Diary of a motor-cycle courier
I used to write punk fanzines, but this was no longer possible in 1995, when I was 24, and was no longer a student, either at East London University or as an art student at Waltham Forest College. What to do? I ended up working as a motor-cycle courier for most of the three years or so between finishing Art college and starting on a teaching career, but in Russia, not England (I was a TEFL teacher, a teacher of English as a Foreign Language). So, my creative outlet from around August/September 1994 to September 1997, and, even beyond that was in writing letters. The best ones went to my father, who, throughout this time was based in Zambia, Africa, the second time in his life he had been based there (the first time was in 1970, soon after I was born). My letters became, not only my outpourings on themes such as general hopelessness at the job opportunities on offer (there was a recession on- again), but to do with love and the difficulties of living alone, wanting companionship, but that meeting women was infrequent, especially if you were a motor-cycle courier, or a labourer on a building-site.
I lived in East London, an area notorious for its crime, its first residence of new immigrants to the country, its poverty- poverty in more ways than one. It was an area that by its very infamy attracted me, whether through the descriptions of Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, or through frequent reference to it in English culture, it attracted me, pulled me to itself. Peter Ackroyd says this in his book about London; that London imbibes the young, thereby constantly replenishing itself. Certainly, if you’re young in London you are impervious to its downsides- the loneliness, the dereliction, the ugliness of many of its buildings. So, as an incurable romantic, London held a deep appeal and this was after time away from it- my teenage years spent in Leighton Buzzard, a small town in Bedfordshire, and at Ampleforth, a Catholic boarding school for boys- some say the Catholics’ equivalent of Eton! The other thing that drove me to wanting to be in London was because the music I listened to and followed, fanatically, all seemed to hail from London from the period 1976-1984 and all the bands I loved sung in London accents- the Ruts, the Jam… I was more intent on this, in 1990, when I returned to live in London, aged 19, than on my Cultural Studies course…I wanted to know all about the back-alleyways, see them first hand, rather than from books my father had like, The Streets of East London, by William J Fishman, which featured superb photographs by Nicholas Breach.
By the time I finished my degree course in 1993 I had lived in Stratford, Leyton and Hackney, in squats with hippies who were ‘vegans’ to a housing collective in Hackney- Brougham Rd., which was a legendary street in its own right because so many bands formed there or visited there or lived there- Zounds, The Mob, Blyth Power, The Apostles. I ended up living with an ex-member, but founder member of punk band, The Apostles, and I was very lucky to do so because he was such a character, who had struggled hard to get where he was despite mental health problems and physical handicap- he couldn’t run, for example. He also provided a font of stories from which I could slake my thirst for the period 1976-84. For he had been around Brick Lane when it was heavily dominated by British Movement skinheads and had played at the Centre Iberico in Nottinghill gate; he had no time for many of the ‘anarcho-punk’ brigade but had met Crass and had liked them. I think, in England, the whole punk period became legendary and captivated many that were too young to have taken part. It all seemed so exciting and colourful. In 1993-4 I attended Waltham Forest College and studied Art on the Art Foundation Course- what a brilliant year! So much fun. I don’t think art courses are very good at finding you a job, but you certainly get to express yourself and meet people of a similar mind (always something of a relief). I ended up moving to Walthamstow because I had met two people during that Foundation course that I wanted to re-establish contact with, one was a girl who I was in love with, but that sadly was not to be reciprocated, while the other was a friend of mine who is still a friend of mine to this day, who is still an artist but who lives a hand-to-mouth existence. So, I ended up in Walthamstow, near Blackhorse Road tube station, with a room in a shared house for which rent had to be paid. The only means by which I could see to pay for it was by push-bike couriering, and this I did, as I had done it before, but nearer to central London, at Shoreditch. But, now, living so much further away, it duly ruined my knees and I had to relinquish this form of employment. The logical step was to embark on motor-cycle couriering, and there were pieces of paper in the Job Centre telling us how lucrative a career it would be- all lies!