The Last Post, Again

One of my first jobs, perhaps my first ever job, was as a paper boy. It’s most boys first job. It didn’t pay a fortune, but it could be done in about an hour, early in the morning before school. It was a much better job on a warm summer morning than on a wet, dark wintry morning. I quickly worked out that I was better off leaving my BMX bike at the newagents and running my round. When I was a kid, I could run like Forest Gump. But further. I’m pretty sure I went straight from crawling to running and missed out on learning to walk till my late teens, when I discovered smoking.

My paper round was in my neighbourhood. If there was a shortcut, I knew it. I had explored every inch of land, private and public, within a mile of home since I was allowed out unsupervised. I knew the best place to scale every fence. I knew where the passable gaps were in thick hedgerows. I knew where I’d end up if I jumped over garages. This was all excellent experience for a wannabe paperboy. And I’d say I made a pretty good paperboy.

A few years later I put that home delivery experience to use in a real world job. I successfully applied for a job as a postman, in the next town along. However, I was a terrible postman. Absolutely dreadful. Possibly the worst postman that the Royal Mail had ever employed, based purely on professional competence. Why didn’t my skills as a paperboy successfully translate to a productive career as a postman? In a single word – alcohol. I was now in my very, very early 20s and had discovered the joys of late night binge-drinking every day of the week. An activity not known to aid work performance, especially when getting to work on time entails rising at four o’clock in the morning.

There were numerous incidents straight from the word go which indicated that this was not the job for me. Certainly not at this stage of my life. From delivering dozens of letters whilst walking down the wrong streets, to the time I rode a dead rat to work in my cycle pannier, to the odd occasion when having a quiet nap in some bushes was called for. More than once I had to deal with angry residents chasing me up the road clutching a bundle of misdelivered mail. My sickness record wasn’t the greatest either. But no one at the sorting office ever said anything.

But at least I was never one of those postmen who got nabbed with a mountain of undelivered second class junk mail stacked up in a spare bedroom. Most people would descibe such an act as a welcome public service. Royal Mail and the law say that its a criminal matter. So you’ll get no confession from me, no matter how far beyond any statute of limitations we might be. I didn’t have a spare bedroom anyway. I did, mind you, have an open fireplace and a constant need for plenty of kindling. But still, no one ever said anything.

Things came to a head three months or so into the job. I arrived one morning particularly worse for wear. A late and drink-sodden night, you ask? Why yes, it was. In fact, I went to work directly from a lock-in at my local pub, via the briefest detour home to get changed and defumigated. I could just about mimic a sober person, I think. I couldn’t see straight though. I certainly couldn’t read addresses on envelopes. But I kept it togther. Popped letters into the sorting frame like a real pro. If anyone was paying attention, they might have noticed it was the quickest I’d ever done it. But no one was paying attention.

I was going so fast, because I was just popping them into random slots. It was the best I could do in the circumstances. I gathered them up and filled my bag. And I paused to have a think. What was the point? How was I going to deliver a bag full of randomly assorted letters? And truth be told, wouldn’t I much prefer to be back at home, resting in a warm bed? The more I thought about it, the more my bed appealed to me. I accepted reality. This really wasn’t the job for me. So I strolled on out of the office, left my bike behind me and jumped in a taxi for home. And still, no one said anything. Not a word. Not a second glance as the door closed behind me. Nada.

I think someone from Royal Mail knocked on my door an hour or three later. Or I dreamed it. I didn’t get out of bed. Not then. Not the next morning. Not the morning after that. Not ever again. Over the following weeks, I got letters as they went through the formal process of dispensing with my services. I’m sure they were fully aware that I had already completed my own self-dispensation procedure. I ignored the letters and let the process play out. They were, after all, still paying me. So I said nothing. It did seem to be my turn to play this game.

You might think I hated being a postman. But I have nothing but fond memories of my three months of service. The sight of a post box triggers only positive thoughts. I loved being the only person marching the streets as the sun came up to warm my bones. I was the first person in the audience for the morning birdsong recital. I was mesmerised every day by the countless drops of dew that cling to every physical object and sparkle in the sun like a festival of light. The solitude and silence were a welcome respite from the cacophony of noise in the pub the previous evening. I liked being outdoors. Even when it rained.

My memories only ever contain the good things in life, never the bad. The crushing weight of both the postal bags and the monstrous hangovers that I was forced to drag along with me on my round? They were mentally expunged as soon as they were lifted from my shoulders. I’ve often wondered if this is the difference between a happy person and a depressed person – the perogative of the brain to store and fetch memories as it pleases. Mine likes to reminisce. Others, it seems, prefer to dwell.


