-gorgeous couriers because I can’t stay on my feet any longer, dance until I’ve forgotten my mother’s name, and wake up with or without anything and anybody I thought I passed out with, I would do it in Paris with some of the most hardcore party masters I’ve encountered.

Can I send an envoy? To have the free beer?

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

envoy (plural envoys)

  1. representative
  2. diplomat
  3. messenger

Cous Le Ciel De Paris

Ehm. Yes.



June 10, 2010

Why bother fighting the boss when you could keep your head down? Sometimes it’s the objective conditions: the boss shaves so much off the pay that ends aren’t being met any more. More often it’s a question of pride, dignity and, essentially, self-worth. If you consent to being treated like a slave what sort of human does that make you? The trick is to make it a useful revolt.

James O’Brien in Revolution.

To attempt to unionise couriers would not be the first time, but rather than to say “it didn’t work before” we should be asking “why did it not work before?”

What should we do differently?

How can we make it work?

That’s the great thing about having people make ‘your mistakes’ ahead of you: you can get in touch with them and ask. And they will love to tell you and give you any advice, if not any support, that you need.


Cycle couriers in Dublin established a connection with the Communication Workers Union in 2002 that I believe is still in place. For more information and contact details of the people involved, use the email at the end of this post.

Motorbikes in Dublin formed a sub-branch in a union, which I think was the same CWU. What I’ve been told happened was that the courier in charge of collecting the membership fees disappeared with the money, and it’s been suggested to me that he may have been paid off by some of the companies who would prefer there to be no union. That he legged it is probably true, this is what the representative of the CWU told us, but I’ve no means of verifying it now. That he was paid off is pure speculation that could be true or could be untrue, but it would not surprise me the slightest.

London: DIWU.

A record of the “nitty-gritty details of organising an effective union from scratch in modern Britain – – – before it is forgotten”: Couriers are revolting! The Despatch Industry Workers Union 1989-1992.

Nothing to lose but your chains…

Starting a union can be exciting, risky, hard work and a right good laugh. The financial rewards might be little or none, but the satisfaction of getting some justice can be enormous. Even when nothing seems to go right there still exists the solidarity of comradeship. It was ironic (or flattering!) that the bosses with all their money and power were so scared of our humble union. We were only an ordinary group of workers who had sod-all money or power. But when the bosses hear the word ‘union’ they invariably get into a proper fluster, terrified that their privileges will be challenged.

Of course our unionisation efforts were small potatoes compared to epic social events such as the Miners Strike, the Poll Tax rebellion, etc. But we hoped that we could provide an example or inspiration for workers to organise similarly in other industries. Workers like you!

Self-employment my arse

Being self-employed is quite good when you are earning bundles of money. Then you can budget for the fact of no sick pay, pension, job security or holiday pay, and you can handle the expenses of buying and maintaining your own vehicle. However, courier companies have the consistent habit of recruiting too many riders thereby diluting everybody’s wages no matter how good or fast you are. Courier companies appear to have zero loyalty towards the workers from this point of view.

Ninety-nine percent of us work for one courier company at a time, maybe for a few days if it’s really shit, but usually people stay at a firm they like for several years. The courier companies decide the rate of pay and most other conditions of work. This is not true self-employment as defined by the Inland Revenue, no mater what your boss says.

On the face of it the courier companies have all the advantages of a self-employed workforce with no benefits to pay out for, no responsibilities towards our welfare and no expenses for maintaining a large fleet of high-mileage vehicles. On the other hand the bosses also have the advantages of treating us like the normal employed wage-slave, i.e. being told what to do and when. Despatch riders and cycle couriers are getting the worst of both worlds. This might explain why some people refer to self-employment as self-exploitation.

Read on…

An overview of the short but apparently succesfull story of DIWU points to two conclusions: first that couriers can be unionized and it can be worthwhile and secondly, that to try and do it ourselves from the scracth may prove to be too much effort and energy to maintain.

The solution might be to go with an existing structure, which is what some of the DIWU members opted for in 1994 by joining the Industrial Workers of the World.

