You ask me what has most changed about the job in the 30 years I’ve been here and I’ll tell you. It is time.
We used to have time. Not just time for ourselves: time for other people too.
We call you “Granny Smith” and that nickname stems from the old days, because we were always there for Granny Smith. We had an idea of service. And if an old lady was worried about something, we’d listen. Sometimes we’d pick up the paper on our way to our round, and we’d drop it off for her, or we’d run little errands for her if she was in need. We’d listen to her woes and her troubles and her joys and about what her grandchildren were up to and she’d offer us tea, and sometimes we’d accept it. We were a lifeline for Granny Smith: someone she knew would be arriving that day. And you could set your watch by the postie then. Always on the same road at the same time. Always the same postie, the same familiar face, a part of the family almost. And sometimes she’d know me by name, or if not, by my nickname, which is the name everyone calls me, and which I have always borne with pride.
So that’s what you can call me now. “Postie”. Everyone else does.
You see, this is what the new management at the Royal Mail don’t get. They think we’re a business in the market place here to make money. And I have no objection to money or to making it. But being a postie is so much more than this, so much more than Gordon Brown or Peter Mandelson or Adam Crozier, or any of the other penny pinching pen-pushers in offices and behind desks, with their figures and their targets and their profit and loss accounts, can ever imagine. What they don’t know is that we are a part of the very fabric of our national life, we are the thread that binds the nation together, weaving our way from door to door, not just bringing the news, but bringing stability and service, confidentiality, comfort, a familiar face, and time to listen when required.
Time, Peter Mandelson. Time. That’s what you are stealing. “Time is Money” you say, but I say “Time is Service”. Time is listening. Time is being there, on time, so my customers know. Time is spending time on the things that matter, on the brief exchange of words that is the breath of life itself, sharing the air, shooting the breeze, enjoying the moment, taking a little time, before I pass on up the road and on my way.
How can you measure this?
Granny Smith is everyone. Everyone is vulnerable in the end. Everyone is someone’s mother or father or sister or brother or uncle or cousin. Everyone needs someone. But if you are alone and vulnerable, if your family has gone, or moved away, who do you have left?
Just the postie. The postie bringing the mail.
I’ve seen it all in my time. There are some warden assisted old person’s flats on my round. One day I came across an old lady who had fallen down. She’d knocked her zimmer frame over and couldn’t get up to ring the alarm. She’d been there for about 20 minutes when I found her. So I helped her back up and into her flat and made her a cup of tea while she called the warden.
Another time I came to someone’s door and I noticed it was ajar and the mail from the weekend was still on the mat. That worried me. I looked through the window and saw him there on the floor. I went in. I didn’t have to force entry as the door was open. He was still breathing. I called an ambulance, covered him up with a coat, and then went and finished off delivering the estate before the ambulance arrived. He died later that day.
Once I was there just after one of my customers had lost his wife. The neighbours came out and told me. He’d woken up that morning and when he turned to her she was dead. She’d died in her sleep. He used to come out every morning to collect his mail from a home-made mail box by the gate, always with a cheery greeting. He didn’t come out for days after that, and then, when he did, he had tears in his eyes and I could do no more than say, “I’m sorry”.
But then later I could do more, you see. He kept getting letters addressed to his wife and he kept sending them back. I knew that this was distressing for him. So I spoke to him.
“Do you want me to get rid of these letters for you?” I asked.
“If you could. Yes please. I would be very grateful.”
So whenever I saw a letter addressed to his wife I would put it back in my bag. And then later, in the office, I would return it. And these days he’s back to collecting his mail from his mail box with a wave and a few cheery words about the weather again.
You see, I know my customers and they know me and in the old days I had a little time for them too. I still do. I make time, though there’s no time for just shooting the breeze any more. But if someone is in need, I will still do whatever I can to help.
It’s only human.
Back cover blurb
This book is a letter to you, me, all of us, from a British postie. A fascinating, eye-opening, heartfelt letter which goes behind the scenes, through the ages, in the sorting room and out on the daily round, to tell the other side of the story.
At a recent staff meeting, a postman asked what the modernisation of the Royal Mail would mean for “Granny Smith” – the little old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline.
“Granny Smith isn’t important,” was the reply. “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.”
Well, Dear Granny Smith is an attempt to explain why she does matter. An appeal to all of us to spend an evening by the fire with a cup of cocoa and take a quiet moment to read a letter from the people who are the real Santas, not just at Christmas but all year round…