For me, the best thing about writing for this mag is that Roger never tries to influence what I turn in. Providing he thinks it’s interesting or entertaining, that it’s relevant to the target audience (you, the couriers) and it isn’t going to get him sued, he’ll run it. When he says at the bottom of page 4 that the opinions and comments of contributors don’t necessarily coincide with those of the Editor, it isn’t just a legal disclaimer, it’s also a matter of fact.
Last month when I told him I really needed to write a serious piece about the September 11th attacks in the US and that it wouldn’t necessarily line up with the tabloid version of things, I felt Roger twitch at the other end of the line. I could just picture him putting his “I’m the Editor, Publisher and man most likely to be sued or tried for treason” head on, while he desperately tried to straighten up. To his credit, when I explained the courier link, he swallowed hard, set aside all his reservations about the fact that he thinks I’m a dodgy lefty, and said OK.
I always read “In The Saddle”, so I’m aware that different people expect different things from this mag. Like I said last month, I get most enjoyment from writing the stuff that’s supposed to be funny, it’s just so much easier to do. I think that’s because most of it comes from the nostalgia department and that corner of my mind was never cluttered with the kind of weighty insight I’ve acquired in the twenty years since my heyday. At the time those memories were being formed I was in my mid twenties. My dick and my throttle hand both enjoyed exactly the same status as the whole of the rest of my brain and while I understood that politics were bogus, I was really too busy having fun to try to understand why.
Consequently I was generally a happy lad. I thought I had a great job, so I put quite a bit of effort into doing it well. Most of the time I was the epitome of the polite, reasonable and courteous courier. Crusty bad tempered commissioners, who gave their lives in two world wars to earn the right to be bad tempered with cocky little shits like me, rarely fazed me. It was the same with the snooty, rod-up-the-arse, sour-faced receptionists, who made it abundantly clear that they wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence, if it wasn’t an unfortunate and extremely distasteful requirement of their job. I could even deal with the occasional pig ignorant thicko who was bitter and twisted because he always wanted to drive a train but couldn’t get the hang of the steering, so he’d ended up behind a Red Star desk.
Even in my youth, I was always willing to make an allowance for a stranger’s personality quirks. In most cases, my unwavering smile and ability to reason a situation through were plenty to deal with your average petty minded tosspot. But when you find a real Victor Meldrew on the other side of a desk, he ain’t as funny as he comes across on the telly. When you’re confronted with someone who is so thoroughly miserable that they devote their entire energy into trying to drag every stranger they come in contact with into their personal emotional black hole, it’s hardly surprising that tempers occasionally get a little frayed.
I was speaking to Ian about these situations and he described a classic. Ian was always a very meticulous DR, so when he was presented with an artwork wrapped in brown paper, on one of those appalling days when you’ve already discovered the limitations of your ‘waterproofs’ by about 10.30, he went out to the bike and got one of the large bin bags he carried for just those occasions. He carefully wrapped the precious load before going back out into the tempest and placing it lovingly in his pannier. Then he firmly fastened the catches and fought his way through aggressive traffic, on roads that were absolutely treacherous, before squelching into an ad company reception and placing the pristine package on the desk.
Or should I say almost pristine. The receptionist picked it up by a corner, held it at arms length as if it was smeared with dog’s turd, and sneered in a ghastly South Kensington accent, that she wasn’t about to accept it in “that condition!” Ian followed her eyes down her nose and saw a couple of small dark bluey green circles, where his sodden gloves had left the faintest of marks. They were the only indication of the miraculous journey the artwork had survived and he felt a wave of exasperation rush through him. He took the offending article, wiped both sides on his filthy Belstaff, and tossed it back in her general direction, before turning and strolling through the door grinning. He said he could still hear her apoplectic braying as he rode off.
There were a number of factors, not least of which was feeling like a drowned rat, which combined with the woman’s pathetic petty rudeness to push Ian into an uncharacteristic lapse in his professionalism. On a good day, I usually found it easy to smile dumbly in the face of the most outrageous rudeness or patronising behaviour, if that was the line of least resistance; but occasionally my sense of the ridiculous kicked in and whenever that happened I was likely to end up having to be ‘spoken to’ by someone in the office.
I remember in pre-signature days when I was working on wages and me and a couple of other riders were stealing a cuppa and a fag in Shoe Lane cafe. We were sorting our work out between us, when another Mercury rider rode past tooting and raised two then three fingers. I rushed outside and plugged my helmet back into the bike, in time to hear “… Oo-three two-three, two-three two-three!”
“Two-three?” All sweetness and innocence.
Smelly in a pissed off tone: “Where’ve you been? I’ve been calling you for ages.”
“Sorry Dave, I got caught up with this real pri… pain of a commissionaire in Holborn. I’m just about to do the Printing House Square, which’ll leave me in plenty of time for the eleven-thirty in Tavistock Square.”
Smooth as silk, without so much as a ripple. Of course he knew I’d been skiving in the cafe and I was lying through my teeth; but as long as I made the effort to come up with a good one, he wouldn’t try to dock the allowance we were paid for working through our lunch. It was a power game.