Another thing that stands out to me from reading the DIWU story is that it is a constant, exhausting battle to be the watch dog for dodgy companies changing rules and using every trick imaginable to not pay the courier.

Hence, to effect a lasting and useful change, what is needed I think is to work on a longer term plan to actually change the way the industry works i.e. to change the employment status to an employee and therefore have the employee’s rights which can be enforced through the courts if necessary. This should be the ultimate goal of any courier union.

Three things seem essential to me:

  1. Whatever you do, don’t do it alone. Togetherness is strong.
  2. Use the existing structures and knowledge the best you can. The wheel has been around for a long time.
  3. Be clear about your goals. Set out explicitly what it is you want to achieve.

Miscellaneous Resources.

Toronto Couriers’ Union.

Toronto couriers organizing with the help of Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). Very interesting, very relevant: “The courier industry is in dire need of improvement. Wages and working conditions often fall below Canada’s labour code standards.”

Answers questions such as: “How does unionising work (CA)?” “Aren’t I an independent contractor?” “Won’t I get fired or harassed if I sign a union card?” “I’m not going to be a courier forever. I have other work too. Why should I get involved with the union drive?”

Selection of improvements CUPW has negotiated for couriers in Montreal and Winnipeg:

  • Payment by commission but with a minimum daily guaranteed rate:
    • Cars – $105/day
    • Vans – $110/day
    • Walkers/bikers – $85/day
  • No discipline without just cause and written notice
  • Vacation Pay:
    • Up to 5 years of service -4% of gross pay
    • Between 5-15 years of service – 6% of gross pay
    • 16 or more years of service – 8% or gross pay.
  • Leaves:
    • 10 paid statutory holidays
    • 2 weeks vacation leave during first 5 years / 3 weeks leave oer 5 years / 4 weeks leave over 16 years.
  • Payment by companies into a fund controlled by the courier local to be used each year as couriers see fit. In 2008, the couriers voted to divide this amount into $600 payments to each member, more than covering the $384 they paid that year in union dues
  • 7% commission increase for bike couriers during winter.

Chicago Couriers Union

DIWU Despatch Industry Workers Union 1989-1992. London.

Transport and General Workers Union, now Unite. DIWU had a brief and rocky connection with TGWU. TGWU merged into Unite, which is Britain’s biggest union.

Communication Workers Union. Post office, BT, the biggest union for ‘the communications industry’.

Industrial Workers of the World UK. The UK division of “a grassroots and democratic union helping to organise all workers in all workplaces. Our aim is to see society re-organised to meet the interests of all people, and not just shareholders and corporations.”

www.anarcismo.net “We see it as vital to work in struggles that happen outside the unions and the workplace. These include struggles against particular oppressions, imperialism and indeed the struggles of the working class for a decent place and environment in which to live. Our general approach to these, like our approach to the unions, is to involve ourselves with mass movements and within these movements, in order to promote anarchist methods of organisation involving direct democracy and direct action.”

www.libcom.org Another anarchist resource that hosts the DIWU story.

If you know of a useful link that should be here, it would be kind if you could let me know. Thank you.


Traffic. Check Mate #2.

June 8, 2010

This I wasn’t going to write about but hey, gotta go through it all. Not that I’ve anything new to say.


How we allow those ugly, smelly, dangerous, stinking, polluting, noisy, did I already say dangerous, heavy metal boxes to occupy our living space I don’t understand.

How we can’t, at the age of online conference calls, webcam and digital data transfer, how we can’t manage to organise our lives so that we either work within a cycleable / bussable / trainable distance from home, or work from home I can’t comprehend.

How did we come to accept as ‘everyman’s right’ the right to take up 5 square meters of space, deafen your fellow citizens, coat their lungs with black sticky lead or whatever the hell that stuff is, and puff up this gray smelly haze around the city? Not to mention occasionally squashing one or two of these fellow citizens under the wheels of the said metal box?

