Mark Mason

Girl about town

Emily Chappell’s vivid memoir, What Goes Around, is a welcome new take on London from a cycle courier’s perspective

The old ditty got it wrong: it should have been ‘Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner that I love London so’. The capital’s biggest fans, I tend to find, are those who weren’t born there, and Emily Chappell is yet another example. Originally from Wales, she has written more than just an engaging account of her work as a London cycle courier: she has chronicled the way in which the capital provides a home for those who don’t fit in elsewhere. The job itself is a perfect fit for a restless soul: Chappell describes the

sweet spot where my body became so attuned to the bike and road that all resistance seemed to melt away … experiencing a strange sense of stillness, as though I had gone so far into motion that I had reached its centre.

At Marble Arch, with cars on either side of her, she is ‘flowing along on the currents I knew of old, as contented as a sea otter’.

Not that she was a natural courier. A keen cyclist, yes, but her early months in the job involved living up to the ‘foolhardy proclamation’ that she could do it. Gradually the lessons came along. Thursday is the real killer (Friday is ‘infused with the adrenalin of everyone else’s last-minute deadlines’). To save fumbling for the key to your bike-lock you should keep it on an elasticated hair band around your wrist. A good place to warm up on cold days is the rotisserie oven in Sainsbury’s. Chappell learns that ‘a turning wheel is an earning wheel’, and perfects the little jump that settles the bag on her shoulders. The action of turning down her radio on entering a reception becomes so ingrained that she finds herself reaching for the dial even when she’s off duty and walking into a cinema.

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