Monday, January 19, 2004

Sandwiches and Smiles 

In some of the side-streets of London’s West End almost every other shop is a sandwich bar. The competition must be intense – how do you attract customers to come to yours rather than the one next door?

At least one enterprising firm has come up with a novel approach – you don’t have to go to them, they come to you. Bicycle sandwich delivery – push-bikes towing trailers loaded with crates of baguettes, sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks, and their speciality – flasks of home-made soup.

Being a delivery cyclist is no cushy number. Out in all weathers, negotiating manic London traffic on an articulated, long-wheelbase, over-loaded, under-powered, Heath-Robinson bicycle-trailer combo. Stop at an office block, unload a crate, shoulder an enormous holdall then up and down the lifts, onto each floor calling out “Sandwiches!… Today’s soup is lentil and bacon (or whatever)”. And of course, like as not, someone on the top floor wants something you’ve left in a crate back on the bike so it’s back down and up again… Then pedal off to the next… and the next…

Some staff find it so tough they don’t last the first week. But those that survive that baptism of fire tend to stick at it. There’s a young French girl who has been doing our deliveries here for a few months now. She’s quite small – almost petite – yet lugs these loads around London every day, standing up on the pedals of her bike so that her lightweight frame can generate enough force.

And every day, she always has a cheerful smile, always a warm greeting as though you are a long-lost personal friend, same happy chatter, always ready to exchange a few words as she kneels on the floor surrounded by her wares. In all these months, I’ve never once seen her down; never has that smile faded.

People like her are jewels that sparkle in the dry dust of mediocrity. This may be the corniest phrase in the book, but she spreads a little sunshine on the gloomiest of days. I almost expect to see a trail of fairy-dust sparkling behind her as she pedals off.

This post is in celebration of that smile. So what if it maybe sells more sandwiches? That makes it a win-win situation then. The company stays in profit, she stays in a job, I get lunch and the world is a brighter place. What more could anyone want?

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