“Messengers City tales from a London bicycle courier” by Julian Sayarer.
The fact that I read “Messengers” in two sittings and a handful of standbys* in between deliveries speaks volumes.
Very quickly I bonded with the story and as I read on, the subjectiveness of the review I had to write afterwards was becoming a futile ambition. Being a pushbike courier and reading a book about my own vocation excited me at every aspect that I found similar. It equally made me jeer with venom when I thought things were a tad different.
“Messengers” are narrated in form of Emre’s diary, an aspiring writer and also a London pushbike courier who happened to be stuck in his temporary job for too long. Alike many young people trying to survive in the capitalistic jungle, Emre has a degree and a whole chest of unfulfilled expectations of what the world should be like.
The book starts with Emre’s return to London following a record breaking circumnavigation by bike. Determined to settle his dream job in writing he rejoins the messengering circuit just to keep the bread on the table whilst things are working out.
The book catches your attention from the very beginning. As he stashes his new radio into the holster it is time for another alleycat and the injection of the couriering spirit flows right into his veins again. The narration is so vivid you see through his eyes, and feel each pull of the crank with the words swirling into a moving picture:
“We move within the traffic like plankton amongst a pod of whales, all four of us on fixed gear bicycles: regressive technology, no freewheel. If the wheel turns, then so does the cog, chain, pedals, legs. Your legs can’t stop turning. Two-Four rode without brakes, I had one on the front: your legs are your rear brake, you move your bodyweight forward and resist the pedals to stop the rear wheel… A fixed gear allows such perfect adjustment of speed: none of the crude power of a lever, cable and brakes clutching at the wheel, you just resist the chain until your speed is perfect.”
Emre is an attentive observer: he makes the reader see, taste and smell the city. He almost makes you choke on the exhaust fumes, shiver from the numbing cold and bask in the sun whilst devouring a peach or two. But he is also a merciless inquisitor who exposes striking hypocrisies of the failed system that you almost feel ashamed of for not admitting yourself. After what sounds like a life-changing voyage, Emre finds the grey capitalistic mindset of London has all but changed. It becomes obvious that Emre’s personal horizons expanded to the world wide limits and racked up a pylon of idealystic views, which throughout this book shatter into million pieces of failed expectations.
Relentlessly he pokes at injustice and repetitively uses words such as “poor” and “unfair” and drives himself to a chronic state of disillusion.
It is not all sad, but is certainly musing in minor keys. Though a couple of times I found myself chirping with laughter or shouting across the room to my boyfriend to double verify the routes and landmarks.
Moving from a chapter to chapter, which are titled by a postcodes, the reader rides along with Emre, finding out about hidden secrets of London, enjoying the views of West End or hiding out from the menacing cold next to the office vents in the City.
“After the rain, with a flash and then a flood, suddenly there comes fire at the western end of Wigmore Street. Up in flames it goes, burning at the close of each clear day between April and September, framed either side with fie Georgian floors. The street sets to an inferno above the tarmac, the last circle of hell lodged and raging just around the back of Marble Arch.”
Sometimes the chapters are short accounts of other people he meets. Other times they are personal ruminations. But with one flowing into each other they come together into a brilliant story. Almost like with a good run of deliveries, which are individual jobs, but in a perfect sequence make a great journey across the city.
Despite my often annoyance at Emre’s tiring indignation of the world, I traveled the London through the eyes of the author; laughed with him, amused myself and altogether relieved the experience.
Being myself a messenger, not only I read the streets so effortlessly, I also recognised myself in some of the pages.
For non-couriers, when reading the book, I suggest to have a map of London and a a bike handy because you will want to go and see things for yourself. To feel the buzz of the city, to live it through by yourself, again and again…with each movement of the cranks…because you can’t stop, because you won’t stop.
Messengers, City Tales From a London Bicycle Courier is currently available at Amazon.co.uk at £8.99 paperback or £4.68 kindle edition.
* Note * a standby for a courier is a state of awaiting for deployment.