Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.
Bob Dylan 1974.
A Bad Day
There are good days and bad days. Yesterday was a bad day.
I came into work at the usual time. There was the usual banter. “Morning Roy, aren’t you ready to go yet?” This is because I do a four-hour shift and, properly speaking, my frame should have been thrown off by the time I arrive. It never is, and it never has been since I started working part-time about three years ago now. I always get the same jokes though. “I expect you’ll be picking up your bags and going out,” they say, followed by – about ten minutes later – “you still here then Roy? You should be finishing your first bag by now.” There’s not a lot you can say to any of that.
Normally my letters have been thrown off, but not the flats. The “flats” are A4 size letters, magazines and brochures. The usual proportion would be 2/3rds letters to 1/3rd flats. Not this morning though. When I got to my frame it seemed unusually light. Just a scattering of letters here and there, so I went round to collect the flats and there was tons of the stuff. Reams of it. Acres of it. Oodles of it. Bundles of it. Every one of the pigeon holes was rammed full of magazines in bundles. Sky mags, Sky Sports mags, Saga mags, other mags, along with all the rest of the rubbish, the glossy brochures and the A4 letters. They’d all come in at the same time.
So now it was a case of bunging all of this into the frame. There were piles of it all over my bench. It was more like 2/3rds flats to 1/3rd letters today and it took me a good hour to throw it all off.
Magazines are bigger and bulkier than letters, of course. That goes without saying. They take up more room. They fill up more space. They’re a lot heavier. Some customers tend to get a lot of them. There are one or two customers on my round who normally get more mail than anyone else. Two in particular this morning, both in the same road, both over 50, both Sky subscribers. So their slots, always full, were literally exploding by the time I’d finished, squeezing out the surrounding slots, almost ready to burst the frame apart under the pressure. I was loading in the Sky mags and Saga mags and all the other stuff which seemed magically to have materialised on this particular morning, always going back to these two addresses, ramming yet another magazine into what was fast becoming a dangerous area of the frame. In the end these two houses both needed a separate bundle each.
After this I sorted the packets, and then did the redirections.
This is normally the last thing you do before you start bundling the letters up ready to pack.
Only this morning I heard my number being called.
Every frame has a number. Mine is 23.
So I kept hearing it from across the room, “23, you’ve missed some.” I was burying my head in my shoulders, trying to pretend it was someone else they were talking about.
No such luck. Along comes Fred, with two more bundles of flats I’d somehow not noticed in my first sweep. I must have been so overwhelmed by the volume that I had missed seeing these.
So now I had two more piles of mail to “throw off” as we call it: that is, to sort into my frame.
And that was just the beginning of my bad day.
Ok, so now I was bundling up, grabbing handfuls of letters from the frame and putting them into parcels held together by elastic bands, and shoving them up on the top of my frame.
Normally I leave two bags for the driver to take out and the equivalent of another two on my bike. Only this morning the bags were full of magazines, and the two bags for the driver had turned into three, and the two bags for my bike had turned into even more. Luckily there weren’t too many packages today, which left a bit of room, and I managed to get it all on to my bike.
A was also taking out a lot of my door-to-door. That’s unaddressed mail to you, junk-mail, in the form of a large quantity of glossy leaflets, about A4 size, very heavily inked. You could smell the ink as you picked them up. They were floppy and sticky, with a kind of slimy texture, and by the end of the day my hands were blue with the ink. These are the worst kind of leaflets as they flop about in your frame and stick to your hands as you are trying to deliver them, and have no substance so crumple up as you’re trying to shove them through the letter box. This is the kind of junk mail I would most like to ban. It is cheap and garish and badly designed, and it’s obvious that whoever created this has never put a letter through a letter box.
However, aside from the nasty surprise I’d had when first seeing the pigeon holes full of flats waiting to be thrown off, this was a normal day. I was a bit late getting out on my round, but the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and now my only prospect was the 4 hours or so of intense labour needed to finish the round. It was heavier in terms of weight because of all of those flats, but not heavy in terms of the number of houses I had to deliver to. About average I would say. The first hour or so went along pretty swimmingly.
