Excuse me if I start this journal more slowly than usual, but I have to wait for the post to arrive. You see, the highlight of my day has gone super-nova with the arrival of someone new delivering the mail.
Ted, our old postman, retired this week. He’d worked in the village for forty-five years but left without a goodbye. We villagers were surprised at the suddenness of his departure, as he was always known for courtesy and never known for speed. He chose not to ride his postman’s bicycle (it had a semi-flat tyre), but instead would push it along and spend much time leaning on gateposts and talking to the people he passed. Because of this, the post would rarely arrive before lunch, often around teatime. But this didn’t matter. By the time Ted knocked on the door, he’d have so much news to tell that the post became incidental to his urge to share the daily gossip. Mrs Baines’ bunions were a regular feature, as were Flash Harry’s latest girlfriends and Dom the Disbeliever’s attempt to build an air-raid shelter in his front garden. Last week, ‘Uncle’ Edna’s incredibly large potatoes had grown even bigger; Little Jimmy had some ‘unnaturally white’ trainers and the nudists at number 61 had upset Mrs Spiggot by opening their curtains on a Sunday. All healthy gossip, shared with the straight-faced honesty of a man who regularly attended church, had never married, and thought that infidelity was a make of videocassette.
Now we have someone new delivering the mail. A woman. Young. Athletic. Firm.
Beatrix von Baum, as I call her, is a recent graduate of the Right Wing School of Postal Efficiency. Gone are mid-afternoon deliveries and jovial comments like ‘Scented! Wink’. They’ve been replaced by letters bound with tight elastic bands and thrust through the letterbox with the vigour of someone with a very firm grip. Her arrival has put the villagers into a frenzy. Bob Dewar’s front lawn gets mowed in winter, Ern Fletcher’s hedge is now two foot lower and Greasy Dave has cleaned his windows. Shame on them. Yet here am I, standing adjacent to the window in my living room, peering through a crack in the curtain with the expectancy of the young lad who lives opposite number 61.
I don’t know how she does it, but every day for the past three days ‘Bea’ has arrived at exactly 11.26am. It is now 11.24am. Bob is mowing his lawn, Ern is clipping his hedge, and Dave is standing at his window, buffing. Ah. Here she comes, walking down the centre of the lane with the purpose of someone approaching a high noon showdown. Her blonde hair bounces with her every step; her long legs are topped with tight postal service shorts and her ‘remainder’ is covered in a puffed-up gilet. (Mmmm. ‘Bodywarmer…’) She carries a postal sack over her right shoulder but, alas, wears no smile on her face. She has the look of a beauty queen who has just lost her crown to the only woman given a refund from Weightwatchers.
Okay. Update. She has passed Bob. No letters. His mower cable has sagged and is lying lifeless on the lawn. Ern has got one letter. It’s a crisp white envelope that I can see says ‘Congratulations’. Never has Ern been so pleased to receive junk mail. Greasy Dave got his usual stack of brown envelopes and has disappeared from the window. Bea is now approaching my cottage. She has reached into her bag and pulled out a bundle of letters. She is approaching. Coming. Now.
I’ve closed the gap in the curtain and pinned myself to the wall. I’ve heard the latch on the gate flick open, footsteps on gravel and then, nothing. No flap of letterbox. No thud of envelopes hitting the carpet. Maybe she saw me? Maybe she’s peering through my living room window at this moment? Maybe she had a reckless urge and is dancing naked in my front garden? Control yourself Fennel. There must be an explanation.
Oh no. No. No. Yeeesss…
Wait a moment while I go to the door.
Right. I’m back. That was very strange. Pleasantly strange. But strange all the same. My first contact with the post ‘mistress’. Let me tell you how it went:
"Hi, I’m Nigel. You must be our new po-”
"Number 46. Mail.”
She passed me the letters, turned and walked away. Her black ankle boots creaked rhythmically as she strode off. The gravel crunched. The latch clicked. She exited into the lane, disappearing behind a hedge of hawthorn and lilac.
