“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Herodotus, The Histories, via the inscription on the main post office at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
Roy Mayall is not just one postal worker. He is all postal workers everywhere, men and women, drivers, delivery workers, office workers, sorters, machine operators, engineers, union members and non union members, young and old, retired or just starting out, part-time or full-time, 20 hour, 25 hour, 30 hour and 40 hours a week, agency workers, casual workers, cleaners, everyone who has ever taken part in the postal service, black, white, or Asian, European or African or Afro-Caribbean, gay, straight or a little bit of both, left-handed or right handed, City or Rural, inner City or Suburban, from the craggy coasts of Cornwall to the Highland Glens, from the green hills of England, to the mountains of Wales, North and South, East and West, the Home Counties, the Midlands and the North.
Wherever men and women pound the streets with mail on their backs, that’s where Roy Mayall walks. Wherever they skip onto a bike and go skimming along with their burden of mail that’s where Roy Mayall is. Wherever there’s a letterbox, wherever there’s a gate, wherever there’s a footpath to a door, wherever there’s a garden, wherever there’s a dog barking, in the morning, in the afternoon, rattling along with the thoughts in his head, that’s our Roy. Harassed by the time, as the hours are getting later, stressed by the lack of money and the weight on his back, pushed for time, pushed to his limits, energetically pressing on, through the wind, through the rain, through the heat of the sun, through ice, through snow, when the hail stones pelt like shrapnel on the roofs of houses, rattling the bonnets of cars, wrapped up in his waterproofs, with the mail bundled up beneath his arm to keep it dry, that’s Roy.
Hopping in and out of his van a hundred, a hundred and fifty times a day, the same movement of the hip, the step out onto the kerb, with the mail in bags in the back to take out to all the delivery workers. To this drop off point, to the next. All day and every day from one day to the next.
Sorting the mail, throwing it off into the frames, like a card dealer dealing his cards. A pack of two thousand cards with 600 players in every game. The advertising coupons, the leaflets, the brochures and the letters, from the banks or the building society, from the Insurance company or the gas, from the electricity company, from the Solicitor. Birthday cards and anniversary cards and Mother’s Day cards and Christmas cards and Easter cards. Postcards from the seaside. Parcels from ebay. Books from Amazon. DVDs from LoveFilm.com. Competition Winners. Christmas catalogues. Saga magazine. Sky Mag. The Beano. The London Review of Books. All of these pass through Roy Mayall’s hands, from the sorting frame into the box, from the box to the frame.
And then sweeping them into bundles, wrapped up in red elastic, and then packed into bags, turning the letters where there’s a packet. All this weight of communication on his shoulders, all this dizzying constellation of words. All these presents to be opened. All these thoughts to be remembered. All this love in scrawled handwriting. Love from Mum and Love from Dad and Love from your dear Aunt Vera. How much love have us posties carried down through the centuries? How much kind regards? How much that is now forgotten? How much that is yet to be written?
The everyday postie on his round, a secret conveyor of love.
A quilt inspired by Dear Granny Smith
The quilt is called The Romance of the Envelope and is made by Charlotte Soares of London.
It was inspired by Dear Granny Smith and incorporates parts of the book in its design.
The entry in the catalogue describes it as follows:
“Inspiration, Roy Mayall’s ‘Dear Granny Smith’ educating me about threat of private sorting firms taking lucrative business from Royal Mail.
Mixed Media, pillar-box red felt, polywadding, torn sacking organza, metallic and invisible thread loosely stitched by hand and machine.”
The quilt is meant as a symbolic representation of the current state of the Royal Mail. This is how Charlotte describes it:
“The red is felt. On top of that is sacking. On top of that is a collage of envelopes which I did send through the mail, then covered over my name and address, stamps sewn together to make a textile, parts of Dear Granny Smith, and old postcards – some secured under netting, some under perspex. This all represents the post office at its best, working efficiently and meaning a lot to the public, delivering messages and Valentines and greetings cards to nearest and dearest. Then you get the business mail represented by the windows from bill envelopes and some franked Royal Mail.”
