Monday, 26 September 2011

The Bread Man

All last week (and the first two days of this week, with only Sunday for a rest day), my friend Alistair was delivering bread by bicycle for the e5 Bake House in Hackney. Normally he does it three days a week, but he was filling in for somebody, so it was a daily job last week. You can find out more here, on Alistair's running blog. Anyway, on Friday, with the sun shining, I decided to tag along and watch one man and his 200 kg payload bust a move around Hackney, showering its many (many, many) cafes with breadstuffs.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this lumbering behemoth of a delivery bicycle. Until I saw it, I'd secretly entertained the notion of asking if I could take it for a spin. When I saw it (empty) sitting in the front of the cafe area of the bakery, I immediately quashed the thought: that machine is ungainly. In fact, it's so ungainly, that riding behind Alistair, I got a very good lesson in the physical phenomenon of inertia; with every little adjustment he makes to his path, you can see the tendency of the fully-laden bike to want to continue in the line it was going. For the first twenty meters of our delivery route, this tendency alarmed the hell out of me. It was like watching a drunk lumber slowly down the road.

But then I realized that Alistair has been riding this thing around for a few weeks now, and probably knows what he's doing. I enjoyed watching people on the pathways of London Fields: hearing Alistair's ringing bell (he rings his bell quite a lot, because his bread-laden bicycle is not the most nimble of machines, and he's a real danger to the daydreaming park-goer), people look up with annoyance-plastered faces, only to see what's coming towards them, and jump out of the way, while at the same time, their expressions relax as they process the novelty of an enormous breadbox attached to a bike.

Here's Alistair loading up his delivery vehicle:

I'm not going to rehash details of where we went and how long it took and all of that: Alistair has covered that himself on his own site. However, I was somewhat surprised by the number of boutique cafes scattered across Hackney. I mean, I know all the hipsters and "artists" need places to park their fixies and lounge, but damn: there's one that sells Danish furniture, there's another that designs lighting, there's one that looks cool but I only saw it from across the street, there's another run by a woman studying to be a nutritionist, there's the one by Victoria Park, next to the fish shop, there's the fish shop, there's the one run by the architects, there's the Turkish grocery, there's Hackney City Farm, there's the pub just off Columbia Road, there's the Italian cafe just around the corner, and there are several others. To be fair, not all of these places were cafes; some were restaurants (one's a city farm!), and they by no means were all hipster/douchebag hangouts (in fact, I'm not sure any of them really were; well, actually, maybe one of them was). I particularly liked seeing some of these places in a state one doesn't normally: when they're getting themselves organized for the day. It was also nice to ride around for a couple hours (it's also a total lollygag when you're on a road bike and you're following a guy who, with his machine, weighs in at 200kg), getting work done (or watching it get done, anyway), and then still have the end of the morning and the whole afternoon stretching in front of me, to get some (of my own) work done. Another thing of note: van and truck drivers seem to give a man on an ungainly delivery bike a hell of a lot more respect than they give the average idiot on a bike on the London streets; for the most part, they rarely tried to pass, except when there was a ton of space, and also allowed him to turn in front of them, and generally just gave him the respect and space that all cyclists really should receive, but don't. There was one bus driver who seemed unnecessarily furious at Alistair's 13.5 mph average speed, and Bethnal Green Road felt like a kamikaze run, but those were exceptions to the rule.

The thing is, though, spending two hours trailing behind a bicycle full of freshly-baked bread really makes you hungry, because as he cycles around, Alistair leaves in his wake a vapor trail of sourdough. And for some stupid reason, I didn't bother buying a loaf of bread before heading off. I'll have to cycle back down there soon and make amends.


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