What kind of a dumb ass – – –

Ah let’s not go there. But no, I don’t get traffic. Why would you want to sit in your hot car for hours without moving anywhere much at all? Don’t they realize it? At times I’ve almost felt sorry for the frustrated driver trying to squeeze around yet another van unloading on the narrow passage, but then I’ve quickly taken it back. The driver has taken the liberty to use up everybody else’s space, why should I feel sorry for him.

Sometimes, after working for hours in heavy traffic I have felt like just losing it, I would have liked to batter every single one of these metal objects around me into small little pieces and ride off the site of destruction in peace, quiet and fresh air. That’s when I know it’s time to head for the back streets and stay on them until the congestion has cleared, both on the roads and in the mind.

In the ideal world there would only be cyclists, motorbike couriers, black cabs and skilled van drivers on the streets. Maybe a few buses, too, to take the wind off in the hills and on the bridges and to cuddle next to in the cold winter’s days. What there would not be, there would be NO SCOOTERS, no amateur show-off motorbikers, no private hires except the ones who actually are good, no addie lees and no HGV’s. The hipsters could stay by the way.

Yip, will keep on dreaming.

A recent positive addition to the flow of traffic is those tiny electric cars that you can park sideways and fit two in the one and same parking slot. They don’t kill my lungs, I can easily see over them and as someone remarked, they are so lightly built that if they open the door in front of you, chances are the door will come off and you will escape unscathed.

The total opposite are SUV’s, Range Rovers and other oversized monsters. They are so wide you can’t get past them, so high they totally block your view, and if they hit you, you’ll go under the wheels rather than over on top of the bonnet. The only thing that is worse than SUV’s are the lorries and HGV’s. Although they are slow to move and change direction, once they are moving they can’t stop and even the thought of the weight of them on me is terrifying.

The quays of Dublin were a superhighway of lorries until the construction of the Port Tunnel, and I used to quite happily dance a pretty deadly dance on my bike inches away from the massive wheels and calculate whether it be possible to cross under the central beam of a slow moving long haul lorry. Good lord.

Scottish C put it nicely one day when we were waiting for a gap in the cavalcade of lorries, to cross North Wall Quay at the ‘new’ bridge:

“I don’t take my chances with them. They’ll kill you dead.”

The courier scale for traffic must take into account both the level of perceived obstruction and potential deadliness:

Mostly harmless: Pigeons. Other cycle couriers.

Annoying but relatively harmless: Pedestrians. Other cyclists.

Super annoying but relatively harmless: Scooters.

Annoying and somewhat dangerous: Cars overall. Indecisive female drivers. L-plates. Young blokes showing off to their girlfriends.

Dangerous: Almost any motorbike other than a courier. Drivers of fast expensive cars. Drivers of large expensive cars. Driver’s on mobile phones.

Proper dangerous: Raged driver of any vehicle. Driver of an SUV blindfolded by their money and status.

Will kill you dead: HGV’s. Lorries. Momentary lapse of concentration from your part.

Andrew Maxwell’s classic rant says it much better than I’d ever be able to articulate:


When Traffic Goes Wrong.

It’s these calls that I hate. It’s seeing my friends in pain that I hate. That is Traffic, and in a world where we ignore ongoing wars I know that we are going to keep on ignoring Traffic no matter how much harm it does to us.

On Monday I saw a new kid on a crappy hybrid with a plastic bag and a radio holder hanging around his neck booming through some red lights without proper caution. In passing him I thought of saying something,

Listen mate it can be dangerous, mind yourself

but just sent him a quiet wish to be safe through the battle zone. He was at least fifteen and proud to be on the road.

Courier Chess Tournament Round 1 Game 2.

I lost. The third game will be the decider and it’s not looking good for me.


Self-Employed — How Could We Change It?

June 5, 2010

Basically, as I see it, the only way to get employers to act reasonably is to force them. It’s just not in their interests to pay higher wages, have proper insurance, holiday pay etc. That just means less profit for them. Even if you happen to find a soft employer who gives all that, they’ll almost certainly be out of business in a few months as the competition undercuts them.

