Junk mail – the facts

A Panorama programme on postal junk was compelling, but didn’t mention that the market is skewed against Royal Mail

Junk mail. We all hate it don’t we?

Postal workers probably hate it more than anyone else, as we see more of it than anyone else. You only have a few items a week to deal with, we have hundreds of items a day. Sometimes we have as many as six separate items per household to load into our frames. That could be well in excess of 3,000 items a week. You can’t imagine how tedious this is.

And whereas in the past we were paid separately for it, as a supplement to our wages (which compensated us for it somewhat) these days it is part of our workload; and whereas the general estimate for the number of houses we cover on a daily basis is about 85%, for junk mail it is 100%, meaning it takes longer to deliver than ordinary mail.

Now a Panorama programme has been aired all about junk mail. It seems as if the Royal Mail is addicted to it – at least if you believe Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper report into the future of our postal services.

As he said in the programme: “There is absolutely no question that advertising mail, which the critics describe as junk mail, is central to the viability of the Royal Mail in the 21st century.” As proof of this he gave us some fairly compelling figures: about a quarter of the total letters market, of around £5.4bn, is advertising mail. Or as Tom Heap, the reporter, summarised it: “On the face of it, it seems the best way of ensuring the survival of our beloved postal system is to sign up to as much junk mail as you possibly can.”

Unfortunately, as the programme also pointed out, there are some pretty serious consequences to this, not least in the cost of disposing of the stuff once it comes through our doors, and – almost immediately – is chucked into the bin. Millions of pounds a year is spent by councils around the country, either in recycling the material, or in shovelling it into landfill sites.

It seems we are stuck with junk mail. Or are we?

The problem is that we were not given all the facts. There are a number of issues that Hooper – the acknowledged expert in the field – omitted to inform you about.

Central to this is something known as downstream access (DSA). This is the means by which rival companies are allowed access to the Royal Mail’s delivery network, at a loss to the Royal Mail. According to Royal Mail’s chief executive Moya Greene in December last year, this is in the region of 2.5p for every item of DSA mail we deliver. Some price changes have since been introduced by the regulator and the extent of subsidy and loss since the changes is as yet unclear [see footnote].

Yes, that’s right: we deliver our own rivals’ mail for them, and then we take a loss on it. By law. Or, to put it another way: we postal workers, and you members of the public, are made to pay so that rival companies to the Royal Mail can make a nice profit. This is what Hooper refers to as “modernisation”. It is the real drain on the Royal Mail’s revenues, and the reason why it is now so dependent on junk mail to survive. Sometimes we are made to deliver our own competitors’ junk mail.

It is achieved through a process known as headroom. What this means is that the price the Royal Mail is allowed to charge for bulk mail delivery – the bills and statements sent out by banks and utility companies, which is the prime source of all revenue in the letters market – always has to allow headroom for its rivals to make a profit.

Without this artificial skewing of the market – in the name of the so-called “free market” – the company would not be anywhere near as dependent on junk mail for its future survival.

Actually, the Panorama programme was effectively two stories in one. Only the first part was about junk mail, the second part was about scam mail. What the programme failed to come up with was a solution to this particular problem, but I can provide that: allow postal workers to identify scam mail and to report it, and then allow the Royal Mail the legal means to stop it at its source.

There’s one old lady on my round who has been receiving scam mail. Day after day she gets a pile of letters from someone who is described on the envelope as “the world’s most trusted psychic”. The envelopes are always the same, but the return addresses are from all over the world. Sometimes I’m delivering 10 or 15 of these letters a day. I reported it to my manager and asked if we could stop delivering them, but he told me we couldn’t. It is paid-for mail and we are obliged to deliver it.

This is a perfect example of what I have been suggesting over and over again: the company should learn to trust its own workers. Because unlike the high-tech machines which are being introduced in the much heralded modernisation programme, us postal workers actually know our customers. We can tell the difference between scam mail and real mail. We know who is vulnerable and who is not, and we can alert our managers when a vulnerable person is being targeted.

I’m certain that every postal worker would recognise this material. If there was a system by which we could report it, and a legal means of stopping it, we could get rid of it overnight.

• This footnote was appended on 7 July 2011. TNT contacted the Guardian after publication of the piece to say the reference to the DSA agreement is not applicable in the context mentioned. “In fact there has been a 22 percent price increase in charges by Royal Mail this year alone which renders this argument obsolete”, a company representative said.

From the Guardian Comment is free

Read more here

Don’t go postal over election leaflets

All parties standing in any constituency have the right to one free leaflet drop by the Royal Mail – the rest come from party canvassers. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Election leaflets might seem a relic in the age of TV debates, but they do serve an important function for smaller parties…

From the Guardian.

