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20 odd questions, Buffalo Bill
11.12.12 by Dazzler

How old are you? Old enough to know better, but still young enough to have a lot to learn.

Where were you born? Victoria Maternity Hospital, Barnet.

Where do you live now? South Hackney

How long were you a courier? 14 years, more on than off.

What made you become a courier? I was unemployed, broke & fed up with trying to be a musician (a calling for which I had little aptitude), so I sold my guitars & bought a bike. Then I heard that a mate’s brother had done ‘despatch riding’ as a summer job, and was leaving, so I went and took the vacancy.

Who did you ride for? Courierplan, Q Despatch, On Yer Bike, Hand & Deliver, Moving Parcel Company (a.k.a. the Wobbly Cheque Company), Wings City, Security Despatch, the Television Register, Creative Couriers…

What was your first bike? Can’t remember what the make or model was, but the first bike that I can recall (we aren’t counting toddler’s trikes, are we?) was a really shiny red bike that I was given for a birthday about 35 odd years ago.

What do you ride now? An extensively vandalised Bridgestone RB-1, which is my polo bike; an old Raleigh touring frame, which is in nearly as bad a way as the RB-1; a steel Merckx Corsa, which I hardly ride & a Gitane track bike with tubs which gets even less use. I also own a battered cargo bike, which isn’t currently rideable…

What’s the best docket you ever got given? Hard to say. I guess it would be the morning I was given two out of hours multis; I managed to get both runs on at the same time. It was about £80 for 2 hours work, a super touch.

What was the best thing about being a courier? Getting paid to ride a bike.

What was the worst thing about being a courier? Not getting paid to ride a bike? Actually, the worst was when my ankle was broken by a driver who had run a red light. I was off for 5 months, and received not even a ‘Get Well Soon’ card from On Yer Bike, for whom I was working; only 2 of my ‘comrades’ bothered to check up on me, Andy Capp & Alison Henry. I didn’t starve, but it was fortunate that I was living in a squat at the time, otherwise I would have really struggled. As it was, I only managed to get by relying on my then girlfriend’s over-draft (thanks Emma!).

Describe your childhood in 3 words. France is best.

What is your earliest memory? Not really sure anymore.

Who are your heroes? Tintin, Stephanie Bartczak, Patrick Field, Maurice Burton, Andy Capp, Jeff Rowe, Richard Guard, Anna Bluman, my brother Jack & my sister Nathalie.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Procrastination, it’s crippling.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? What do you call it when people make up their minds without bothering to examine the evidence? Yeah, that trait – whether you call it ignorance, stupidity, shallow-mindedness, prejudice…

What is your greatest fear? Catastrophic loss of habitat, leading to mass extinction.

Where would you most like to be right now? Riding up a quiet road, on a sunny day, towards the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

What is your most unappealing habit? Not really sure, but I have been told that I can be quite abrupt on the ‘phone.

Which living person do you most despise? Right now, Lance Armstrong – a proven liar, cheat & a bully as well.

In a parallel universe you’d be… A professor of history!

What one thing would improve the quality of your life? A south facing garden.

Desert Island Disc – which album would you take? Anything by Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan.

Who’d play you in the film of your life? Johnny Depp, of course!

Apart from the obvious “And, umm, sorry…errr.. who was trying to call me there?”, what would be your catchphrase? Better to be a has-been than a never-was.

What has your been your proudest moment/greatest achievement? Either trashing Quentin Wilson on the Today programme, with John Humphries looking on, or receiving the Marcus Cook Award. Or maybe winning the Veterans prize at the 1996 Cycle Messenger World Championships.

If you could go back and edit the past is there anything you would change? In my past, nothing. You don’t learn by undoing mistakes, you learn by dealing with the consequences of your mistakes..

It’s the dream dinner party – what 5 people are there? Robert Fisk, Primo Levi, William Dalrymple, George Orwell & Robert Graves, all writers. Fisk, because he is, in my opinion, the best journalist of the last 30 years, and also likes a glass of wine or two. Primo Levi, because his writing is beautiful, and he survived Auschwitz and, being Italian, will probably bring a bottle or two of Chianti or something similar. William Dalrymple, because his books about India are entrancing, and I bet he likes a glass of wine or two. George Orwell, well, what can you say about a writer whose ideas still resonate now? He is also well known for enjoying a roll-up and a couple of glasses of wine. Robert Graves is sort of the wild card, a poet, a scholar of Latin & Greek, and wrote an excellent book about his experiences in World War I, and also knew George Mallory.

What is the most important lesson life on the road taught you? Take a bike on holiday, it it’s at all possible.

What would your superpower be? Be able to ride a bike faster, harder & longer.

Dogs or cats? Do I have to choose? We have 2 cats at home, but only because our flat isn’t suitable for a dog. If we could, we would probably also get a dog, a donkey, a pig, a goat, some chickens…

Freedom is… A bicycle.

You have a time machine – where would you go? Oh boy, forwards doesn’t seem all that appealing, but I would interested to see what London looks like two thousand years from now, or to see what London looked like at any time previous to the last 150 years.

You are allowed to pass one new law – what is it? Ban HGVs daytime from central London.

Desert Island Books? Has to be something I haven’t read yet which is long. Maybe Gibbons ‘Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire’? Or maybe something mind-bending like a Hindi or Mandarin correspondence course? Or potentially enlightening, like the collected works of Plato & Aristotle? Can’t decide, so I’ll probably do what I always do, which is buy whatever military or social history books I can get on the 3 for 2 at the nearest bookshop, with some random sporting memoir thrown in to make up the numbers. Or maybe the collected works of Charles Dickens.

You’re in a sinking hot air balloon which will crash into shark-infested waters unless you throw out the cab driver, the fakenger, the bus driver, the policeman or you jump out yourself. Who gets the boot? What a crowd! I think I’d jump out myself, rather than have to mediate that conversation.

HGVs. Just stay out of their way, innit? Much better and more skilled riders than me have been taken under, so it’s not as simple as all that.

What’s the next big thing? Cargo bikes. I have been saying that for the last 20 years!

Fakenger. Discuss. I already have – at length.

What advice would you give to any wannabe couriers? Don’t, unless you really love sitting around in the street in all weathers.

Tell us something about yourself we would never guess. I worked as a motor-bike courier for one winter.

You’ve got one youtube link – what is it? I can’t resist the opportunity to share the video of Marco crashing into a kerb again. So good. (Sorry, Marco!) I guess my absolute favourite is this bit of Peter Cook.

Tell us a joke. Couriers are self-employed.

  1. Possibly the worst 20 questions yet.

    — overdrive    12 December 2012, 20:45    #
  2. You are my hero.

    patrick field    13 January 2013, 17:11    #
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