When Mark Wilsmore spoke to me in July about the possibility of arranging a Courier Day at the Ace Cafe, my immediate response was, as anyone who knows me would expect, entirely positive and very enthusiastic.
I passed on the suggestion on London and UK Couriers Past and Present on Facebook and the general consensus – somewhat predictably given the self-selecting nature of the group – was a resounding YES!
There then followed a period of comparative silence as TRD Towers were locked and chained for summer holidays; and that was followed by a further period of inactivity as I got bogged down in more of the sort of political distractions I alluded to in my last editorial.
I finally started sorting out the arrangements around the middle of September and given how long they’d been lying dormant it was surprising how easy it was to get them rolling again (most motorbikes would have taken a lot more starting after standing for that long) and everything has been falling into place nicely ever since.
All the details of who, what, where and when are on page 104 as are the details of the goodies well be offering in a free prize draw that will only be open to working couriers (there will also be smaller prizes for the people who have travelled furthest by bike and overall, which has got to be an incentive for all those mad Kiwi ex-couriers who are back on the other side of the world but might be tempted to come – assuming that the statute of limitations have run out on all of their old motoring offences!).
I also contacted Chris Scott, he of Adventure Motorcycling Handbook fame, to suggest that if we wasn’t busy riding around the Sahara, he really should come to the Ace with a few copies of Street Riding Years his brilliant memoir about (as the subtitle says) Despatching Through 80s London; but he informed me that he wouldn’t be able to join us because while the rest of us were assembling in north west London, he was indeed going to be elsewhere leading a ride around the Atlas mountains in north west Africa.
I offered to take some of his books with me to sell and in return Chris generously agreed that we could reproduce a chapter from it, which you’ll find on page 62. I was so encouraged re-reading those very entertaining pages, I began sorting through the TRD archive to see if I could find a little more entertaining courier content and though I say so myself I believe I found a couple of good uns (especially now that they look so much better with the addition of some great photos by Nick Smith and Monique Kelly).
It’s difficult to believe that my article about the history of the despatch industry in the Metropolis is over ten years old, but sure enough it first appeared in issue 100! Interesting then that everything I said back in January 2006 about changes within the business (with the notable exception of the DR’s ubiquity), are as true today as they were then, if not more so. And Dylan’s reflection on how a little motorbike affected his entire future, surely speaks to feelings that many couriers will relate to.
It’s interesting that an issue containing so much courier content carries a cover featuring an event that lives way off at the other end of the motorcycling spectrum. The tweedy chaps in the DGR are apt to take an old courier carthorse like a CX and remove the mudguards, bung silly tyres on it and add various aesthetic touches; whereas the tyres are likely to be among the only parts that are halfway decent on a professional DR’s bike and they’ve been known to add plastic 4 pint milk bottles as cheap effective hand protection and estate agent’s boards as screens and weather protection for their legs.
It would be all too easy to point out that the difference between a DGR and a DR boils down to the word `Gentlemen’; but as anyone who’s ever been intimately involved with busking bikes across the capital will tell you, there are almost as many ex public schoolboys in the dispatch business as there are in category D prisons and the black sheep of many a good family have put in some serious miles on the streets of London and the motorways of the wider country!
So what am I saying? That motorcycles are the great unifier; that their universal appeal shatters all social and class barriers? It’s a lovely idea because we’ve all heard stories, or had personal experience of the Earl, Duke or peer of the realm who shares a convivial chat with another biker over a cuppa, but have you noticed that those tales rarely end with his nibs inviting the fellow rider back to the family seat to shag his daughter? (And if they ever do, they invariably follow the one about the spectacular ride to the mansion at speeds well in excess of one-twenty-five – on a 125 – a short digressive tale about ‘training’ on Brecon Beacons – that he isn’t really supposed to mention – and his forthcoming mission to the space station!)
The ‘Toff Security’ photo in Chris Scott’s chapter, features a Bike article written by Mark Revelle about Security Despatch that states, “Roughly fifty per cent of the riders were at public school. Even Mavis was at Dulwich College. It’s not policy, just accident. Would be riders are interviewed by Andy Lumis (Marlborough) and Jonathan Hood (Stowe) independently and have to be acceptable to both!” It’s interesting that he concluded that the disproportionate number of posh boys at Security was pure chance, when he states in the next line that both of the public school educated bosses had an opportunity to blackball any potential employee who failed to meet their exacting standards.
But in the end it didn’t matter what SD were doing in their corner of the industry because there were always a host of other companies out there who applied a different set of criteria, and unlike Lloyds of London, old merchant banks and trendy South Ken PR firms, they didn’t give a toss about what school you went to – or if you’d been at all – just as long as you could read an A to Z and tear around the postcodes quickly and reliably in all weathers.
Ultimately there are loads of bike clubs out there that are distinguished by marque, back patch or money, and they all have their own explicit or implicit rules about who can join; but few of them can claim the kind of inclusiveness that the Courier Club celebrates, let alone the sort of phenomenal mileage that has rolled under the average member’s wheels. Personally I’m proud to be part of a club that even Groucho Marx would be honoured to be a member of.