Read the rest of the article here.

The Meaning of Value



I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t go on strike for money last year. I went on strike for quality: for the quality of our jobs and the quality of the service. It was the quality of service I was as concerned about as much as anything to do with money.

I was talking to one of my mates at work yesterday. I asked him if he’d read the agreement?

“There’s no point,” he said, “I’m not in the union so I can’t vote on it anyway.”

That seemed like a strange point of view to me.

“But it will affect your job for the next few years. Aren’t you interested to find out what it says?”

“No Roy,” he said, in a voice resonant with resignation and defeat, “I’ve been in the job for thirteen years now, and what I’ve found is that the management always gets what it wants.”

That seems like a loser’s attitude to me. The management always gets what it wants. Even when they are wholly wrong, we just have to accept it. It is the way of the world. If we all thought like that then nothing would ever change and we might as well roll over and die right now for all the good that breathing would do.

And then my friend said, “In the end there’s only eight hours in a day. They can’t make us work more than that.”

This is true. But they can make us work harder in those eight hours. They can make us carry more weight. They can make us break our backs with the sheer volume of mail we are obliged to carry. They can make us work till four o’clock on a Saturday, heaving out shit-loads of junk mail to households that hate us for it. They can turn our lives upside down with all of their ludicrous innovations. They can have us leaping through hoops to satisfy arbitrary management requirements which serve no other purpose than to undermine our self-esteem.

This is the thing I most dislike about this agreement. It opens the door to all of that. Longer spans. More junk mail. Later starts. Late Saturdays. A poorer service all round.

And in the end, whose interest is all of this serving? Take those late starts. What’s that for exactly? It’s so they can run their Walk Sequencing Machines to automate the job. But – hang on – aren’t Walk Sequencing Machines meant to make the job more efficient? So how come they can’t run to time then? Why do we have to start late in order to serve them? Why can’t they start early in order to serve us?

There’s the question. And the answer is – I very strongly suspect – that we are starting later in order to serve the interests of the private mail companies. It’s a strange kind of business indeed that inconveniences it’s own work force and it’s own customers in the interests of its rivals, but I’m certain that that is what is going on.

This is the point that keeps coming back to me again and again and again. We are constantly being bombarded with this propaganda about the diminishing market, when we all know, by the sheer weight we are lugging about every day, that the market is growing. There’s plenty of cash flowing about in the postal trade. What they mean is a diminishing share of the market, because the private mail companies are eating into our profit base, but without adding anything of value. We still do most of the work.

So what really puzzles me is why the union isn’t doing something about this?

There would be no need to talk about growing the market by loading our poor unsuspecting customers with yet more unwanted junk, if only the Royal Mail was being properly paid for what it does. There would be no need for later start times if we weren’t having to wait for the private mail companies to get the mail to us first, adding one more unnecessary link to the chain.

If the union told us to stop delivering Downstream Access (DSA) mail, we could kill it off instantly.

There would be no need for Dave and Billy to go grandstanding around the country trying to sell an unpopular deal to a sceptical membership.

The union’s official policy is for an end to DSA mail and a return to the Royal Mail monopoly. But where are the campaign leaflets to go with this policy? Where’s the strategy? Is there a plan of action? Are the membership being informed? Do we know what steps we are going to take in order to overturn this unbalanced relationship? And, while Dave and Billy are presenting their all-singing, all-dancing never-ending musical road-show around the country, why aren’t they mentioning the one issue that could actually make a difference to all of us?

Why aren’t they telling us what they propose to do about DSA?


Michael Hudson

As I say: I didn’t go on strike for money. Money isn’t the most important issue here. What concerns me is what the job will be like in two, three, five years time, and what sort of an industry we bequeath to our kids.

Automation doesn’t worry me either. Bring it on, I say. Let’s have all that walk-sequenced mail flowing in so we can throw it off in half the time. Except that no one is expecting us to be able to do that. The estimate is that walk-sequencing will save about seven minutes a round. And meanwhile, in the real growth market, the relentless rise of on-line shopping, walk-sequencing machines are all but useless. The best way of sorting oddly shaped and uneven packets is still by hand. And until they’ve invented robots that can read the mail and rails that lead to everyone’s front door, they will always need people to deliver the mail on foot. The postal market is a growing market – or at least a steady market – and there will always be space for people within it.

It’s a question of how we fill that space: as donkeys, or as thinking human beings.

So what do you think is the real reason behind the “modernising” agenda. I put the word in inverted commas because I remain sceptical about the use of the word in current management-speak.

