Crudgie, Motorbicycle Courier
Behold the noble Crudgie!
I have been hoping for the opportunity to catch up with Crudgie ever since we were first introduced at the Fish Harvest Festival last year, so this week I was delighted to accept his invitation to meet at that legendary bikers’ rendezvous, the Ace Cafe on the North Circular.
Over six foot six in height, clad head to toe in black leather, with extravagant facial hair trained into straggling locks and carrying the unmistakable whiff of engine oil wherever he goes, Crudgie makes an unforgettable impression. Crudgie’s monumental stature, beady roving eyes and bold craggy features adorned with personal topiary, give him the presence of one from medieval mythology, like Merlin on a motorbike. Yet in spite of his awesome appearance and gruff voice, I found Crudgie a warm and friendly personality, even if he does not suffer fools gladly, issuing fearsome warnings to pedestrians not to get in his way.
“I’m only called by my surname, Crudgington. “Ington” means family living in an enclosed dwelling, and “crud” is a variation of curd, so they were probably cheesemakers. There’s a place in Shropshire named Crudgington, but there’s nobody buried in the church with that name, nobody living there with that name either and nobody that lives there has ever heard of anybody called Crudgington. The shortened version of my name came about when I went to play rugby and cricket where everyone gets a nickname ending in “ie.” I’ve swum for the county, and competed as an athlete in the four hundred metres and javelin, as well.
I grew up in Billericay, famous for being the first place to count the votes in the General Election. My father was builder called Henry but everyone knew him as Nobby. I went into banking for ten years in Essex but I couldn’t get on with it, even though I was the youngest person ever to pass the banking exam. So then I went to work in insurance in the City, I worked for Barclays for ten years and played for their rugby team until they couldn’t afford to fund it anymore. In the nineteen nineties, I felt I was getting nowhere in insurance so I started motorbicycle couriering. I got a motorbike from my parents for fifteenth birthday, so I’ve always been a biker and I do thousands of miles on it every year, going to sporting events, meet-ups and scrambles.
It’s the camaraderie of it that appeals to me, meeting up with your mates, but unfortunately you are perceived as an outlaw. I have been stopped eighty-nine times in twenty-one years by the police. Apparently, couriers are the second most-disliked Londoners after Estate Agents. It’s because people get scared out of their wits when they are not thinking where they are going and a courier brushes by and gives them the shock of their life. People should look where they are going. If you are going to hit a pedestrian, it’s best to hit them them straight on, that way they get thrown over the handlebars. A few cuts and bruises, but nobody gets killed by a motorbicycle. Whereas if you veer to either side to avoid them, the danger is you clip them with your handlebars and it sends you into a tailspin, and you fall off.
I’m a member of the most important biker club – The 59 Club, set up by Father Bill Shergold in 1959. He was a vicar who was a biker, and he wanted to bring the mods and rockers together, so he opened up in a church hall in West London in 1961 and on the first day he had Cliff Richard & The Shadows performing there. Then in 1985, it moved to Yorkton St, Bethnal Green. It was open three days a week, and you could go in and have a cup of tea after work. They had a bike repair workshop for maintenance, two snooker tables and a stage where lots of bands performed. And once a year, you could go to a church service. They moved to Plaistow now, but everybody that was in it is still in it – it’s the largest bike club in the world.
There’s only a few British couriers left, most are Brazilians now. It used to be Polish until they earned enough money and all went back home. Once upon a time, there was a lot of money in it though it’s gone down thanks to technology, but the beauty is you can work when you like and you get to go interesting places that you’d never go otherwise. I’ve picked up the Queen’s hair products from SW3 and driven into Buckingham Palace to deliver them. I do a lot of deliveries for film companies and quite often I stay around on set to watch, especially if it’s in some interesting stately home that you wouldn’t normally get to visit. If I have to go somewhere on a journey out of London, I always take time to visit the museum or castle or whatever there is to see.
I’ve worked from nine until seven for years, but I’ve decided I’m only going to do nine thirty to six because I’m getting old. If I had independent funds, I wouldn’t be riding anymore. I haven’t missed a day in quite a few years and I’ve only ever had one week off in twenty years…”
When I arrived at the Ace Cafe, I saw Crudgie’s bike outside and I spotted him through the window, head and shoulders above his fellows. Inside, a long counter ran along one wall, facing a line of windows looking out on the North Circular, and the space in between was filled by tables, scattered with helmets to indicate those which were reserved by customers. Once Crudgie had greeted me with a firm bikers’ handshake, we settled by the window where he squeezed every drop from his teabag to achieve a beverage that was so strong it was almost black. A characteristic Crudgie brew.
Like the questing knight or the solitary cowboy, Crudgie has no choice but to follow his ordained path through the world, yet he is a law unto himself and the grime he acquires speeding through the traffic is his proud badge of independence. A loner riding the city streets with his magnificent nose faced into the wind, Crudgie is his own master.
Crudgie at the Ace Cafe on the North Circular. “- Like Merlin on a motorbike.”
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