Jon Day

Jon Day’s Novel Sensations: Modernist Fiction and the Problem of Qualia is out now.

Better on TV: The Tennis Craze

Jon Day, 8 October 2020

You​ can divide most sports into those that take place in the real world (road cycling, sailing, cross country running) and those that are played on the artificial space of a court or pitch. Some (golf, croquet) occupy an uncertain middle ground, which may be one of the reasons they are so tedious to watch. Others (football, rugby) started as the former and, as they were codified, became...

Since​ 1961 more people have gone into space than have raced in Formula 1 Grand Prix. This doesn’t mean that it’s harder to become an F1 driver than an astronaut. But motorsport is incredibly expensive and the pool from which drivers are drawn is tiny. A modern F1 car costs around £10 million to manufacture. The most successful teams spend, on average, £220 million a...

Themind, according to Henri Bergson, is like a ‘single sentence that was begun at the first awakening of consciousness, a sentence strewn with commas but in no place cut by a period’. William James preferred the image of a stream: consciousness, he wrote, ‘does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as “chain” or “train” do not...

There are​ 290 species of pigeon in the world, but only one has adapted to live in cities. Feral pigeons are synanthropes: they thrive in human environments where they can skim a living off our excess, nesting in the nooks and crannies of tall buildings that mimic the cliff faces on which their genetic ancestors – Columba livia, the rock dove – once lived. We think of pigeons as...

At the IWM North: Wyndham Lewis

Jon Day, 5 October 2017

In​ a 1932 article for the Daily Herald entitled ‘What It Feels Like to Be an Enemy’, Wyndham Lewis described his morning routine. After a breakfast of ‘a little raw meat, a couple of blood oranges, a stick of ginger, and a shot of vodka – to make one see Red’, he wrote:

I make a habit of springing up from the breakfast table and going over in a rush to the...

He was​ the greatest long-distance runner of the mid-20th century, but when he ran Emil Zátopek looked ridiculous. His face was a mask of pain and his head lolled to the side, as though his neck couldn’t hold it up. The American sportswriter Red Smith said he ‘ran like a man with a noose around his neck, the most frightful horror spectacle since Frankenstein, on the verge...

The day​ after Brexit, in need of distraction, I joined nine other volunteers at a pub on the bank of the River Lea in East London to count eels. The European eel is critically endangered, and annual counts have taken place on London’s rivers since 2005. We were met by representatives of the Canal and River Trust and an ichthyologist from London Zoo named Joe. Across the river there...

Wizard Contrivances: Will Self

Jon Day, 27 September 2012

‘I have forgotten my umbrella,’ Nietzsche wrote in the margins of an unpublished manuscript. Whether he wanted to remind himself of the phrase, which he put in inverted commas, or of the umbrella itself, isn’t known. ‘It is always possible that it means nothing at all or that it has no decidable meaning,’ Derrida commented. ‘What if Nietzsche was only...

There aren’t many novels with exclamation marks in their titles. Used without irony – as in Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! – they strive too hard, leaving us no room for manoeuvre. Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner and Look at the Harlequins! by Nabokov, on the other hand, are more subtle, creating some distance between us and their tellers, if not their tales. Karen...

From The Blog
12 August 2016

Wearing smart uniforms and carrying enormous insulated rucksacks, most of the Deliveroo riders I've seen don’t look much like the typical London bike messenger. Many of them appear to be everyday cyclists. Some ride creaky mountain bikes, others woefully unsuitable shoppers. I've seen them consulting maps on their smartphones, sellotaped to the handlebars of their bicycles. Deliveroo is just one of many companies trying to crack the same-day food delivery market in London, but it's certainly the most visible. Last year Amazon experimented with using bicycle messengers in New York as part of their ‘Amazon Prime Now’ service, which aims to deliver goods within one hour of their being ordered. They recently began offering fresh food delivery too. Uber is trying to corner the food delivery market with ‘Ubereats’, run on a similar model to their taxi service, with self-employed owner-riders doing the legwork. But Deliveroo, armed with a start-up investment of half a billion dollars, has been the most aggressive recruiter so far. Riders have seen very little of that money.