There’s an old-fashioned economic theory known as The Labour Theory of Value. It isn’t taught much any more. Marxists will know of it, but it isn’t only a Marxist concept. John Stuart Mill used it. Ricardo used it. It dates back to the thirteenth century. It was the traditional measure by which value was estimated.

I have all of the following from Michael Hudson, who I highly recommend as someone who makes economic theory understandable again.

The principle concern in Classical economic theory was the question of value. Where does it come from? And then it asks another question: what’s the difference between the hide of a cow and a pair of shoes? (In modern terms, what’s the difference between a pile of sand and a silicone chip?) The hide is worth less than the shoes. (The sand is worth less than the chip.) And what makes the difference? It is labour. It is the value of the labour that has gone into the making of the product, both the direct labour, and the accumulated labour in terms of education and training, which is why skilled work is worth more than unskilled work. More labour has gone into it.

And traditionally, Classical economics drew a line between earned income, and unearned income. Earned income came from adding your labour to a product to create value. That is the real economy. Unearned income is things like rents, interest, stocks and shares, land value and real estate. Unearned income is money that can be earned while twiddling your thumbs or goosing the maid. You don’t need to work to get it.

Classical economics therefore proposed taxing unearned income in order to benefit society as a whole. It is what Adam Smith meant when he talked about the free market. The free market did not become free until the burden of unearned income had been lifted from the economy by taxation: the exact opposite of current free market thinking. It was what the Labour Party was created to do. That was what was meant by the redistribution of wealth: redistribution from those who lived off unearned income to those who earned their income by work, by labour.

You can see why it’s not taught any more can’t you? Because it questions the very basis of the world we inhabit, where unearned income lords it over earned income, and we have all become serfs to the profit motive.

This is the real reason behind the euphemistic term “modernisation”. Modernisation means privatisation. What they actually mean is the right of the agencies of unearned income who now rule the world to extract private profit from every form of human endeavour: and that includes the postal market.

The postal market is not being privatised in the interests of efficiency, but in the interests of the corporations that already control most of our lives.


This, of course, is the world we live in, and I guess the union think that they are just being realistic by making compromises with it in order to survive. But here are some of the things I don’t understand. So, for instance, we are now being told that the Royal Mail were going to abolish the piece rate for door-to-door anyway, so we should consider the door-to-door supplement as a bonus.


Can you imagine what would have happened if Royal Mail had unilaterally got rid of door-to-door payments and attempted to force them into our workload without union consent? We’d have simply refused. They would have had a rebellion on their hands. They could never have got away with it.

In other words, what the union have done here is to offer the management a gift of the door-to-door payments. They’ve handed it to them on a plate.

But I wouldn’t even mind taking a pay cut if I thought this agreement was in the best interests of the work force. The trouble is there is so much in the agreement which is not.

The six-day work plan, the revision of hours, the later start times, the longer Saturdays, all of this adds up to a sell out. It’s not like we’ve given one thing in order to get something better back. It all stinks.

Take the issue of productivity, for example.

As it says in the agreement:

“We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance…”

I think this is what concerns me the most.

I know I couldn’t possibly go any faster. I’m a middle-aged man and the job already knackers me out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this. I know how fast the top 10% can go. I’ve worked with them, and it’s just not possible for me to go that fast.

My friend the Minister of Cucumber on Royal Mail Chat made an interesting observation about this. Why were we allowed job and knock for a period? It’s obvious now: it upped the work-rate. People started working faster so they could get home earlier. But now that work-rate, which we used to do voluntarily for ourselves, is expected of us as part of the job.

They upped the speed of Pegasus to match it, and are upping the length of our walks to reflect the greater amounts of work we are expected to do.

The agreement continues this process. Longer walks, more junk mail, longer delivery spans. It’s all a way of increasing productivity so they can siphon the profit off to the private sector.

Meanwhile the agreement assigns the role of management enforcer and collective cheerleader to the CWU.

Listen to these passages if you don’t believe me:

“Both Royal Mail and the CWU recognise that successful change needs full and meaningful involvement of all key parties. It is therefore critical that both local management and the CWU are positively and actively involved in the revisions process.”

That means they’ll decide for us what the work plan will be.

After that there will be “joint training on the relevant parts of this agreement” – that means propaganda – “CWU reps being able to play an active role in Work Time Listening and Learning (WTLL) sessions” – that means they will be expected to pass the propaganda on to us.

God help us! Our weekly WTLL propaganda sessions are dull enough as it is, without having to listen to yet more platitudinous commentary by people who have been brainwashed into management ways of thinking.

It’s all very well for the union and the management to want to improve industrial relations so we can get on with the job of delivering the mail, but this agreement just looks like the CWU are getting into bed with management.

Let’s hope they will be very happy together.