The basic divergence of interests of workers and employers means that attempts to negotiate with them without having organised the collective ability to force trouble on them are doomed. It would be unreasonable of them to give more than they can get away with. Therefore you can’t let them get away with it.

The beauty of organising collectively is that it brings people into a situation where they are co-operating to advance their mutual interests. Obviously achieving the mutual interests part – the pay rise for instance – is really important but the often overlooked aspect of relatively powerless people getting together is the crucial element. It not only gets us the pay rise, it also points towards a different way of organising society.

And this is where I think the legal approach was doomed. As you recount, the collective action got some results (and did the year before too). The more fundamental issue of employee/self-employed status was not one the company were going to yield without a fight. The legal route would only have been rewarding if there was enough collective force to back it up. Otherwise it is a long and lonely challenge to the status quo, a quo where the employers hold all the cards.

James O’Brien, in Revolution

My experience tells me that James is right in saying that if we want change, we will effectively have to fight for it. Nobody will offer to give us more than we have, rather, we get less year by year. My experience also tells me that if we want a change, collective action can indeed make it happen.

Before doing anything else, or rather, in order to do anything else, we would need to have a structure in place to support ourselves. Without a formal structure, a justified agenda and functional, practical mechanisms for countering problems like the threat of losing your job for being a loud-mouth trouble maker, you are just a renegade fighting an army of windmills. With a structure and the collective support of your colleagues you are strong, can stay focused and achieve what it is that you decide to achieve.

To build a functioning, purposeful and efficient support structure is easy if you know what you are doing, what options you have in different situations and if you know the law. Very few of us do, or have the time and inclination to find out. Without this knowledge you are bound to make countless mistakes, re-invent the wheel and possibly burn yourself out. Thus it seems to me that it would be best to borrow the accumulated experience, knowledge and expertise from people who have it —  which is how we come back around to talking about a union.

Let me use an analogy: you know if you’re a squatter and the first letter comes through the letter box saying that you are a trespasser and must leave immediately? If Squatters’ Advisory Service wasn’t there with their little “Handbook for Squatters”, how would you know what to do? You would be intimidated into leaving, or sitting biting your fingers in the corner of your newly opened squat waiting for the big guys in leather jackets to come and get you. When you finally go into court, how do you know what will happen, how much time you have to find a new place or, indeed, if you can argue your case for staying where you are? Who will write the complicated legal letter on your defence?

Because Squatters’ Advisory tells you what your options are, what your legal position is, and offers legal assistance if you need it, you can continue and do the correct things, like sit tight for the first four weeks with someone always in the premises and hold your stance. Because you know what you’re doing, you are relatively secure and confident, and because you’re following the letter of the law, you get what you want, which in this case is housing.

It is no different with us. Couriers are like squatters, we live on the fringe of society but without “Couriers’ Advisory Service” and without legal representation and back up when our rates are cut, or when we are bullied or sacked for no good reason.

So many times we have been intimidated into believing that the working conditions are as they are and as they should be, that we are now repeating this same mantra ourselves and effectively enforcing the – let’s face it – shitty, crappy, exploitative, unfair, unsustainable, paranoia-creating, financially non-rewarding, 21st century slavery that we are buying into as much as the companies we work for.

Because generations of couriers haven’t bothered their/our asses to put together any back-up structure to outlast us, we are still vulnerable, still without rights, still without security and now struggling to make ends meet.

Eight years ago when I was battling with these issues I left it and said, well it’s shit but I’m not going to be doing this forever. It doesn’t matter what it is like, it’s only temporary. What a temporary decade!

This is the case with many couriers: we don’t think we’ll stay, then we do, but then we become too tired and too disillusioned (or depressed and lacking initiative) to do anything about how our lives are.

The hardest part is to have the vision and faith in what you can do together. The second hardest is to have the courage. Cancel that, the hardest thing is to get off your ass and do it.

Plucking up the courage is not easy. It is much easier to keep your head down and go with the flow, even if it’s taking you round and round the same old cycle without an end in sight.