6 thoughts on “The Last Post, Again

  1. norm says:

    I had an 11 mile paper route at 11 years, I learned to love reading the paper at that time. Addicted still.

    I have a drinking and work story. It was near midnight, drinking with my buddy Bern. I had promised my mother that I would muck out her hog pen the next day, was telling Bern that I’d better get home because of said task. He said stay a little longer and he would lend a hand with the mucking in the morning. Drank on to closing, we did. I did not think in a hundred years that Bern would show up at Mom’s hog pen that Saturday morning but there he was, a little green but game. Now Bern was a town boy, grew up where the houses are all next to each other in neat little rows. No hog pens in sight. Bern was new to mucking out styes. We did not get past the first barrow full, Bern was past green and on his knees. I’d warned him the night before. Bern watched from a safe distance from there on out .
    I have a ton of drinking and work stories, both the oil fields and the steel mills require drinking as a matter of course.
    Another day, Gary.
    A well done essay Gary, one for the binder maybe?


    • I like reading the papers. But in print form these days. I have an annual sub to the Washington Post, that came gratis with something or other. It’ll be a shame when it ends. I pay for access to the Times, though never full price. I always phone to cancel and wangle out a deal when the old deal ends. The Guardian, bless them, is free. I look in on other publications just to see what passes for news there. The Daily Wire and Breitbart – jeez, how do these two in particular have an audience? But it seems they do. Everyone has to have a home.

      I liked the hog story. And I understand, completely. I’m a city boy. But I’ve done time next to a working farm too. A farm that chose to rear pigs. They do have an odour, to say the least. But I like them nonetheless. Our German Shepherd liked to have a good bark at them too. But she was wise enough to keep a wary eye on the boar when, from time to time, one was rented to help bring along the next batch of piglets. And no matter how drunk I may ever have been*, I was never so drunk that I thought it a good idea to invade a boar’s turf.

      Your stories are always good to read Norm, and in the absense of your own (richly warranted) blog, they are more than welcome to be told here. As for this story. Quite frankly, I left out the worst bits of my postman’s adventures. Somethings are just best kept to oneself.

      *Although I’d stopped drinking by the time I got to the farm. I never actually had a drinking problem. It was something I did socially, albeit to excess for a while. What I had as a young lad was a responsibility problem, long since overcome.


  2. Colm says:

    Lovely story Gary, my parents were against my getting a job when I was a child. But my first one was when I was about fourteen. It was at Christmas time and working for a fiver a week for a well known men’s shop in Dublin called “Kingston’s”. They had two stores but the one I “worked” in was opposite Trinity College Dublin at the end of Grafton Street.
    As a newcomer and junior I got all the unwanted jobs which were making tea every fifteen minutes, going out to “The Kylemore” for chewy biscuits, hand delivering suits to unknown addresses in far off galaxy’s, signature required and cleaning out the rat infested basement and packing old smelly and soggy cardboard shirt boxes into plastic bags. Underneath Grafton Street below each premises there is a tunnel and that was filled with unmentionables, ours had a single light bulb flickering as it swung from traffic overhead I still shudder at the thought of the rats rubbing past my legs fifty years ago. Big as cats they were.. if my parents only knew!


    • My parents had no such qualms about me working as a kid! By the time I was 10 or 11, I spent chunks of my school holidays at my dad’s stationery/printing company, shuffling boxes about and feeding thousands upon thousands of envelopes through lithographic printing machines. He had a pretty impressive customer base – Nestle, PanAm, Taylor Woodrow amongst others. It also introduced me the insane world of economics and capitalism – he used to sell Rexel Staplers to Rexel. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got my head round that one.

      I also made a million cups of tea. Against my will. But at that age, you can be wilful, but have no actual will. And at least you never rode a dead rat to work. There’s a story behind that. I might tell it one day…


  3. Great post. I never worked as a paper boy because where I grew up, the houses were too far apart for such luxuries. But I’m glad to vicariously live your hysterical job as a postman.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where the postal service works on Sundays for


    • This was a very sanitised version of my dalliance with Royal Mail. Like I say, somethings are best left unsaid. I have a reputation to uphold. Sort of. There’s the dignity issue to. I will simply have to chuckle to myself as other ‘incidents’ spring to mind.

      Amazon delivers on Sundays here too. I have no idea if it’s Royal Mail doing the deliveries though.


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