After this the quilt appears to fall apart:
“The sacking begins to tear. There are red elastic bands, every one picked up from the pavements where they were dropped by our local postmen. Under the tear there are the new franchises with their different symbols, UK Mail, TNT etc, and a selection of the companies using them. These are left hanging loose, they do not make the company secure, they make it fragile. Near the bottom are the pages from Dear Granny Smith which explain about this new development. There is a photo printed onto organza of a postman struggling to push his wagon up over a footbridge which I thought was quite symbolic. I asked permission from Royal Mail Twickenham to include this anonymous postman. The water is rising at his feet, and the blue watery organza represents the threat to the institution of overloading the postman and the companies who do not contribute to the profits of Royal Mail but demand deliveries by their postmen. A few stamps are drowning in this corner. The bottom is black edged, in memoriam, the rubber bands are only done up with safety pins, the whole thing might unravel. The patriotic braid down the sides is little Union flags with hearts in the centre and there is a large Union Flag at the top left of the quilt. Not all the franchises are British but the Postal service was a British invention. Pillar boxes and post vans are icons of Britain.”
On the front is printed on a panel:
The Romance of the Envelope.
Red pillar boxes, Postmen, mail through the door, like fish and chips, are part of our way of life. But just as fish and chips is threatened by the pizza industry, so sorting franchises threaten the extinction of a British invented institution we take for granted. Did you even know UK Mail etc are not part of Royal Mail? It’s CRAZY. Use it or Lose it!
On the back is printed on a label:
Befriend contentment, harbour no disappointment.
Stitch with integrity. Know when to stop.
Stephen Seifert, The Tao of Quilting.
“This quilt grew and grew from a few stamps sewn together to a wall hanging with a story without an ending,” she says. “It’s not the world’s best sewn quilt. It’s very rough and ready but as my daughter said, sewn with passion. It’s quite delicate and I hope it survives its journey to and from Birmingham. I am thinking of donating it afterwards to the new postal museum in Swindon.
“Old Crazy Quilts were haphazard patches,” she adds, talking about the history of quilt making. “Usually they were in rich fabrics, added on top of each other and embroidered and embellished with stitchery and beads. I have hinted at this tradition with a spectacular glittery blue thread, braid and a few ornamental stitches. On the whole though I stitched randomly. The stitching isn’t as important as the message.”
Let’s hope the message gets through.
I wrote this song after listening to the serialisation of Roy Mayall’s book ‘Dear Granny Smith’ on BBC Radio 4 . Also last year I took part in a Market Research day for the Royal Mail and came away dismayed.
So I wrote this song. The lyrics speak for themselves. The song is dedicated to Roy Mayall and all the other Posties who try and do their jobs in very difficult circumstances. The Shadow Kabinet say SAVE THE ROYAL MAIL! Who said the protest song is dead?
At last, someone who understands what I’m saying.
On You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 there was a discussion about Dear Granny Smith, featuring Billy Hayes of the CWU and Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper Report into the future of the Royal Mail. This is Roy Mayall’s response to that programme.
One of the things that has started to get to me since the publication of my book, Dear Granny Smith, is how often it is misrepresented in the press and by the media.
That was odd, because he played a short snippet from the BBC Book of the Week reading by Philip Jackson, in which, after a brief description of how the new Walk-Sequencing Machines work, the narrator quite clearly says, “and there’s not a postie in the whole world who would object.”
In another sequence Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper Reportinto the future of the Royal Mail, described the book as “a witty, mischievous, wonderfully nostalgic piece of writing”, but went on to describe it as “absolutely anti-modernisation, anti the modern way of doing things.”