How brave you need to be depends on how you perceive what you’re doing. If you want to draw your weapons and start a bloody battle demanding everything here and now, yes you will have to be very courageous and even so, you’re likely to lose.

If you step back and start patiently and quietly creating a network of people, a support structure with a long term plan and connections with legal help and employment resources, you (or your successors) are likely to find yourself in a place where you are steady on your feet and strong enough to take just one more small step and actually change something.

As one smart woman said, it is those seemingly unproductive hours and weeks that you work on an idea that bring about the breakthrough at the end of the process.

To work towards building something that you might call a “union” may seem like a laborious task for nothing, unless you have a goal and can look beyond this week’s Friday at the Foundry ________.


Everybody Ride In.

June 1, 2010

For years I’ve been looking for this video of Budapest Critical Mass 2005 and there it popped up, just before the ECMC’s. Since then I’ve been looking for an excuse to post it, and here we are (see below).

Yes, they did have an estimated 24 000 – 30 000 cyclists on the streets, according to indymedia, and that’s almost as brilliant as the “Bycicle” song featuring as the soundtrack:

Just One Thing.

Could I just make this really, very clear once and for all: I am  writing about the revolution, not doing it. Nor am I going to be ranting about it at every given opportunity. Except if you get me drunk and repeatedly encourage me.

No, I’m afraid “the revolution” isn’t my job, for a number of good reasons none of which are laziness or not caring. Well, saying it’s not my job — it’s not my job alone.


Self-Employed — Could We Change It?

May 30, 2010

The oft repeated argument that it’s been tried in the past but it doesn’t work doesn’t tell us much really. Far more difficult jobs to organise have in fact been organised in the past. From female garment workers to miners, from casual dock workers (paid with piece rates) to third world peasants it’s been done.

In some cases it’s been done despite sexist sneering, cynicism, and all too often in the face of fierce repression, including assassination of union leaders. Organising in Western Europe is piece of cake really when you think about it historically.

The attitude of “I’ve seen it tried; it’ll never work” reminds me of teenagers who think they are the first generation ever to have sex. Shocking as it may seem, working people have succeeded in the past. It’s not as if weekends, holiday pay, social insurance, maternity leave etc etc just dropped out of the sky.

James O’Brien, in Revolution

I do believe that we could change the employment status — if that’s what we want — and at the very least improve our position in the face of unfair working conditions. It wouldn’t be all that difficult either, but it would take time, patience, perseverance and unity. One of the things I learned from Dublin/Cyclone was that even things you think are beyond your reach become realistic when you stand together.

There is something I must say here. This kind of change you couldn’t and shouldn’t attempt to do within one company, except maybe in the biggest one of them. With any of the smaller companies the result would not be what you want: you’d push your own company out of business and yourself with it.

In addition that would simply not be right: the situation isn’t the making of any individual company or its directors, who would fall a victim of, and suffer as a consequence of a not-very-well-thought-through attack, should you succeed.

The employment situation is the result of maximizing profit and maintaining competitiveness on the market on one side, and apathy and lack of initiative and focus on the other side. The change then, if there were to be one, would have to happen across the board.

For the organizational aspect of it, if we can put together alleycats, the LCEF, yearly international courier races with sponsorship and the lot, there is simply no reason why we could not handle the organizing to change how we are employed.

Without commenting on whether it is a good or bad idea, I’m copying here a suggestion made elsewhere. It is a very rough and somewhat militant outline for action to change the employment status.

The one crucial thing would be to have people that you trust, a group of couriers who have been there long enough to be fed up but not long enough to have lost their faith, be willing to put in a bit of effort and not be fazed too easily.

1-5 people in EACH company, depending on the company’s size. Find a contact or two in a union or similar, for information, advice and support. Maybe join a union if it seems appropriate and useful. And off you go.

It’s all in the numbers. It is the connections and friendships between us that make us strong, the fact that if someone is sacked, others will get angry and angry enough to do something. Here you need to trust the others, but your job may be at risk, and that’s hard.

