Why Buffalo Bill?
5.12.05 by Buffalo Bill
Why am I called Buffalo Bill? Would you like the long answer or the short answer?
Short answer: Because I’m a c***.
No, the short answer is that I am called Buffalo Bill cause that’s what people know me as now, and even though I have used my ‘real’ surname (ie the one that appears on my passport) at various points, it’s easier to use BB, as that is the name everyone recognises. Using my ‘real’ surname leads to confusion, and the ‘nickname’ is often added in any case, as Joe Hendry has in this press release about the Marcus Cook Award.
Long answer: In 1987, I joined the hippest and biggest London cycle courier company, On Yer Bike. All the fastest, coolest and best dressed London bicycle messengers worked there; OYB riders never seemed to hang out with the rest of the losers who camped permanently in Soho Square or the Court Caff – they always seemed to be busy.
OYB riders were so cool it was painful to contemplate how uncool I was compared to them. They all seemed to be riding the latest Muddy Fox Couriers, the even more desirable looking Rockhoppers or (to me anyway) impossibly exotic light-weight hand-built steel-framed road bikes. I was riding a pile of junk with wheels.
They had the coolest bags. They taped their radios to the straps of their bags; I was using a ghastly radio holder that cut into my armpit. They had girls riding for them. And blimey, the girls were stunning looking.
When you are reading this, I must ask you to remember that I was a very immature 21 year-old, utterly clueless and easily impressed.
Anyway, I got a job there cos Kev and a few of the others had some trouble related to… well anyway, they had to leave in a hurry. I was in there like a shot. It’s an ill-wind that blows no-one good, innit?
Finding 5D Shepherd Street was part of the test you had to pass to become an OYB rider. It’s in the far corner of a yard off Shepherd Street, and if you couldn’t find it without assistance then you weren’t going to cut it as an OYB rider. I found 5D, and climbed the stairs into the control room. It was a huge room, the walls of which were lined with sofas and at the centre of which were 6 control desks. For those of you that have ever seen ‘Streetwise’, the control desks shown in that show were copied from the OYB office.
One of the desks was heaped with paper dockets, ashtrays, phones, pagers, packets of cigarettes, several half-full cups of coffee, two-way radios and surrounded by plastic carrier bags bulging with more paper dockets. It looked like the work-station of a crazy person. I was interviewed by that crazy person, Claire Nielsen, an imposing woman with a fearsome reputation, a 60 per day fag habit and the sexiest radio and phone voice I have ever heard; I would find later myself doing anything that voice asked.
The interview consisted of writing a short essay on why I wanted to work for OYB. I can’t remember what I put down – it was probably an essay of unparalleled arrant nonsense, but Claire gave me a job. And then I had to pick a radio name.
This was the coolest thing about being an OYB rider: they didn’t use phonetic, numbered call signs to identify riders on the two-way radio (‘Polo-One-Zero’). The quirk was a reflection of the owners’ lack of grounding in the despatch/mini-cab business. That the Home Office (notionally responsible for policing short wave radio transmissions) let them get away with it is somewhat puzzling.
And as it was now a big company, there was more than one John or Tony on the circuit, so they had to call those riders by something other than their ‘real’ name. Hence the OYB riders used call-signs like ‘Postman Pat’, ‘Major Tom’ and ‘Paris’, adding to the OYB mystique. The pedal bike circuit at City Sprint, which is the inheritor of the now almost totally dilute OYB traditions, still uses this system.
When I got my radio I was asked what my call-sign would be. Here was my opportunity to establish my identity. I had of course thought about it, and I knew that the most famous of all the Pony Express riders, who I rightly viewed as our legendary and illustrious predecessors, was Buffalo Bill. So I would be the modern Buffalo Bill. What an arrogant bastard.