I like sitting in this park. This is the one I used when I had a tea break on my round. There was usually an empty bench somewhere, so I’d park my trolley up, dig out my old flask and sandwiches, and for a little while, I’d be back on a picnic, in Devon. Perfect. There was even a shelter near the middle, so even if it was raining, I could usually squeeze in. Met a few of my customers there, so after I took early retirement, once or twice a week, I’d jump the bus with my flask and sarnies and catch up with them. Still had some regrets about transferring up to London. Followed this lady; but it didn’t work out. At heart though, I’d remained a local postman, and this park was slap bang in the middle of my round.
Saw Mrs Amis the other day, from No.46. She didn’t sit in the park; just used it as a short cut to her hairdressers. She was quite nice, most of the time. However, there was an edge to her, especially if Mrs Evans was around. She lived a few doors down. Should remember the number; cos delivered to it for over ten years. Mrs Amis and Mrs Evans, had a fall out, a while back. Big time. Everyone in the immediate neighbourhood knew about it, including a few others who lived nearby.
Two older women, both of whom should have known better, engaging in a bit of old fashioned playground behaviour. Name calling, some swearing by Mrs Amis, an attempt at hair pulling by Mrs Evans, and a passer-by, namely me, on my rounds, having to separate them, and calm them down. Why? Mrs Amis had a cat Pip, that wandered and could be aggressive. Mrs Evans’s flat was immaculate. One day, Pip got in and did it’s business on her carpet. Simple.
As individuals they couldn’t be nicer. They’d both invite me in for a quick cuppa, and sometimes a cake or biscuit. Both were widows, neither had big families, and they lived on their pensions. When you deliver a variety of letters over the years, you come to know quite of lot about your customers. Birthdays, special events such as Xmas, the deluge of junk mail which I’d often bin for them, the inevitable brown envelope from the Government, and occasionally, especially for Mrs Evans, welcome letters in familiar handwriting from Canada. She told me it was from her son, although I already knew that, as in the States and Canada, they have a habit of putting their name and address on the envelope. I’d also stick a few anonymous Valentine’s cards through some letter boxes. That caused a stir on occasions, especially for those that didn’t need one.
When I was in the park yesterday, Mrs & Mrs Khan came by with their youngest in the pushchair. I was quite taken aback. They looked quite worn out, worried like. They used to be such fun. Mr Khan was born in London, but his wife came over from Pakistan on an arranged marriage. One minute he was single, and working in his Dad’s restaurant, next thing he’s gone to Islamabad and comes back with a new bride. Moved in with his parents.
That was about a year after I started on my round, when time seemed to fly. She could hardly speak English, but was very friendly and tried out new words on me, when I was doing deliveries. Should have taught her the word “No” because within a few years she had numerous kids, but was still smiling. Until yesterday that is. Hadn’t seen her for a couple of months, and she looked really down in the dumps. I nodded but they didn’t seem to want to talk, so I left it at that.
One of the nicest people on my round was a retired ex-Army bloke, Jack Street. He was disabled, and spent his life in a wheelchair, so had one of the specially adapted flats at No.60. His daughter Mandy lived away. She visited every week, and used to stay overnight, then make sure he had a bath and changed his clothes, before getting his shopping for that week. Home help came in morning and night. Outside of that, he had little contact; but never moaned.
Jack was a horse racing man; followed the gee gees, and was always offering me a dead cert. Couple of times, I took his advice, and found they were dead, but not dead certs. He kept a bottle of Scotch in his cupboard, and whenever I had to make a special delivery that he had to sign for, that was a bonus. He liked a drink, that was clear, but he also liked to raise a glass with someone else, and I was happy to oblige.
My large round, gradually got larger and heavier. We went from carrying post bags, courtesy of HM Prison workshops, and doing one round a day, to lugging blooming great trolleys and doing two rounds, in the time we used to stretch one. Gradually, I saw less and less of my older, more established customers, whilst new ones, remained simply a name and address on the envelope, rather than a real person, which is a bit sad really.
As a postman, I’ve occasionally spotted people on my round, who needed help. I’ve called out the Police, Ambulance service, the Council, Environmental Health, and a couple of voluntary organisations. Gave up trying to get the local GP practice on the phone, so usually popped into reception, when I was on my way back to the depot and gave them the heads up there.
Over the years, my round became a bit like the United Nations. The old familiar names, Smith, Brown, Jones, Flanagan, Reilly, replaced by Adebayo, Okafor, Kowalski, El Mustafi, Yang, Cheung. All the local shops also began to change, not only in what they sold, but when they sold it. It was the same with the schools.
Schools had special deliveries of mail, and were also on the internal Council mail system, but I still had to visit occasionally, but most days would walk past at playtime. Seeing a young girl wearing the hijab was a rarity; now it’s the exception not to have one. This didn’t suddenly happen. Most of the time, even someone like myself, around most days, didn’t realise what was going on, and how much things were changing.
It was only when I sat down one day and read a list, that I realised. Although, I’m out of it now, I still think a lot about my customers, and remember those individuals like Jack and his horses, Mrs Amis and her blooming cat, and some of the kids in the new development, especially the dance troupe. That was made up of about fifteen girls, all from the estate, and they got a got a room in the local Community centre, for their music and practice. I’d watched many of them grow up. They were fantastic. Melanie from No.85 was a former professional dancer, so when her daughter and a few mates got together, and asked her to help, it really took off. Their highlight, was to appear on one of those television talent shows. Didn’t win, but I was sitting at home cheering them on, and when they came back the whole place turned out to welcome them back.
I’m still on my own, so perhaps that’s also why, I found it difficult taking early retirement. Started to have sleepless nights, kept waking up with the sweats, even found myself having conversations with some of the people that I delivered to. When I realised it was getting a bit obsessive, I went and saw my GP. She was quite switched on and asked me to see a local Psychology team. Apparently it wasn’t an unusual phenomenon.
Although I wasn’t actually there when it happened, I was suffering a form of PTSD. Me the local postman. All I was meant to do was deliver the mail as quickly and efficiently as possible, get back to the depot, help out with sorting, or do another round even. But the bosses knew I wasn’t just an ordinary postman. I still had the Devon in me. After all, I’d had the same round for over ten years.
It was my patch, and I knew so many of those men, women and children. The two older Khan children and their elderly grandparents, Melanie, her dancing daughter and several of her friends, Mrs Evans, Jack, his daughter, and his whisky. All gone. Grenfell Tower and so many residents, gone. Their memories are here, living in my mind every day. Seared in. I know they’ll never go, despite what the Psychologist says.
Meanwhile the letters continue to stack up at the depot.