The perils of being a postman

Postman
Last collection... Francis Forrest surounded by colleagues on his retirement.

After my first four idyllic years working in Earby as a village postman, all we four foot-sloggers were transferred to the bigger Crown Office in the neighbouring town of Barnoldswick.

For the first year or so we were guaranteed transport to and from work, which for those of us who didn’t have cars solved a major drawback, starting as we did at 5.30 am.

At first we only did our own rounds in Earby, but gradually the workload increased and we found ourselves increasingly mobile and yours truly was coopted on to a driving duty. This was also the
case for my three colleagues; all three were taught to drive, even Bill at the age of 50. Some took to it like a duck to water. I had been able to drive for years. Even so, the Post Office insisted that for a time I had to drive under supervision. This meant paying me overtime, which was always welcome with a growing hungry daughter to clothe and feed, and wife Margaret on parttime.

One day I had driven to Burnley at lunchtime and was dropped off at our house on a steep street to settle down for my dinner. The other driver took the mail van back to Barnoldswick. Well he should have done, but no sooner had I put my feet under the table than there was a thunderous banging at the door. There stood Tom, my colleague. He had got his feet stuck in the pedals and rammed a shed at the bottom of the hill. Worse was to come, because the shed housed a brand new scooter and it cost the GPO a pretty penny to put things right.

Bad luck seemed to follow poor Tom, because a short time later he was in further trouble. This time he was delivering to a farm by Land-Rover. Jumping out to open a gate, he turned round to see his Land-Rover hurtling down a steep field. Efforts to catch it failed and it ended up a write-off in a stream bed. Now Tom had packed up smoking some five years earlier, but when another postman went out to collect him the first thing he said to him was: “Give us a fag.”

Driving duties weren’t always without incident, for one day I was backing on to a side alley when I felt a slight crunch but couldn’t see anything in the mirror. Back at the Post Office, a chap pulled up behind me and asked me to go back with him to where I had reversed. There to my horror I saw that I had run over a barrel of creosote. The cap had been left off and the contents had sprayed
out and covered the door of nearby house. What a mess, and boy was I in trouble! But the home owner saw the funny side of it later on.

Another funny thing happened to me when taking our final dispatch of mail into our head office at Burnley. We had to call at another office at Colne to collect their final dispatch. Between Colne and Burnley, I used to eat an apple which I rested on the dashboard, handy for eating. One night I backed with a bit of a bump on the loading bay. The van door was open and my apple shot out down the yard. Down I jumped to retrieve it. The mail van doors slammed shut, key in ignition, lights fully on, engine running, dispatch due out in minutes.

What a panic I was in. We had visions of breaking the secure mail van’s windows, but a quick call to our garage manager’s home number told us how to break into a totally secure van easily with no
damage done, all with the help of a long brush.

One of our new lads placed a big handful of letters on a car roof while he searched his bag for a packet. Suddenly the car shot off, scattering letters far and wide in a fresh breeze.

One well-meaning postie placed a packet in an outhouse for security and posted the key through the house letter box. Next day he was met by an irate man, who said his daughter had had to walk two miles for a house key has the spare one was locked in the outhouse.

One morning I spotted some keys in a door lock so I popped them through the letter box, thinking they had been left in overnight. It turned out the householder had just nipped out for a paper and had to waken an angry wife when he came back.

The sorting office had a unique fire escape. Below it was a 25-foot drop. our boss at the time said there was nothing to burn, so we all said: “Then you can go out first and we will all soft land on you!”

One house always caused us to smile. It had newspapers up at the windows. Presumably they were going to decorate but were taking a long time to get round to it, because the headlines read “Japs Bomb Pearl Harbour.”

Old Nick, a postman a bit before my time, had his own method of dealing with nasty dogs. He strapped a sharp needle to a longish cane then sent the aggressive beasts howling on their way. I don’t think the RSPCA would approve today.

Not all dogs were unfriendly however. Earby had a crossbred sheep dog which followed us everywhere. When the van picked us up after our walks, Tippy would jump in to cadge a lift to his home a mile away. A policeman owned a huge alsatian called Ben. He was a super dog and just loved you to kick stones for him to chase after. Such a great big softie with us and children.

Our Morris Minor vans had bonnet release catches under the dashboard. We used to go down into our dark yard to check the oil. Next to the bonnet catch was the alarm handle, and now and again it was pulled by mistake, waking up the whole area at crack of dawn.

It always makes me smile when I see armoured vans delivering high value packages to sub post offices. On Monday mornings we used to deliver such items into the post box set in the post office wall. Inside the office the postmaster had a small wooden door from where he could retrieve the packages safely.

There was always a queue of senior citizens waiting to collect their pensions. There was never a thought of security and I don’t think many had an inkling of how much we were off-loading.

People were always envious of our jobs when we had a good summer, but there were drawbacks to the hot weather, for when carrying a 35-pound mailbag you became dehydrated. Most of us ended up carrying a large water bottle among the letters to prevent us frying on foot. In fact, one lad who was a little bit hefty had to change his shirt and vest several times. We were not allowed to
wear shorts at that time. Indeed, you were supposed to wear the uniform hat; a hard uncomfortable piece of headgear. The rules did say that you could wear a straw boater but no-one ever did. From start to finish I guess I loved my job despite the sometimes heavy loads and harshness of the weather. Almost all the people I worked with were the salt of the earth.

Over those 32 years we shared many laughs and happy memories, and perhaps there was the slightest glint of a tear in my eye when I hung my mail pouch up for the last time.

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