This small group of couriers in the different companies keep on working and make it known around them what is happening. It’s important to get the word out, it starts eroding the passiveness and apathy.

What do you do then? In each company, simultaneously open as many cases challenging the employment status as is possible, so that no one person gets singled out. Get legal help. So, in each company, and across the industry. Could you find 5-10 people to do it with CS? Four with C, RB, CCC? Three with P? LD, D’s, CW, EC etc. etc. etc?

We are dispensable and easily replaced, but not that easily. The safety really is in the numbers and in sticking together.

What is there to stop us?

  • It hasn’t changed before, why would it change now? I think we might not have enough energy left to believe in change.
  • Apathy
  • Scatteredness
  • Lack of integration and co-operation within the `community’ when it comes to stuff that isn’t ‘fun’.
  • Lack of vision and faith
  • Not wanting to change anything
  • Not being bothered
  • Fear (of being singled out, sacked, blacklisted)
  • Laziness
  • Lack of initiative
  • Wanting to have fun and only have fun
  • Shunning responsibility
  • Lack of productive, free, thoughtful post-work time.
  • Exhaustion

Other Obstacles.

There is always going  to be a number of reasons for not doing something, and for why it would and could not work. In my experience these could-not’s are only obstacles at the thinking and planning stage. Once you actually start doing your thing, you get around those obstacles that are real, find that others you had only created in your head and some you never even thought of, yet you get around them, too.


“The rule is, if you have everyone together you can get what you want.”

We saw it in small scale in Dublin. Others have seen it in large scale all around the world. When you have everyone standing as one, the result is  dropped jaws and oh shit, we didn’t expect this.


In Fairness.

May 28, 2010

A nice thing about couriering is that when you have a fine, uneventful, simple day, there is nothing to bring home. The day exhausts itself.

Today I again felt acutely appreciative of some things and people around me in the courier world. I would like to tell them, but I don’t. It’s not how it works. I wouldn’t know how to, anyway.

Today I also had unexpected feedback on this blog, which was nice, because I do sometimes wonder. Even though I pick and choose, and write about feelings and experiences that I know many of us share, writing a blog like this still is essentially a self-centered activity. It’s hard to see why it would interest anyone. But thank you, I will try and keep it up.

This writing, it does work. I  write things down here, and they stop being a burden to me. And as there is less to write about my days, and as I get through past upsets and troubles, deeper currents surface. Things I never thought I was carrying with me.

When I was reminded about the Dublin Revolution, and wrote the whole thing down it was a great relief. I hadn’t realized it determined so strongly how I felt about myself, especially in relation to my present company and my controllers who were representatives of “the other side”. I hadn’t realized it was yet another box and a prison I had got myself into.

Once I’d written it down and dealt with the afterwave, I thought that was it. Now I wouldn’t have to think about the whole thing ever again.

And then on the First of May, without any premeditation, planning or intending to do so, and to my great surprise, I sat down and wrote a piece on what I knew about the conditions for being self-employed.

That was soon followed by “should we change it“, which was soon followed by the drafts of “could we change it“, “how could we change it“, and “afterword“.

And then I had exhausted it. There was nothing more.

I sat down, took a deep breath in, breathed out and a huge weight fell off my shoulders. That was it. That really was it. Suddenly I was one step closer to being free, one step closer to not being a courier any longer, because I was carrying one less thing that determined me as a courier.

This employment situation, and do excuse me from here on, because I’m not going to pretend any longer that something that isn’t ok is ok and I’m not going to shut up about it because I’d feel fearful or threatened or uncomfortable. This employment situation is not right.

For the hard and skilled work that we do we should be paid a decent wage and have the benefits and security that any normal job offers. There is no excuse for it being otherwise.

In my other job I sometimes tackle trauma, or people getting unwell because of attitudes, experiences, upsets, injustices, life circumstances and frustrations that they carry.

My other job has taught me to look, and when I look around me, and remember couriers I’ve known over the years, it seems to me that this self-employment carry-on and having no representation is the unrecognized, collective courier trauma that is contributing to making us unwell. It has us frustrated, feeling neglected, insecure, angry, bitter and powerless. We are not even worthy of sick pay or insurance.

