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Dear Bella Bathurst
5.09.11 by Buffalo Bill

You included a short section about messengers (couriers), featuring an interview with me, amongst others, in your bicycle book The Bicycle Book. I’d like to say that I was flattered by its inclusion, but that would be wrong. I wasn’t exactly offended, but I was slightly miffed by your description.

We meet in a coffee bar on Charlotte Street; he’s wearing a better laundered version of the archetypal messenger kit: baggy rolled-up jeans… …and a shirt with a flower print. The look has obviously been worked on. In person he’s wary, not particularly friendly, asks for money halfway through – his eyes stay cold, and he’s quick to take offence. We get off to a bad start when I ask him about alley-cat races… at the end he gets up mid-sentence and vanishes.

‘Wary’, yes, when speaking to journalists or writers, with good reason1. ‘Quick to take offence’, probably one of my faults, agreed, but ‘better-laundered’? I never wash my jeans (ask Anna). Also, ‘the look has obviously been worked on’? The flower print shirt I think she’s referring to was given to me by my sister; it’s from Arles, the city in which my mother grew up, and reminds us of childhood holidays. So the clothes I was wearing that were so ‘worked on’ were a pair of well-worn, and not particularly clean, jeans, bought new from Uniqlo, and a cheap snap-button shirt, also bought new from a street market in a small French city.

In fact, when I was working as a messenger, I never wore jeans, always wore lycra and / or wool, and generally had much more of a Captain Spandex look than is common amongst messengers today.

It’s true that I did ask for money. I make no apologies for that. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. After I was asked to participate in a brief discussion about cycling on Radio 4, Jack Thurston asked me whether I had got paid for it. I hadn’t realised that you can ask for, and get, contributor fees for appearing on BBC Radio. It doesn’t amount to enough to take a day off, but it pays for a pint or two.

And, as I explained to you, you were assembling material for a book for which you intended to charge money for. I have no problem with you charging money for your book – it’s actually well worth a read – but I don’t understand why you should find it worthy of mention that I asked for payment.

At the time of the interview, I told you that everything that I was likely to say to you in interview, I would already have written & published on this site – it is all here, pretty much, every coherent (and some not so coherent) thought(s) that I have had about messengering, all available for nothing, so where was my incentive to dredge up some more words about messengering solely for your benefit?

As for getting up mid-sentence, well, sorry about that. I had to leave to go & do the job that I actually get paid real money for.

1 For some good reasons why I am wary of journalists see this article.

Michael Bryant to publish book about '28 seconds' that led to death of Darcy Allan Sheppard
Guardian piece on Sheppard's death and trial by media
Guardian story on lorry deaths makes serious error
LCEF makes the London Review of Books blog and Road.cc
Action movie with messenger as central character
Daily Mail attacks cyclists, Jenny Jones says write to your MLA
Stop SMIDSY
Apologies
DC courier makes $25 in a day
The next big thing - fixies without handlebars

  1. things like this are why i do everything i can to avoid interviews anymore. 17 years now, and i cant remember being interviewed by someone who hasnt cocked it all up in the end. 99 times out of 100, theyve already interviewed you before you show up – theyre just waiting for snippets to confirm the answers theyve already decided youve given, and theyll hear whatever they need to to get them – and then judge you unfairly for not playing ball.


    joel    5 September 2011, 20:45    #
  2. untold respect for Bill C


    — curly    6 September 2011, 05:57    #
  3. There is one comment at the end of that book review on the Guardian site.“The outlaw status of the cycle messenger is being somewhat diluted by the berkery of the many many hipsters who aspire to the look and sentiment of the profession.

    Yes many of them are slightly deranged by their ingrained self preservation instinct honed by years of perpetual combat with the mostly red faced and furious London cab driver, but it’s not just cycling that’s made the courier that way. It’s a more general ‘outsider’ attitude than that. Cycling for so long being the vehicle of choice of those who wish to do things differently.”


    — overdrive    6 September 2011, 14:09    #
  4. Bad hair day Bill; some days you just couldnt take normal conversation without spiting your passifier.
    On the other hand the tone of the writers passage oozes preconception: dress comfortably=youre a looser.
    What credibility does a writer about cycling have who doesnt know that NO-ONE who works on a bike wears jeans for working. These days theres such a choice of technically advanced gear to keep you warm/cool and healthy! Working the streets may make you grubby but not stupid, the “look” develops organically to suit the way each rider feels comfortable and can function efficiently. More a case of convergent evolution than fashion dictat.
    ? Do riders still get a bollocking for just wearing shorts when its hot? Is there still a strict dress code with the companies so you dont scare the punters?
    Used to get “ should have guessed youre a DR youve got the attitude” all the time. To the point and perhaps brusque, yes, but its so much better than smarmy,condescending and judgemental, if you dont like my company for the job I do then F**k off and stop trying to score some street cred by association.


    — karrimor    7 September 2011, 01:26    #
  5. I remember Bill’s exquisite deliberations the day he purchased that shirt from a boutique in Mayfair. I wasn’t surprised by some of them: checking to see if the various tones in the floral print matched the factory distressing of his favourite work jeans; asking me if the cut of the garment made him look ‘archetypal, but in cold and wary way’; even his suggestion that I gave him the money to pay for it.

    But even I wasn’t expecting him to involve me in concocting a fabulous tale about how the shirt was a gift from a hypothetical sister, and how it reminded him of an exotic matriarch from a place which exuded cycling heritage.

    She really got the measure of you. I’m impressed.


    — bringmemyfix    8 September 2011, 09:12    #
  6. Ooh ooh ooh,and the bandana!


    — karrimor    17 September 2011, 00:54    #
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