From The Blog
11 February 2016

Professional cycling has always been populated by cheats, and in the early years of the sport some of their methods were almost comically baroque. The winner of the 1904 Tour de France, Maurice Garin (who'd won the year before, too), was later disqualified for taking a train between stages. Several other riders were caught being towed along by cars, holding corks in their teeth attached to long wires (they could spit them out when they passed potential witnesses).

From The Blog
9 June 2015

Being a bicycle courier is incredibly dangerous. In terms of days lost through injury it’s up there with farming, meat-packing and deep-sea fishing. Most couriers are classified as self-employed subcontractors for tax purposes, but many courier companies treat them as contracted employees. The freedom to chose what work you do turns out to be a mirage: turn down a job or two and you’ll quickly be asked to hand back your radio and find a new company to work for. It’s also badly paid. At CitySprint, one of London’s largest courier companies, a low-priority bicycle delivery from EC2 to SW1 pays the rider £1.25. The company defends its rates by arguing that no courier is ever asked to go on these schleps across the city with just one job in the bag: if you’re quick you can pick up several packages in one part of town and deliver them all at the other end. But what you’ll earn for the work is pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago.

From The Blog
11 August 2014

A couple of years ago I went to the 25th annual Cannabis World Cup in Amsterdam. The cup, organised by High Times magazine, part trade-show and part awards ceremony, has been held in Amsterdam since 1987. In a large dank hanger in an old shipyard in the east of the city, hundreds of young men gathered under a thick fug of smoke. They discussed marijuana cultivation and argued about the terroir of their favourite strains of hashish. There were ‘cooking with weed’ demonstrations and lectures on the history of cannabis. Stands sold seeds and smoking paraphernalia. One man was pushing his stealth smoking pipes disguised as asthma inhalers.

From The Blog
20 May 2014

Ukip’s ‘Carnival of Colour’, which took place in a Croydon shopping centre today, never looked particularly promising. When I got there, a few supporters wearing linen suits, loud shirts and strong aftershave were handing out flyers. George Konstantinidis, the east counties regional chairman of Ukip, gave me his card. I asked him if Nigel Farage would be there. He told me, conspiratorially, that he’d be arriving in half an hour. I asked him if he thought Farage was racist. He said he wasn’t.

From The Blog
17 April 2014

In 1919, 130 cyclists registered to race in the Tour de France. Only 69 turned up at the start line: the war had made rubber scarce, and many couldn’t find tyres. Riders were instructed to bring their passports with them as they’d be travelling through contested territory, and there wasn’t enough sugar around for the organisers to keep them properly fed. By the time the peloton arrived at the foot of the Pyrenees, only 25 riders were left in the race. Ten made it to the finish line. The last rider to complete the race, Jules Nempon, limped home 21 hours after the winner, Firmin Lambot. Géo Lefèvre, the tour's originator and its most breathless early chronicler, called it ‘the most beautiful Tour de France I have ever seen’.

From The Blog
19 November 2013

Six cyclists have been killed on London’s streets in the last fortnight. On 5 November Brian Holt, a hospital porter from Aldgate, was hit by a lorry on Cycle Superhighway 2 in Mile End. On 7 November a man died after a collision with a bus in Croydon. Last week Francis Golding was hit by a coach at the corner of Southampton Row and Theobalds Road. He later died in hospital. On Wednesday morning a woman was hit by a heavy goods vehicle as she cycled round Bow roundabout, where two other cyclists have died this year.

From The Blog
14 November 2013

At the beginning of the year a group of workers at the Curzon cinema chain joined BECTU, the media and entertainment union. Front-of-house workers at Curzon are employed on zero-hour contracts, meaning that they have no guaranteed earnings week by week. If they’re offered no work, they earn no money.

From The Blog
1 November 2013

The Sunday Assembly, ‘a godless congregation for all’, is expanding. It was founded in January by two stand-up comics, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, and sells itself as ‘all the best bits of church, but with no religion and awesome pop songs’. Alain de Botton has accused them of nicking the idea from him.

