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.