Then he said: “But let’s get real, we all agree, Billy Hayes has just said it, the union agrees, the management agrees, the government agrees, that if we’re going to maintain our beloved universal postal service…. that the Royal Mail must accelerate its modernisation programme….” adding that the Walk-Sequencing Machines will “save the posties time, giving them more time to be out on delivery.”
This is precisely our fear. As if 3.5 hours is not already long enough to be working flat-out – 3.5 hours which generally turns into 4 hours, often more – now they want to put even more weight on our backs, even more time out on delivery.
You see, when Richard Hooper and the management of Royal Mail talk about “modernisation” it’s actually a euphemism. It doesn’t mean modernisation at all.
No postie would object to machines that took some of the drudgery out of our work, or which speeded things up, or which made the Royal Mail more efficient. This is the trick that is being played whenever anyone says that Dear Granny Smith is a nostalgic book – or as Billy Hayes, the General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union put it: “pining for the blue remembered hills” – that discussing past work conditions is being “unrealistic”, as if having time, having proper tea-breaks, good pay and conditions, time to do the job properly and not being worked like a pack-mule, were all unrealistic goals.
No. What “modernisation”, in the sense that management consultants and senior management at the Royal Mail mean it, is not modernisation. It is privatisation.
There is a passage in the book where I compare the lives of two postmen: one an old postman who started work in the 1950s, and the other, a younger family man, now in his 40s. The first, who I call “Tom”, now lives in happy retirement, having left the postal service a couple of years ago, while the other – “Jerry” – has only a lifetime of hardship to look forward to, and fully expects to be working for a privatised mail service by the time he retires.
And then I say:
You have to ask why this should be? What has changed in the last 50 years? Why is Jerry’s future so different than the one that Tom would have expected at the same age? How come Tom can rest in contented retirement, while Jerry only has a future full of hardship and uncertainty to look forward to?
Us postie’s haven’t changed. Jerry is as committed to his customers as Tom ever was. He is as dedicated, as honest, as straightforward, as hard-working, as decent, as kind. The post hasn’t changed. We still need the post. So why are the workers suffering in this way?
I guess you might say, “it’s the same for everyone. No one has any certainty any more.”
I guess that’s true.
But you still have to ask why? What is the driving force behind all these changes?
In the book I don’t answer that question, but I will try to here.
The driving force behind all these changes is something called neoliberalism. It is the guiding philosophy of the corporations. It basically says that nothing will exist on this planet – no human endeavour will take place, no plot of land will exist – that does not make a profit for them. Humans beings’ only purpose is to work for them. We are indebted to them through our mortgages, in the exact same way that serfs were indebted to the Lords in feudal times, and a portion of our labour will go to pay off our indebtedness in the same way that serfs were made to hand over a portion of their produce to the Lords.
In other words, what they have in mind for us isn’t “modernisation” at all. It is the exact opposite. It is a return to feudal serfdom.
Listen to You and Yours: 18/12/2009. The discussion on Dear Granny Smith is just over 29 minutes into the programme.
- BBC iPlayer – Book of the Week: Dear Granny Smith: Episode 1
Listen to Book of the Week: Dear Granny Smith: Episode 1
This is a website whose views I wholeheartedly endorse.
Michael Billington’s theatre, Carlos Fuentes Happy Families, Nelson’s Navy and why being a postman isn’t what it used to be
By Anna Richards, Brian MacArthur, Toby Clements and Simon Baker
Published: 11:27AM GMT 15 Dec 2009
Dear Granny Smith by Roy Mayall
If you want to understand why postmen go on strike, read this book. Granny Smith is the old lady who lives alone, for whom the postman is a lifeline but who, apparently, doesn’t matter any more. Roy Mayall (a punning pseudonym) is a postman of the old school before the corporate modernisers started applying the techniques of business administration to wrecking the Royal Mail. There is lyricism here – “the lovely, soft, golden light of the early morning” when he sets out – but also a howl of rage as he describes what modernisation means for postmen on the beat. They now spend most of their time on deliveries that will instantly be thrown in the dustbin.