People turn the wheels in cycling. Its stories of the everyday, the mundane and the exotic that lends our pursuit endless fascination. Over the last few months I’ve been working my way through an excellent little book; Craig Taylor’s ‘Londoners: The days and nights of London as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it and long for it‘.Its a work of anthropology, distilling the experiences of Londoners into vignettes, collating small stories of life from the capital city. Unexpectedly, during a late night ‘Reading my book whilst listening to Zero 7 and sipping a restorative‘ session, I happened across Dan Simon’s story, a rickshaw driver from London. His voice reached out from the pages. I can imagine the late night scene. I’ve been soaked through my waterproofs, into my skin, into my soul. I’ve heard the jeering. I’ve felt the pain. I’ve eaten that meal.
Here’s the passage from Dan’s interview with Craig Taylor repeated verbatim.
My very first fare were two guys I picked up in Covent Garden. They were a couple of drunken guys wearing suits and they wanted to go to Liverpool St station. I equated Liverpool Street station, for some reason, with St Paul’s and I charged them £7 each and ended up on an excruciating journey which lasted over an hour and a half because I got lost and ended up going via Angel, Inslington, up Pentonville Road. The hill up to the Angel was so extraordinary. The pain I was suffering was immense and it was pissing down with rain. It was an all-over ache that stared at the bottom of my feet and worked its way all the way up to the bottom of my neck. It was pouring down with rain and I was pouring with sweat and I ended up pulling the rickshaw over to the side of the street where a bus stop full of people were jeering at me. They were just going, come on mate, you can do it, get up the hill. And I looked back at the two guys and they were just slouching over each other with cigarettes and I said, guys, look, I’m going to have to leave you here, I don’t know where the hell I’m going. And they said, well man, listen, you’ve got to go back down the hill. I said, what do you mean, I’ve got to go back down the hill. They said, no, no, you’re going the wrong way. i said, why the f*ck didn’t you tell me that before? So i ended up taking them to Liverpool Street Station in the end, and hour and a half later. They paid me my miserable f*cking £14 and then I went and ate like I’ve never eaten before in my life. I had two burgers, two portions of chips, two bottles of Lucozade and a chocolate bar. I ate like a pig. I’ve never been so hungry in my life.
It was an all night cafe, twenty four hours, populated by cab drivers and night owls, and I just sat there and hogged myself. The rickshaw was just a sight. It was parked, two wheels up in the air on the side of the kerb, abandoned in my wild haste for food.
I got not even a quarter of the money I was owed for that ride, but I felt that I was doing something that I was enjoying, not some bullshit that had been driving me insane the year before. It was tiring, it was exhausting, but I felt every bone in my body. I felt my muscles like I never had before and I felt alive.
As a cyclist, I can’t help but empathise with his experience and yet still yearn for it. There can’t be many tougher ways to earn your living than cycling around the streets in all weathers, hauling loads that vary in weight, willingness and demeanour. But equally there can be few more pursuits that would provide the same range of experiences and sense of humanity.
‘Londoners: The days and nights of London as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it and long for it by Craig Taylor, is highly recommended. Image courtesy of the excellent migrant forum.