From The Blog
24 October 2013

A few days ago a coroner released a report on the deaths of two cyclists killed in London. Both died while cycling along Cycle Superhighway 2, which runs from Bow to Aldgate. Both were hit by heavy goods vehicles. One of them, Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, was riding a Boris Bike.

From The Blog
16 July 2013

Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was killed by a heavy goods vehicle as she cycled past Aldgate East tube station on Friday, 5 July. She was riding a Boris bike along CS2, one of Transport for London’s pale blue ‘Cycle Superhighways’, painted onto the roads two years ago to encourage people to get on their bikes. She was the third person to have been killed on CS2 and the second cyclist to have died in east London in the last fortnight. HGVs make up only 4 per cent of traffic, but were involved in more than half of all cyclist deaths in London in 2011. In Paris, where HGVs are banned from the roads during the day, no cyclists were killed in 2011. Sixteen cyclists died in London in the same year.

From The Blog
17 June 2013

In March the Southbank Centre announced plans to redevelop the Royal Festival Hall, including the undercroft, a small scruffy space, covered in graffiti, which has long been used by skateboarders and BMX riders. It's probably the most famous – and certainly the most well documented – skateboarding spot in Europe. On one of the foundation piers of Hungerford Bridge there's a skateboard graveyard: boards broken by the undercroft’s brutal geometry are scattered across the concrete.

From The Blog
28 May 2013

On their Twitter stream, the English Defence League announced that they’d be meeting at the Lord of the Moon pub on Whitehall before marching to Downing Street, but the Moon didn’t want them and closed for the day. Instead they gathered at pubs around Trafalgar Square (including Halfway to Heaven: ‘loads of patriots here,’ someone tweeted – did they realise it's a gay bar?). As I passed the Silver Cross on the corner of Whitehall and Craig’s Court, a group of EDL marchers were chanting ‘who are you?’ at a busload of tourists, who were taking photos. Football casuals and hardened racists drank in the sunshine. There were cries of ‘Sieg Heil!’ from the crowd as the police pushed them back onto the pavement.

From The Blog
17 April 2013

Fences kept the protesters in place on Farringdon Road, separating them from the mourners. Photographers and TV crews hovered, waiting to get their shots. A military band warmed up across the road, where ex-servicemen held flags and banners. A man selling the Socialist Worker with a ‘Thatcher’s Dead Special Pull-out’ dropped some leaflets and was told to pick them up. He refused. A line of soldiers marched and shuffled themselves into place beside the fences. A woman called Alicia gave a full-throated rendition of Billy Bragg’s ‘Between the Wars’. ‘Up the miners!’ she said as she finished. ‘Up the National Health Service!’ ‘Oh do fuck off,’ said a passing woman in a suit.

From The Blog
25 February 2013

It’s less than two years since what have come to be known as the ‘London riots’, but already they’ve been mythologised. In Hackney, the riots are spoken about in strangely fond terms, as a time when residents pulled together to clear up the broken glass, burnt-out cars and brick dust of the night before. The riots were a thrill, and they gave way to a Blitz-spirit nostalgia which is increasingly being used to remind us all to keep calm and carry on. The commercialisation of such sentiment has followed close behind.

From The Blog
14 January 2013

The Modern Language Association of America has finished its 128th annual convention. This year, ten thousand delegates descended on three sprawling, super-heated and mall-lined hotels in Boston. Well-established fears – the steady corporatisation of the academy, the encroachment of market forces on academic publishing, the shameful ways in which early career academics are treated  – had had their influence on most of the papers I heard. Many of the panels were about how to sell yourself as a graduate student, or find a way into the increasingly closed shop of a tenure-track academic career, or avoid it altogether. There were panels on ‘Myth-busting the Job Search’ and ‘Marketing Your PhD in Literature and Languages’. At a panel on ‘Humanisms Old and New’ the medievalist James Simpson said we were saddled with ‘a legacy of 15th-century philological humanism’ that was outdated. If we tried to justify the humanities as the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, he said, ‘we’re going to lose.’ 

