Should we work for free as a performer?

It has been a really full on week this week! Life continues to try and get in the way of art. All those mundane and tiresome things, like having enough food to put on the table and paying your mortgage are such a bind. I genuinely got to the point of having to go busking for food money on more than one occasion in the last twelve months. I have even had to take a part-time job with Deliveroo.

The ever-present elephant in the corner of the room slides the poetry invoice book under a stool. He glares at me as if to say… “Don’t.”

Let’s talk about Deliveroo.

I am quite a fan of the old gig economy. It’s flexible to a point. A gig based job allows you to structure your working life around your chosen art. Some can even net reasonable cash rewards.

Is the gig economy one way forward for artists and creatives?

These are my own experiences with Deliveroo:

My first problem came with the soul-eroding reality of the client base. Over 50% of my deliveries were to more deprived parts of Plymouth. All of these were burger based meals that parents were providing as a daily diet for their kids. I realised this after a run of 23 days, where I delivered the same combinations of happy meals to the same square mile of council flats. The kids would be waiting eagerly at the door for their food. I felt increasingly uncomfortable handing them over.

On a more selfish note, the constant lack of tips from the student population becomes wearing too. Despite having enough money to drink themselves into oblivion most nights of the week, students are remarkably tight. They will order up their fried breakfast from an overpriced cafe, add £3.00 delivery and do the same again for tea without a breaking a sweat. Sadly, there is seemingly no money to offer a small tip to the rider who has just ridden their food across town in the pouring rain. I should point out that tips are factored into the earning calculation by Deliveroo. To be fair, I have delivered food to a student who lived on the other side of the road to the restaurant I picked up at, so it’s not all bad. As one student who took a genuine interest in my love for cycling said, “At least you get to ride your bike”.
There is one group of people worse than non-tipping students. Plymouth is a hilly city. All of the restaurants are at sea level. The really posh houses are at the highest point in the city. I am talking slopes that you would find in the foothills of the Alps. I know. I have cycled the Alps, without a massive bag of takeaways on my back. That was hard enough!

As is there right, the rich people will order 8 or more expensive meals on a Friday night. These will invariably be Indian meals or asian food of various combinations. It is at this point a rider really appreciates the compact and light nature of burgers.
Not content with four courses each, the rich people’s orders will contain one or more litre bottles of fizzy drink. These render the bag too heavy to ride safely.

I can’t turn the gig down though. Someone else will get it, and if you don’t take gigs on the app regularly, the algorithm will start to exclude you, or even log you out.

These people (of which I regularly delivered to four households) will moan or tut as they open the door to your sweating, puffing face. They will tap their watch with a disapproving look. “You’re supposed to be here within 12 minutes” one particular man would say, like a parent chastising his child. The last time this happened, I retorted; “Yes. True, but do you realise how much effort I have just put in to bring you your dinner? I have taken 13 and a half minutes. Besides, you should feel the weight of this bag”!

This particular customer was an arse. He was always dismissive, barely said thanks and he would insist on leaving the instruction, “Pedal fast”!! on the app. This unwanted instruction would scroll across my phone screen, complete with exclamation marks. This “Joke” would wear very thin while struggling up the second 20 per cent gradient. To give him his due, he did try and lift the bag. He struggled to get it off the floor. He looked genuinely shocked, almost concerned. However, he soon reverted to type with – “Well, that is kind of your job. Besides, think of the exercise you are getting”.

He is right, I reminded myself while biting my tongue. Well, biting my tongue to a point. Having delivered to this guy 6 times, without so much as a thank you or even a little tip. I was starting to fray.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t tip online…AGAIN. Just to let you know that we are fine to accept a cash tip”. He smiled – and with a flippant, “Maybe next time” slammed the door in my face.

Life is an expensive game.

I am unemployable in the commonly accepted sense of the word. It appears that no one wants a nearly 50-year-old man on their team. I am going to have to go back to the drawing board. Deliveroo threw up more problems than it solved. Why should I put up with being treated like that by people? I was cycling 80KM plus in a shift. Wearing yourself out and barely scraping by is not really ideal. All riders deserve that tip on top of the paltry delivery fee they receive. I was not riding for Deliveroo because of my love for cycling. I was doing it because I needed to eat! 

I had to quit Deliveroo in the end. Apparently shouting “I hope you choke on it” through an ostentacious brass letterbox is not acceptable, even when the owner of the house is a c*nt.

At least I have my art. 

Reaching the Summit of the Legendary Mont Ventoux in 2017