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Boris and the aeroplane
5.08.06 by Buffalo Bill

Tofu once said that I am like the Marmite of the messenger community. You either love me or hate me. I don’t totally agree with that assessment. I think that some people love me and hate me, at the same time. Boris is one of those people.

Boris was the Race Captain of the 1994 Cycle Messenger World Championships. He got in touch with us out of the blue, and volunteered to help. He ended up being the Race Captain and organising the site. It was a huge job, and he nearly had a nervous breakdown. Afterwards he said that I had ruined his life. Which was a typically over-dramatic reaction.

Boris is a smart guy, witty, bright and full of ideas. Full of one or two liners: Clausewitz says that most plans do not survive contact with the enemy. I say that most messenger plans do not survive contact with reality.” “There is no such thing as a steep hill. There is only the wrong size chain-ring.”

He was a hard-rider and a good messenger, easily capable of knocking out 50 dockets between 10am and 4pm, and once boasted to me that it wasn’t worth getting out of bed for less than a ton. He was proper old school. He had been at Post Haste with Mick Smiley in the late 80s. At the time he got involved in the Messenger Championships experience he was working for Lee Smith at the Moving Parcels Company. Boris called it the Wobbly Cheque Company because of Lee’s habit of bouncing rider pay cheques. But the thing that most people will remember about Boris is that he smells. Really smells. I know people that will refuse to get into a motor-vehicle with him. But I liked Boris, and even though my sense of smell is acute, I enjoyed his company so I always ignored his personal hygiene problem and laughed at his jokes.

As a way of trying to make it up to him for having ‘ruined’ his life, I took him to Toronto for the 1994 Alleycat Scramble. This was the first time that anyone from London had done an Alleycat. In 1994 there were only two places in the world where you could race in an Alleycat, Berlin and Toronto, and Berlin had only held an Alleycat in 1993. The Toronto Alleycats were huge, pulling a field of 50 – 100. In 1993 the organisers had built a small wooden track inside a warehouse, and used it as a finishing circuit. It was this that inspired the legendary Human Powered Rollercoaster. In 1994, however, the Helloween Alleycat was a straight-forward street-race, finishing at a bar.

I wanted to go Toronto because they were hosting the 1995 CMWC, and I wanted to check it out, check them out and see whether there was any way I could help them. As it turned out, I ended up helping them a lot more than I ever anticipated.

Boris came along for the ride, and I hoped that he would appreciate the holiday, getting away from his troubles at home, which were mostly related to money. Organising a messenger championships nearly always results in personal finance problems for the key organisers.

We raced the Alleycat , Boris, the other Londoners and I. It was inspirational, and we started organising our own Alleycats when we got back. It was a good week, the Toronto crew were more than welcoming, and treated us like celebrities. Being treated like a celebrity is good for the soul, as long as it comes in small doses. And Boris made sure that my head didn’t get too big. London messengers have always made sure that my head didn’t get too big. In fact, I would like to say a sincere thank you to all the London messengers who have taken it upon themselves to keep my head from getting too big. What would I have done without you? Thanks so much, guys and girls.

But all good things come to an end, and I was pretty ready to come home after a week.

So we left for the airport, Boris and I, riding out from down-town Toronto. It’s around a 45 minute ride, and we didn’t ride hard but we didn’t hang about either. It was November, and I don’t remember getting hot and sweaty, but I was a messenger then, and didn’t really think much of sweating. We got to Pearson and rode right into the terminal. We had deliberately arrived with plenty of time to spare because we had to break our bikes down for the flight. As we got to the check in area, a desk opened. We didn’t have to queue, and the lady didn’t make a fuss about the bikes.

“If you guys want to take a wash, the bath-rooms are over there”, she said to us.

“Oh, we are going to ride away from the airport at the other end, so we’re ok”, I said, not really picking up on her very polite suggestion. A lot of Canadians are like that: polite to the point of not being able to make themselves understood to less couth individuals.

She fiddled with her computer, and I turned away, knelt down and started to prepare my bike for the flight. When I looked up again, she had disappeared. I didn’t think anything of it, and carried on with stripping the bike. I was taking off the pedals, still kneeling, when I saw a man in a BA jacket walk up.

I looked up at him.

“Guys, the check-in lady is kind of concerned because you don’t want to take a wash.”

I didn’t say anything straight away, a little non-plussed. And then a light went on in my head. Ok, I hadn’t picked up on the nice lady’s polite suggestion but I am not totally dumb. Just a little slow on the up-take, as the cliché has it.

“Are you saying that we are too smelly to get on your aeroplane?”
“Er, yes.”

That wasn’t a big problem for me, because I knew that whilst I may have smelt a little stale, I didn’t really pong, and the BA man had been so up-front about it that I wasn’t inclined to argue. Boris looked a little embarassed but didn’t protest. I didn’t want to miss my plane home, and neither did Boris, so we packed the bikes into the airline bags and went to the bathroom and washed.

And Boris never did forgive me for ‘ruining’ his life. I guess he never will.

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