From The Blog
12 September 2012

In 2007, the summer after I graduated from university, I applied to be a marker for Edexcel, the GCSE exam board. The selection process involved online tests and training days, but wasn’t particularly rigorous. I think everyone in my cohort was accepted. We were all invited to a team-building lunch in Bloomsbury, where we met the people who would oversee our marking. My boss was a retired lecturer from Australia who joined Edexcel, he told me, to keep his mind sprightly, and because he believed in maintaining standards. I told him I’d applied to be a marker because I was broke.

From The Blog
28 July 2012

I watched the Olympic opening ceremony sitting on the roof of a narrowboat near King’s Cross. Boat dwellers have had it hard under the Olympic regime, and many of the boats moored opposite us were exiles from the Olympic Park, moved on because they supposedly presented a water-borne security risk. Danny Boyle’s nostalgiafest was projected onto a screen stretched between two trees on the canal bank. I didn’t pay close attention – the trees got in the way, the BBC iPlayer kept cutting out – but cycling, which the British have been expected do well in, seemed to feature heavily. Bradley Wiggins rang a bell; Chris Hoy paraded round waving the Union Flag; hundreds of winged cyclists flapped their way, ET-like, into the evening sky.

From The Blog
23 July 2012

National teams haven’t raced in the Tour de France since 1961, when pressure from bicycle makers led to a return of the trade teams. But that hasn't held back the patriotic cheering for Bradley Wiggins, the first Briton to win the Tour in its 109-year history. Chris Hoy has called his victory ‘the greatest individual achievement in the history of British sport’, though Wiggins owes a fair amount to his team mates: winning the Tour is both a cumulative and a collective achievement. Unlike Hoy – who with his freakishly powerful body looks as if he could have excelled in any number of sports – Wiggins seems to have been born to be a cyclist. His father was a professional rider, nicknamed ‘the doc’ by his peers because he used to smuggle amphetamines to races in his son’s nappies, and Bradley was brought up watching the Tour. ‘It's what I’ve dreamed of for 20 years,’ he said yesterday.

From The Blog
18 June 2012

On Saturday, for the 90th anniversary of Bloomsday, Radio 4 broadcast a seven-part ‘dramatisation’ of Ulysses, possible now that copyright in Joyce’s work has lapsed. The broadcasts were slotted into the schedule to coincide with the timing of the novel.

From The Blog
24 April 2012

Beware the wrath of the cycling lobby. In an editorial for the latest issue of add lib, the minicab company Addison Lee’s in-house magazine, its chairman, John Griffin, called for cyclists to ‘get trained and pay up’ if they want to share the road with drivers.

From The Blog
19 April 2012

The tug of war over Joyce copyright continues. The National Library of Ireland has just released digital copies of a collection of papers bought from Alexis Léon in 2002 for €12.6 million, in response to an attempted copyright coup by Danis Rose. The NLI’s holdings are a stunning collection of Joyceana, consisting of an early Paris notebook from 1903 and notes for a translation of Dante’s Inferno, as well as 500 manuscript pages and 200 pages of annotated proofs of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. If it feels a bit like a rush job (the resolution isn’t great, though the NLI plan to publish better quality images to coincide with Bloomsday), that’s because it is. The NLI’s hand was forced when Rose released a six-volume edition of The Dublin Ulysses Papers earlier this year.

From The Blog
5 March 2012

Unmanned is the latest release from the Italian game designers Molleindustria, who aim to ‘free video games from the dictatorship of entertainment’. Their other productions include Phone Story, ‘an educational game about the dark side of your favourite smart phone’: you have to use armed guards to threaten Coltan miners in central Africa to increase their productivity and catch suicidal Chinese factory workers in giant nets. It isn’t available from the iPhone app store. Unmanned, rendered in blocky, lo-fi graphics, examines a day in the life of a disaffected suburban drone pilot.

From The Blog
10 February 2012

In 1936 James Joyce wrote a letter to his grandson: My dear Stevie, I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency. The letter included his story ‘The Cat and the Devil’, a short fairytale with echoes of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and some delightful footnotes. ‘Stevie’ was Stephen James Joyce, who grew up to become the scourge of academic Joyceans as the fearsome executor of the Joyce estate. Academics, he once told the New Yorker’s D.T. Max, are like ‘rats and lice – they should be exterminated!’