“The packages are insured, not the riders.”

I’ve always felt and recognized this, but didn’t feel able or brave enough to express it, in words or in action (after Dublin, that is). Perhaps talking about it would’ve just added to the frustration and bitterness, so it was best to forget it all. But forgetting and looking elsewhere didn’t make it go away any and how could it? We are carrying it together. It is a collective feeling and a collective burden.

So what’s going on now?

Writing the above I’m finding that I don’t know how I feel, really. It’s been opened up, something is in a flux. There is a hidden hurt that is looking for healing and injustice that is looking to be straightened. But is it my hurt any longer? My life is now otherwise fair, am I still looking for justice in this?

I guess the question is, how much am I still a courier.

The answer? Enough to keep on writing.


ECMC 2010 Budapest

May 26, 2010

Welcome back!

So the fastest (‘the least drunk’ says he) “Londoner” was nr.18 on home ground, without the beer can (photo nicked from dazzlenger).


To Cs. To everyone for making it back home. With the bike. In one piece.


Make War Make Peace.

May 21, 2010

Man, Limehouse Link Tunnel is better than class A’s. Croom’s Hill isn’t.

This was a pretty flat day, my mind wasn’t with me I was too tired and too preoccupied by something that happened earlier the week. Then I made a proper mistake putting jobs together and I hate that.

Just thinking about it now, when that happens it is so rare to get any shit over it, not on the radio or on the phone. You go and fix your mess if you can, and that’s it. No complaints.

The preoccupation then?

How To Unsuccessfully Pick a Fight.

On Wednesday I had a run with portfolios that — never mind. So I went in to complain. Because I wasn’t going to take the journey home with me.

But that didn’t go too well.

Then again, it would help to complain to the right person and not wreck the wrong head.

So I took home the journey AND the complaints procedure.

And then I sat down and thought about it.

Complaining got me out of one situation and straight into another one, which was in no way preferable to the first one. Strangeness in the air and a slight paranoia, questioning everything and debating sides, working out the radio/work code so wrong that I had to stop reading it altogether. A communication break-down.

No, I don’t think this is the way forward.

What is then? There’s got to be a way to discharge the crap in a manner that doesn’t make it somebody else’s problem. Surely, when things go wrong you are within your rights to at least let someone know things have gone wrong?

The traditional courier complaint of throwing a tantrum and not giving a damn isn’t really much use and requires a lot more anger than I have at my disposal. Any other form of complaint just falls into the stereotypical mould of a moany courier.

Seems I have to think some more. Or less.

Chess Is Going So Not Right.

Another two weeks is gone and the second game is not even nearing the end. The board looks like a right mess, the battles of the Road are entering the game and we can’t get the focus or forward planning in the right place. Whose move is it? Why did I do that again?

It’ll be a draw we thinks.

You Do or You Don’t, You’ll Regret It.

To put couriering in just one phrase it would have to be:


And if I need to explain that, then you don’t know what I’m on about. It’s what the Finns phrase as ‘being between the wood and the bark’, puun ja kuoren välissä.

It’s a catch-22 left and right, up and down, back and forth, ahead and behind and there seems to be no way out of it. Catch-22 is where it all begins, catch-22 is the trap and the aggregate for all things negative about couriering. Correction. For a large number of things negative about couriering.

Now if Kierkegaard could have his say, I have a feeling he might conclude that life itself is a catch-22. Suppose he wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Once you’re born you’re kind of stuck with it.

Coming Down Haymarket —

— Little too fast on Wednesday I was wondering what the point was. I can see risking one’s life for one’s country and family. For something worthwhile. Maybe for thrill, honor and wealth, like a rally driver or a mountain climber.

But for packages? In stinking, filthy traffic?

Get real.


Four weeks down the line, the only reason I don’t have a smoke is that if I did, I’d just want another one. Blast.

The veggie stall man at Berwick St market calls me ‘the carrot lady’.

The Coffee of the Day?