One problem: because of the bulk of the mail today, often what would normally take one bundle had to be divided into 2. I still had to do the loop in one, but I had two bundles to take with me. That meant taking weight on my shoulder, carrying the second bundle in a bag along with any packages I might have to take. I don’t like doing this. My left shoulder aches from years of taking weight on it, so I’ve swapped the bag round recently, so it now rests on my right shoulder. In case you haven’t figured this out: your left shoulder its convenient for your right hand, your right shoulder, for your left. If you’re right handed, like me, the bag is easier to handle on your left shoulder. So I had the bag on my right shoulder, which was awkward to handle, and taking out extra items as well. Trying to stuff things into the bag with my left hand was a nightmare. Trying to get them out again was even worse.
Another problem: though it was a sunny day, there was a blustering wind which was getting worse as the day wore on, one of those relentless, irritating winds that never let up, that just niggle at you constantly.
The A4 glossy sheets of junk mail were particularly annoying. I’d pick one out from the bundle, but then the wind would catch it, rustling it about in my hand, and making it difficult to fold in with the rest of the mail. Several times I almost had one blow out of my hand. Then the sheets would crumple just at the wrong moment. They wouldn’t go through the doors properly. They wouldn’t fold in with the rest of the mail. They were jerking about like kites in the wind, making urgent flapping noises. They wanted to take off. They wanted to take me with them. I was starting to get seriously annoyed by now.
But I pressed on, finishing off all the mail I had on my bike, before going to the drop-off point to collect the next two bags.
It was after this that things started to get ridiculous.
Mainly it was just those damned, infernal A4 leaflets giving me hell. They were sticking to my hands. They were creating some sort of static electricity between them so they stuck together. I’d pull one from the back of the pile and five would come out. It’s supposed to be a smooth operation. You take a leaflet from the pack, place it along side the mail in the front, stick it through the door, and that’s it. Only I couldn’t get it to behave properly. I was having to stand in front of each door trying to separate out and unravel the measly, sticky bits of paper which simply wouldn’t fold without crumpling up. I was wasting time, getting behind on my round, and getting progressively annoyed.
Also every time I tried to put a bundle into my bag using my wrong hand, the bundle would catch on the seam which runs around the top of the bag, and I couldn’t get it in. I was having to take the bag off my shoulder to get the bundles in, and then off again to get them back out again.
Then there was that wind. That relentless, invasive, idiotic wind, bustling about, threatening to scoop up the mail and send it scurrying across the road, flipping the A4 sheets in my hand, flicking my hair about so it stuck to my brow. Bob Dylan once sang a song called Idiot Wind. This was the day I found out what he was talking about.
The day was turning into a nightmare.
On top of that it was bin day. The bin men were about. The pavements, normally unobstructed, were an obstacle course this morning, with bins and bags left out all over the pavements. I was having to weave my way round them, sometimes having to get off to shove them to the side.
And that’s how the scene happened.
There’s one sharp corner I have to go around on a pavement. I have to go on the pavement because the kerbs are so high on this road it’s hard to hoist my bike up them. The kerbs are at least six inches high. So I came round the corner and straight into a bin which was stuck in the middle of the pavement. I braked, and turned, trying to get passed the bin, but there wasn’t enough room. I had the kerb on my right, and the bin in front of me, like a guard standing to attention at Buckingham Palace. I’d lost all of my momentum now, and was wavering, poised in mid turn. There was a long, protracted moment of tremulous uncertainty before the bike began to dip and I put out my foot. Only there was no where to put it. There was no room on the pavement, and the road was a good foot or so away, on the other side of that very steep kerb.
At which point everything went into slow motion. The bike began to fall, I put my leg out, realised I couldn’t stop the fall without hurting myself, and so leapt clear of the bike. The result was a kind of carnage. The bike clattered out into the middle of the road, spilling letters and packages and bundles onto the tarmac, along with several empty bags and all of those bundles of A4 glossy leaflets, plus all the used-up elastic bands which I had accumulated over the months and which were in every part of the bike, in the panniers, in the bags, in the tray at the front, all spread out in a swathe of wreckage, like some gruesome scene from a war-zone. Everything was blood-red. Red bands and red bags and a bright red bike. It was like I’d just had a fatal altercation with a roadside bomb.