From The Blog
3 January 2012

There are never many readers in the British Library between Christmas and New Year, so it may not have been the best time to open a new front in a philological campaign. But small piles of bookmarks appeared in the library locker room one morning last week, promoting the use of the word hu. Pronounced with a short vowel sound, as in ‘huh’, hu is ‘the stylist’s choice in epicene pronouns’ and ‘performs flexibly as a subject, an object, and a possessive epicene; for it is declension-free’. The sales pitch was followed by a few examples:

From The Blog
1 November 2011

Near the end of Steven Soderbergh’s epidemipic Contagion, as the bodies pile up around the world, a scientist goes to visit her dying father in hospital. She takes off her face mask. ‘What are you doing?’ he asks. ‘It’s OK,’ she says, and kisses him on the forehead. In a previous scene we’ve seen her inject herself with an experimental vaccine, and now she's testing it. ‘Do you remember Dr Barry Marshall?’ she says. ‘He thought that bacteria, not stress, caused ulcers. Gave himself the bug and then cured himself. You taught me about him.’ The New York Times journalist Lawrence Altman called his history of self-experimentation in medicine Who Goes First? When I got home from the cinema I found a flyer with a jaunty space-invader graphic lying on the floor among the kebab-house menus and cab-company cards. ‘Help us beat cold and flu bugs!’ it said. ‘Help save extra lives.’ I read on:

From The Blog
17 October 2011

When I got there the signs were already up: 'Paternoster Square is private land. Any licence to the public to enter or cross this land is revoked forthwith. There is no implied or express permission to enter any premises or any part. Any such entry will constitute a trespass.' Bundles of legal papers were duct-taped to the archways leading into the square. Police stood about, watching. A few tourists drifted in and out. Photographers stood by, crash helmets dangling from their waists.

From The Blog
28 September 2011

To get to Dale Farm you have to take a train to Wickford or Basildon and then try to get a taxi. ‘If your cab driver refuses to take you,’ the Dale Farm Solidarity website says, ‘tell them they’re being silly, then ask to get dropped off at the Belvedere Golf range.’ On Sunday I went to the Traveller site in Essex, where eighty or so families are waiting to be evicted from the green-belt land they own (it used to be a scrapyard, and hasn’t been ‘green’ for years), with Damian Le Bas, a journalist and Romani gypsy.

From The Blog
8 August 2011

When I got to Mare Street people seemed excited rather than angry. The rhythm of the riot was well established. Every so often a police charge would surge towards Bethnal Green, scattering rioters into side streets where they’d regroup before pushing back. There was the odd cry of ‘hold the lines’, but no one seemed to pay much attention. Outriders ran on ahead, overturning glass recycling bins and arming themselves with bottles. Others fired fireworks at the police, at buses, and at cyclists.

From The Blog
12 July 2011

Bicycle road-racing has never been much of a spectator sport. Its origins lie in journalism, and the first great races, the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, were designed to be read about rather than watched. The yellow jersey worn by the leader of the Tour is the same colour as the pages of L’Auto, the newspaper that first organised the race. No one really knew what was going on out on the road during those early races. Cheating was rife and Géo Lefèvre, the only journalist to follow the first Tour from start to finish (the race was his idea), was described by his son standing at night ‘on the edge of the road, a storm lantern in his hand, searching in the shadows for riders who surged out of the dark from time to time, yelled their name and disappeared into the distance.’

From The Blog
16 May 2011

The organisers of the ‘Rally Against Debt’ on Saturday made a lot of promises. On their website the event was described as ‘a great networking opportunity’. There were to be ‘a fair share of journalists’ so any attendee stood ‘a good chance of getting your face out there'. The rally would give voice to the ‘silent majority'. Comparisons were made with the Tea Party movement. The organisers were pitching to an inexperienced protesting crowd. The website provided tips on how to make a placard, along with a selection of recommended slogans: ‘I understand economics’; ‘Stop reckless politicians spending our money’; ‘Mind the fiscal gap.' I didn't fancy getting my face out there, but was curious to see what kind of support a pro-cuts demo could muster.