“OK two-three, on your way through you want…”
I tooted at the other riders in the cafe and sped off. I had my Holborn and the Times, Smelly’s new one in St John’s Street, plus two Gray’s Inn’s I’d traded Paddy in the cafe (one of which, he’d taken earlier from Bart in his van) and I had just on fourteen minutes to do the lot if I was going to turn up promptly at the BMA. When I pulled up just round the corner in Holborn, I still had a large chunk of the first minute remaining. I left the GT burbling by the kerb, dashed into the building and tossed the envelope on the desk with a friendly, “There you go mate!”
If I believed in God, I’d have thought it was my just desserts for telling porkies (except that even if God was watching you, lying to your controller probably wouldn’t count) because I was half way across the pavement when the commissionaire from hell lumbered into the doorway in full military regalia. He shouted after me like I was some badly behaved conscription squaddie who needed a good haircut. His braiding, highly polished belt and the three silver embroidered stripes on his arm, all glistened furiously in the sunlight, as he demanded that I deliver it to the company on the sixth floor. I explained that it was a non-urgent press release, and he could keep it on his desk for the next employee who was going up there – even someone coming back from lunch would be fine. But the S’arnt major didn’t seem to hear a word I said. He just shouted the same thing a bit louder, like I was a damn Johnny foreigner. So I ignored him and walked back to the bike.
He tossed the A4 envelope at my feet like some sort of W H Smith’s gauntlet, and stood with his hands on his hips, clearly relishing the opportunity to put a young lout in his place. I looked at the indignation in his purple face and the veins that throbbed on his temples and I couldn’t help laughing. After stamping my feet half a dozen times like a three year old having a tantrum, I jumped on the bike, turned to face him and went “Nah nah, nah nah, nah!” before sticking my tongue out and dumping the clutch.
As I swung into Gray’s Inn Road on amber, I looked back and saw him creaking as he bent over to pick up the job. The saddest part was that he was such a jobsworth that he couldn’t simply walk back to his little box and let me take the rap for the undelivered package. As I ducked into Gray’s Inn through the out gate, I felt a pang of guilt as I realised that the old soldier had probably given the best part of his life in some pointless war, in some desolate corner of the Empire; but then he should have learned not to fuck with the young and the quick. Especially, when they’re down to almost twelve minutes.
My most outrageous over-reaction to obstructive behaviour, came about at Kings X Red Star at the fag end of a Friday. This was back in the days when ID was a character in a Carry On film; but when the Mercury driver at the front of the queue had nothing on him, not even a clip board, to identify him with the company, the man behind the desk wouldn’t give him his TBCF (To Be Called For) package. Which was fair enough if unusual, so Alan was staying calm. He asked the man nicely to take four steps to his left and check out the orange Transit he’d parked right opposite; but he was having none of it and turned to put the large parcel back in the rack. Al looked like he was about to run out of patience, when I stepped forward and said that I’d vouch for him.
The man turned and looked me up and down, before grunting, “And what have you got to say who you are?” That was when I realised that he was either incredibly dense, or simply on a mission to fuck up someone’s Friday night. I was shrouded from shoulder to floor in bright orange rubber; on my head I was wearing a matching Griffin Clubman, with a messenger of the gods decal (complete with his distinctive winged helmet) on the side and the tosser was still quibbling. I held up my arms as if I was nailed to a cross and asked him who he thought I worked for, but he insisted that one of us had to bring something into the office with the company’s address or phone number on it.
That sorted out one question; he was obviously determined to be as big a pain in the arse as he possibly could. As Alan continued arguing with him, I went outside, started my trustee GT, and rode it through the floppy plastic strips, into the collection office. I pointed to the phone number on the pannier and suggested he get it down quick before the whole place fogged up with blue smoke. This seemed to amuse most of the queue, so I burned out the back tyre for an encore. The human haemorrhoid grabbed a phone and started punching numbers. When he got through and started hollering into the receiver, I slid the back wheel around and rode back outside so he could hear himself scream.
When I walked back in through the smoke, like Clint in High Plains Drifter, he was still bellowing into the phone. He pointed at me shouting, “That hooligan rode his bike all around my office!” like I’d done some sort of trials thing on his counter. I put the scrap of paper with the details of my pick-up in Al’s hand and strolled back out as he said to the steaming Red Star man, “Don’t forget to check if I work there, while you’re on to them.”
Alan came outside a few minutes later, grinning broadly and carrying both parcels in his thick arms. He laughed as he reported that the flunky had told him that he’d spoken to my boss: a “Mr Lochead” and I was going to be in BIG trouble when I got back to the office. I’d already spoken to Kev. He called me on the radio as soon as he got off the phone, wanting to find out all the details; but his tone definitely struck me as more amused than outraged, which was hardly surprising considering he was only my boss because everyone else had already slipped off to the pub.
Remember, a professional courier should endeavour to be sensible and courteous at all times; but when all else fails it’s best to be childish. It might not resolve the situation, but at least you’ll have a good laugh about it later with your mates.
Be careful out there
This first appeared in issue 51 of The Rider’s Digest in November 2001 and later as the 16th chapter of Reasons To Be Cheerful