Read more by Roy Mayall

Idiot Wind

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.

Idiot Wind

Bob Dylan 1974.

A Bad Day

Too much mail

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.

Idiot Wind

Blood on the Tracks 1974

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.

Hopping mad

Bin day

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.

Junk Mail

Me: if I had the choice I would refuse to carry it.

We call it Door to Door, or Household.

You call it junk mail.

The council calls it landfill.

It comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s in an envelope, with “Delivered by the Royal Mail” on the front. There’s no name on it as it goes to every address.

Sometimes it’s a little booklet with various products for sale. Or a large card with a detachable portion with a return address advertising such things as double glazing or hearing aids.

We’ve been sending out the same advert for hearing aids ever since I came to this office. It goes round and round the office, from walk to walk, from postman to postman. And then, when everyone from every walk has delivered every one of them to every door, we start out all over again.

Hearing aids, hearing aids, hearing aids.

How many deaf people do they think there are in this little town? How many ears to they think we have?

Worst of all are the glossy A4 sheets. They’re big and shiny and they smell of ink.

They stick together.

They flop about.

They rip. They crumple. They won’t go through the letter box.

You try to push them through the letter box and they turn into something resembling papier-mache. They go soggy in your hand. They soak up your sweat. By the time you’ve finished clutching a bunch of them they’ve half-melted, turning into a mush and sticking to your fingers as you try to force them through the letter box.

It’s like trying to post fresh salad. Not letters, lettuce.

And we’re not even paid for them.

We used to get paid per item, 1.67p each. That worked out at about £20 a week. Nowadays it is included in our workload. We have to stick them in our frame, one for each address, up to six items per household per week.

Think about it. I have 600 delivery points on my round. That’s “letter boxes” to you. Each delivery point has a slot on my frame with a house number underneath. (The roads are colour coded.) So I have to throw each one of each Door to Door item into each slot individually. I couldn’t say how long that takes. It varies from week to week and on the nature of the item (the A4 glossies are the worst): but it’s never less than an hour and a half.

On top of that you have to deliver them. This is all weight in your bag, in addition to the regular mail. Our bags are supposed to be a maximum of 16 kilos each. Sometimes they throw spot checks to make sure you’re not going over the limit, although everyone does of course. But all this extra weight means extra bags, which mean extra journeys to the drop-off points, which means you are later going home.

Me: if I had the choice I would refuse to carry it.

I hate it.

The customers hate it.

It’s embarrassing.

Sometimes it’s all I have to deliver.

Sometimes people come to the door to collect the mail, and it’s all I have to hand them, this trash. A bulk letter about home-insurance, a glossy sheet about boiler repairs, and a large printed card about hearing aids. Always something about hearing aids. And I hand it to them and say, “Sorry, it’s only rubbish,” and they look down at it, wrinkling their noses, and then back up at me with real disappointment – for some older people the postman’s visit is the highlight of the day – and they say, “I’ll just redirect it to the council, shall I? That’s straight in the bin then,” and I think, “What am I doing this for? I never became a postman to deliver this rubbish.”

Because that’s what it is. Rubbish. Literally rubbish. From my hand, through the door and into the bin. They might as well put a bin next to the letter box with two arrows. “This is for the mail” pointing at the letter box. “And this is for the rest of the junk,” pointing at the bin.

Or maybe we should just deliver the whole lot of it direct to the dump.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the advertiser did some basic research. Like I deliver to a block of flats. It’s 11 stories high, sheltered housing, owned by the council. How many of them are going to want double glazing? And still I’m posting double glazing adverts through their doors, week-in and week-out, year after year as I have been these last god-knows how many years.

They’ve already bought all the hearing aids they will ever need.

Or I deliver items for the blind. This is the kind of stuff I like to deliver: the weekly talking newspaper. But then I have to shovel another bunch of stuff through the letter box that the sight-impaired person on the other side of the door couldn’t read even if she did want double glazing or a new hearing aid.

Why does she need a talking newspaper? It’s because she can’t read. So why send her stuff to read then?

Basic research. Don’t just throw paper at people. Find out if it’s appropriate first.

What I hate the most is our contribution to global warming.

Whole forests are being chopped down so that you can cast a quick glance at a glossy sheet or an envelope and then throw it in the bin.

Trouble is the union are complicit in this. I spoke to my union rep. I said, “can’t we run a campaign against junk mail?”

He looked at me as if I’d gone loopy.

“It’s all money,” he said.

“I should be allowed to refuse it on ethical grounds,” I said. “The government should make it illegal. Anything. Just so I don’t have to deliver junk mail any more.”

“Money,” he said, repeating himself.

If you ask me that’s the whole cause of the problem.



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