From The Blog
25 March 2011

Nathan Myhrvold, who used to be Microsoft’s chief technology officer, has just published a £395, six-volume, 2400-page paean to the type of cooking sometimes known as ‘molecular gastronomy’. Modernist Cuisine is a luxurious and slightly self-congratulatory piece of work: a section of the accompanying website outlines every detail of the printing process (stochastic screening using Chroma Centric inks, if you’re interested); publication was delayed in order to redesign the slipcases, which had ‘failed a rigorous series of drop tests’. It’s full of amazing food-porn photographs of dishes being cooked, as well as essays on such topics as ‘Vaporisation and Condensation’ and ‘Sublimation and Deposition’.

From The Blog
11 November 2010

One of the most striking things about yesterday's student protests, culminating in the ransacking of Conservative Party HQ at Millbank Tower, was not the numbers involved (50,000 or so), or the violence (sporadic and quite heartening), but the shiny and sterile quality of many of the images of dissent we’ve been offered in today’s papers. This iconic moment of window smashing was a gift to the Daily Mail, but doesn’t exactly justify their description of ‘militants from far-Left groups’ who ‘whipped up a mix of middle-class students and younger college and school pupils into a frenzy’. The phalanx of photographers at the back clearly outnumber any militants or frenzied schoolchildren in the shot.

From The Blog
16 September 2010

The invasion of the Boris bikes is complete. They stand on street corners, corralled like docile, futuristic horses in their blue harnesses. They’re good bikes – sturdy and solid – with a rather pleasing sit-up-and-beg riding position the better to survey the road around you. Undocking them is also quite fun, like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The name has become universal, which is only to be expected, launched as they were with all the pomp the bicycling mayor could muster. It’s not that we’ve forgotten that the bikes were originally Ken’s idea, but that Boris is a far more visible cyclist. The official name, ‘Barclays Cycle Hire’, was never going to take off, despite the lurid corporate livery.

From The Blog
6 July 2010

With the Tour de France just starting, a new round of allegations of blood doping has surfaced from the serial whistleblower Floyd Landis, himself stripped of a 2006 Tour victory for doping. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Landis admits that he paid an accomplice posing as an autograph-hunter $10,000 to deliver him bags of his own blood which he’d then transfuse himself. That’s about 3000 times more than an NHS courier gets. He accuses the US Postal team, including Lance Armstrong, of similar practices. Armstrong and U S Postal are now the subject of a federal food and drug administration investigation, and whatever the outcome it seems likely that during this, Lance’s last Tour, some of the mud will stick.

From The Blog
29 May 2010

Craig Venter has created life. Or at any rate half-life: a synthetic copy of the goat-pathogen Mycoplasma mycoides. Neither creating an artificial genome nor transplanting a genome from one bacterium to another are world firsts – Venter’s team have done both before – but doing both at once is a breakthrough. In Venter's words: ‘It’s the first self-replicating cell on the planet that’s parent is a computer.’ Hidden in its genetic folds are a web address, the names of the 46 scientists who worked on the project and a few choice quotations, all written in a secret code. There’s this from American Prometheus, a biography of Oppenheimer:

From The Blog
21 January 2010

To a cycle courier, the conflict between public and private, between the rules of the road and those of corporate estates, is constantly apparent. The glee with which the police hunt down and fine couriers who jump red lights, while letting off their commuting counterparts, is well known. But the guardians of private land are just as intolerant.

From The Blog
30 July 2010

HSBC has its own radio station. Standing in line at the agency counter in the Fenchurch Street branch, waiting to pick up cheques to be cleared by other banks, I used to listen to piped muzak interspersed with financial advice and adverts: ‘That was Abba with Money Money Money, and have you thought of an HSBC high interest savings bond for yours?’ Banks have a habit of creating these artificial worlds, homogeneous commercial hubs strung out across London.