Number 46. Mail. Her voice was without inflection. Disengaging. Robotic. Specific. An economic use of words. But was it a statement or an observation? Was she talking to me or making a note to herself? I’ve shut the door now, but my heart is still pounding. What if she meant "Number 46: Male!” What if she was so impressed by my flat cap and tartan slippers that she was unable to speak further? What if, at this very moment, she’s talking to Mrs Dunnock at number 44, asking her about the suave chap next door? Forget it Fennel. You’re a married man with the sexual allure of a frog sitting on an eggcup. Best that I move on and let my neighbours do the thinking. Time to make a brew and see what letters I’ve received.
Today is a special day to read letters, because it’s my last day before I return to the noise and bustle of the office. I’ve had it easy these past months, working mostly from ‘home’ (a tent by a lake, followed by the comfort of my study) but tomorrow I must attend a meeting. Decisions are required. So my shirts are ironed, my shoes are polished; my hair’s cut short (to enable thick ears and pains in my neck) and war rations are allocated. For now though, I can relax in my crumpled granddad shirt and corduroy trousers with braces. I am a man of leisure about to unravel the mysteries of the postwoman’s bundle…
I’m now sitting in the kitchen, teacup on hand and breathing calmly. I’ve removed the elastic bands from the letters and laid them on the table on front of me. The first is from a company selling modern bathroom suites. Somehow I think their glossy tiles and chromed fittings would ruin the charm of our garden privy, so the letter is condemned to the kindling basket. The second letter is for Mrs H; the third is for me, but has red typing on it, so I think I’ll let Mrs H deal with that one as well. (I remember Ted commenting on such a letter – "Eee. Mrs Platt at the corner shop had one of these before she went away. And we’ve not seen her in a very long time…”)
The final two letters are what I’d hoped to receive. No harsh, typed lettering on the envelopes. No see-through plastic windows. No ‘postage paid’ printing. No indication of a computer masquerading as a human. Instead, they have ‘gentle’ handwriting on the envelopes. Blue ink on one and green ink on the other. I know that the colours of these inks are conscious decisions by their senders who, unlike the computer spitting out thousands of cloned missives, have real emotion.
They care enough to be unique, take pride in sending letters and know the real meaning of the term ‘first class’. And they’ve cared enough to write to me. They wish to correspond. And correspond they do. I can relate to the craft of writing letters by hand.
I will now begin a four-staged process of deduction. Firstly, I will attempt to recognise the handwriting on the envelope. Secondly, I shall guess the nature of the letter by feeling and smelling it. Is the paper textured and of quality weight? Are there any lumps indicating the inclusion of a feather, photograph or pressed leaf? Does it have the scent of pipe smoke, woodland floor or garden shed? Thirdly, what is the franking stamp on the envelope? What county, or country, is shown? Which friend lives there? Finally, I will gently slice open the envelopes with a knife from the cutlery drawer. (This is so much more civilised than clicking ‘Send/Receive’ on an email. Think about it. Send SLASH receive. Email is the frenzied killer of proper communication.)
The results of the deductive process are as follows: The letter written in green ink has quality paper and is franked ‘Wigan’. I guessed it is from my friend Bill. My guess was correct. It is a letter about a favourite childhood pond. The letter written in blue ink smells of pipe smoke and contains a photo. I guessed it was from my friend Demus, but was proved wrong. I opened it to find that it is from someone who has never written to me before, but who I know well. It is from Ted, our old postman. He informs me that he has retired to the coast and wishes to thank Mrs H and me for our friendship. He also wishes to make a confession. He’s saying that… Oh. Ha! Ted. Only you could say such a thing. I’ll repeat it here, in Ted’s words:
"…and of course I had to leave in a hurry. I’d seen my replacement: a young lady from the city. She rises early and keeps her head down. Doesn’t stop until all’s been delivered. The thought of showing her my rounds was too much to bear. So I grabbed my bike and brought it here with me. It’d be no use to her. That tyre’s not been firm in years…”
Ted, you old rogue. You’re just like the rest of us.
This is a sample chapter from A Writer’s Year, Fennel’s Journal No. 3
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