Motorcycle Despatch Riding Time Machine

Reflections on the Thames from an early 90s London Bridge.

Come rain or shine
Cometh the swarm
Over dark waters rushing
Beneath the City

Dawn cracking
Upon bowler hats
Under which
Eyes firmly fixed
As bows on high seas
Rough commerce ahead

Kilo three zero
Kilo three zero

For one’s troubles

Tea in a polystyrene cup
Swirling vapour of ripe endeavours
Steaming up the Congo
Rising to fade
Into busy haze

To think now
Of stopping there
Without ire

Kilo three zero
Kilo three zero

Not noticed
All too focused
Getting from A
And so on

Pondering with
Polystyrene tea
For company

Why cross on foot
Bear the exposure
When Underground’s faster
Surely securer

Such questions
Such grand designs
Such that they matter

Getting stuck and knowing
About the water
Darkly rushing

Pious devoted
Bloated misshapen

Kilo three zero
Kilo three zero

After all
The tea is weak
Kilo three zero, copy

There’s a parcel for pick-up
And Godspeed delivery
Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!
Like there’s no tomorrow

Aah! So it is then . . .
The start of a new day
Just like any other

In the early 90s I spent about eight months, including a winter, working as a motorcycle despatch rider.

Though spending half my life to that point living a mere five minute drive from the square mile that is the City of London, I’d never had any reason to be there other than driving through; something only tending to happen at weekends when its streets are (were?) empty.

Despite the short distance it was an entirely different world. Such is its size London can be a bit like that – even when only five minutes away.


Finding pictures of London Bridge, one of the eldest in the world, can be a lot harder than it sounds. Image results returned 18 pictures of Tower Bridge before one actually of London Bridge appeared. On Google Maps hovering over at least three bridges on the Thames returns images of Tower. In this image Charles and Lucy Glidden are shown on London Bridge in 1902 during their round-the-world automobile trip. They were the first people to complete the feat. Tower Bridge can be seen in the background.

I was given London Bridge as my morning start point due to living so close.

I’d park up on Arthur Street, the little left hand turn on the bridge’s north side (just behind the below mentioned building).


A postcard of unknown origin dated 1910 (8 years after the photo above if accurate). Still a bit before my time, though the perspective of the bridge and the building facing the river on the left are (were?) the same.

I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t the stuffy antiquated image of the place still somewhat alive and kicking.

Bowler hat wearing City bankers


Stereotypical bowler hat-wearing City banker making his merry way to work, briefcase in hand, yet criminally missing an umbrella.

It wasn’t everyone, but certainly enough.

It would be disingenuous to make zombie/walking dead comparisons (especially so soon after the use of ‘alive and kicking’ above). These were calculating people briskly eager to get on with making lots and lots of money. Nonetheless, it was like seeing something from a long distant past walking there in the flesh.


Image dated 1927 still some time from mine. Despite the bridge now being older, it looks somehow newer. One sign of things to come is on the right. In the above image dated 1910 The Monument to the Great Fire of London (the tall white column) can be seen clearly; above only its pinnacle peeks out above the new building.

Monument to the Great Fire of London

Amended quote from above link: ‘The Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, is 202 ft (62 m) in height and 202 ft (62 m) from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666. Another monument, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, marks the point near Smithfield where the fire was stopped. Constructed between 1671 and 1677, it was built on the site of St. Margaret’s, Fish Street, the first church to be burnt down by the Great Fire.’

Images (from link above): ‘modern day’ and 1753

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What made all those bowlers really something to see:

Before the decade was out I returned to the square mile on a daily basis as a pest control field manager.

Despite all the tradition and symbolism, there wasn’t a single bowler in sight. Just that small amount of time is all it took. What I’d seen before was from the past, it just hadn’t quite gone yet; I’d managed to catch a glimpse of history in action just before it disappeared for good.


Header image: The Demolition of Old London Bridge, 1832 Artist unlisted.

Then again . . .

What with the whole gentrification thing, they’re no doubt back; the wearers just as frothing at the bit for deals, profit and dividends as any other generation to tread there.


Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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