From The Blog
19 April 2010

Though classified as self-employed sub-contractors for tax purposes, most bike couriers have in practice a rather more restrictive relationship with the firms that hire them. You may not get a guaranteed income or any benefits, but if you don’t work a full week you’ll generally be out of work pretty quickly. You’re often obliged to wear some sort of uniform or carry a branded bag. The better companies take a deposit for radios and xdas (the palmtop computers on which you receive job details and record signatures) which you get back when you leave, as long as nothing’s been damaged. Last month one of London’s largest courier companies, CitySprint, informed its riders that they would have to fork out £3 a week to rent some new bags they’d ordered. A disgruntled courier leaked the memo:

From The Blog
9 March 2010

Some courier jobs pay more than others. ‘Wait and returns’ are sometimes the best rewarded, especially if you can wangle a lot of waiting time. The vast majority of these jobs are embassy runs, collecting visa documents and waiting in line to have them processed and stamped. The new design for the American embassy in Nine Elms may look like ‘a non-turreted Norman keep’, but even with the addition of a moat it will be difficult to increase the fortress-like security of the current set-up in Grosvenor Square. Deliveries there have to be checked in by the client in advance. Queues are long and supervised by armed police, who don’t take kindly to anyone cycling on the bollarded road at the front of the building. Once you’re inside, a rigorous search ensures you’ll clock up plenty of waiting time. It’s all very different

From The Blog
17 February 2010

You’d think that after cycling several hundred miles during the week, bicycle couriers would be glad to hang up their bikes at the weekend. But, come Friday night, many are itching to up a gear, an impulse that is occasionally channelled into ersatz point-to-point races. Usually these alleycat races follow a series of checkpoints through London, where manifests must be stamped or strange rituals performed. They are fast, exhilarating and exhausting. Though non-couriers are welcome to enter, I don’t know of any who have won.

From The Blog
3 February 2010

Cyclists, unlike motorists or pedestrians, tend to notice other cyclists. When I was working as a bike messenger, Jon Snow was an almost permanent fixture of Gray's Inn Road, shuttling to and from the ITN building. I saw David Cameron, for all his eco-trumpeting, only once. He was going down Whitehall with the telltale wobble of the amateur enthusiast. There was a car following, though whether it contained a change of clothes and briefcase I couldn’t say. And then there was Boris Johnson. A regular pick-up from the Angel going to Burlington House on the Strand would send me down Rosebery Avenue, where I’d often see him emerging from Amwell Street. On a particularly slow and dismal day I chased him down and said: ‘Giz a job.’

From The Blog
23 December 2009

One of the main appeals of bicycle couriering is the freedom it seems to offer. Freedom from the inanities of office life, the freedom of the city. But there's also the freedom to freeze on a slow day in the rain, the freedom to be injured on the job with no chance of sick pay, the freedom to die on the road. It’s a wild, unregulated business, which is part of its attraction. Cycle couriering is the modern equivalent of running away to sea, or joining the circus, without having to leave London.

From The Blog
24 November 2009

Riding a bicycle round London for ten hours a day is grindingly difficult. A bike courier is paid £2-£3 per job (with a 10 per cent bonus for working a full week if you’re lucky), income can be fickle, and a slow week spent standing in the rain is no fun at all. Though it varies dramatically, couriers cover distances averaging around 300 miles a week. Couriers are obliged to deliver whatever a client wants delivered as quickly as the client requires; if you can’t get from pick-up to destination within 40 minutes, you don’t get paid. Covering London from (roughly) Wapping to Knightsbridge and Camden to Elephant and Castle, you see a lot of the city, a lot of weather, and a great many post-rooms.

Letter

Occupy the Court

8 October 2020

Theo Bollerman and Clare Bucknell write that real tennis can hardly be described as ‘an extreme minority pursuit’ when it has ten thousand players (Letters, 5 November). This makes it about as popular as mountain unicycling, lawnmower racing and bicycle polo, and somewhat less popular than Vinkensport, the Flemish pastime of chaffinch song counting (which has around 13,000 regular participants)....

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