At which point two women turned the corner across the road. “You all right, love?” one of them said.
“Humph,” I mumbled aggressively.
I wasn’t in a good mood.
I always hate it when the bike goes over. It’s a heavy thing, clumsy and awkward to handle. It’s designed for sailing along on wheels, not for picking up off the ground. The handle bars tend to spin around and the bike is awkward and uncomfortable to lift.
“I’m OK,” I said, slightly off-handedly. I was embarrassed and annoyed. Kindly strangers are one thing. Kindly strangers as witnesses to a postal wreckage in the middle of the road are something else.
But I hoisted the bike up from its reclining position, and onto the pavement, where I leaned it against the fence, turning back to start picking up the rest of the stuff. Only then the bike slipped, and fell again, crashing down to the ground and casting yet more stuff along the pavement and up a back alley which was nearby.
It was at this point I lost my patience, and in a fit of blind rage kicked the bike.
Several things happened at once now. The two women were approaching across the road to help me out. One said, “it’s the wind,” referring to what caused the bike to fall. The other, seeing my foot already launching at the bike, said, “you’ll hurt your toe”. She was leaning down to pick up the bag. I knew she was right. But it was too late. The momentum was already carrying my foot forward in a relentless arc of blustering, stupid rage, on towards the bike frame as it lay there prostrate on the ground, where, after the briefest moment of time, it made sickening, bone-crunching contact.
You’ll have to imagine how it felt.
An awful silence descended over the scene, broken only by the continuous ruffling of that awful wind, and the screams of pain going off in my head.
So now I had two more things to contend with: a searing pain in my toe, and pitying looks from the two women.
“Leave that!” I barked to the woman leaning down to pick up the bag, in a clipped voice born of physical pain and acute embarrassment, “I’ll do it!”
I was definitely using exclamation marks in my speech. It was hard to know which hurt the most: the pain in my toe, or the pain in my ego, which was crumpling up like one of those A4 glossy sheets before a letter box. My eyes must have been spinning round in my head. The women backed off in fright, scuttling away from the dreadful scene of wrecked letters and wrecked dignity, while I limped back to the bike, wrestling it into a standing position, before leaning it against the fence once more, making sure it would stay upright this time. Then I was turning back to the road to begin picking up all the mess which was strewn about, repacking my bag and lifting it back on to the tray, picking up all the packages, and all the leaflets – which were even now scurrying up along the road, borne aloft by that mischievous wind – before, finally, beginning the painstaking process of picking up all the hundreds of elastic bands which were scattered about across the road and all over the pavement and up that back alley and every where within about a three yard radius.
Us posties tend to accumulate elastic bands. It’s one of the signitures of the trade. We leave trails of them everywhere we go.
It took at least ten minutes before I was on my way again, breathless with frustration, cursing the very earth on which I walked, growling unpleasantly to myself with every step.
The funny thing now was that about halfway up the same road, parallel to where I parked my bike to begin the second loop, there was a builder working in one of the houses, cursing and stomping and swearing to himself as well. I could hear it as I set off on the loop, all the way up the road, and all the way back down again.
He kept repeating one word over and over again while banging a piece of wood against a doorpost. The word rhymed with “luck” and it wasn’t “truck”. That wind must have been getting to everyone.
I wanted to say, “I know how you feel,” as I passed but, feeling that way myself, knew that I would be stepping onto dangerous ground. So I kept my own council and got on with the job as best I could. Fortunately there were no more untoward scenes, though my right shoe was stained red from paint from the bike and my toe was throbbing like crazy.
Several hours later, as I was getting ready for bed, I accidentally stubbed my toe, which brought the whole scene back to me. It was only then that it occurred to me how stupid I must have looked, literally hopping mad, and it was at this point that I burst out laughing.
What a day! Thank God there aren’t too many days like that.
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- Roy Mayall | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall is a pseudonym for a postal worker who has been in the job for about five years and works in a delivery office somewhere in the south-east of England. He writes a blog at roymayall.wordpress.com
- Roy Mayall London Review Blog