MT the sharp end: Pedal the mean streets

A network of messengers on two wheels and four keeps businesses spinning. To feel the rush, Rhymer Rigby saddles up for a day's hard graft as cycle courier.

I start out by doing a mini-knowledge, the City of London Courier's test for potential recruits. I don't do too badly, but it makes me realise that it's possible to live in the capital for 10 years and still not be able to name two roads off Fleet Street. Trickiest of all, though, is that many buildings in the City have a delivery entrance on a street different from their postal address. Learning all these, I suspect, is the work of a lifetime.

Still, my less than stellar score isn't a problem. Plenty of people, says City of London Courier's owner-manager Michael Lyons, learn on the job. I can shadow an experienced courier for a day, with me doing the deliveries. So he introduces me to Michael Stevens and we saddle up and head into the City.

In the Square Mile, we sit down and 'plot up' - ie, we hang around a street corner with other couriers, many from different firms, waiting to be radioed for jobs. They're a diverse bunch, with backgrounds that range from labouring and the forces to print - there's no well-trodden path in, although many leave to become cabbies. And, although there's no particular 'courier' look, they tend to be in their twenties or thirties and all have that lean, hard-body look that you just don't get behind a desk. Some are 'on guarantee': they get a fixed amount to be there - great on slow days, less so when it's busy. A typical courier can expect about £250 to £350 a week.

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