Friday, October 26, 2012

1980: At the time it seemed so bad

At one stage, probably this stage, I had three paper rounds.

Mornings, evenings and Sunday mornings, I'd drag myself round to the newsagent and wait for my bag to be filled before heading out in the (usually) cold night air and try and complete it in record time so I could rush back for the last five minutes of Grange Hill or any other favourite of the moment.

A couple of years earlier I had been 'encouraged' to go out and earn my own pocket money. A boy up the road was a paper boy so he put in a good word with the local newsagent who always had a fleet of willing yet temporary minimum wage slaves.

I hated it really, especially in winter. It meant the moment I got home from school I was off out again. I had a really long route with a huge hi-viz orange bag full of Southern Evening Echos. On certain days it was heavier due to the Radio or TV Times being out that day, and other hot days like when Woman or Woman's Own were on sale.

I'd try and save time by cycling right up onto the doorstep. I got to know all the various letterbox configurations and with much corner-cutting I could do it in about an hour. I now know that what I s hould have done was start at the end and work backwards, which would have taken me all the way to my doorstep, but my brain didn't think that way in those days.

I had various schoolfriends' houses on my route, and sometimes I'd stop for a brief chat or a cup of tea, but usually I just wanted to get it done. I recall a girl who it was later revealed suffered from anorexia, gave me a try of a brand new chocolate bar, as she'd promised. Not just a bite but a whole one. Clearly she didn't want to eat it herself.

Mornings I remember being much brighter. Quiet and warm, with a bag full of Daily Mails and Daily Telegraphs, the odd express and only one Daily Mirror. Some of the magazines were intriguing: Fur & Feather, Cosmopolitan (for racy Sue at No.2), Farmer's Weekly (and the nearest farm was...), Motor (the house with the Cortina on bricks). Sundays were even quieter, but my God the bag was heavy. And this was in the days before the trillions of supplements you get today.

The newsagent himself was a small, rather camp man my Dad likened to a Dick Emery character. He liked a chat and we'd all be sitting in the back waiting for the papers to come while he'd bang on about buying his daughter a training bra while chain smoking a king-size Regal. His main helper was Joan, a Sixtyish woman with dyed red-hair, who wore one of those blue nylon housecoat things and had a nice line in customer chit-chat (example: 'They said she'd be gone by Christmas but of course she's still here and she'll probably still be here next Christmas').

I liked the atmopshere and it was quite good money. Three quid a week plus Christmas tips. That was the time of year you'd hover longer on the doorstep so the householder would realise you were there and rush out with a small envelope of cash, often a £1 note, more likely 50p. But I wasn't complaining, even though at weekends it cut right into my day.

In the autumn of 1980 I was thrilled to be able to give it all up as we were moving to the other side of town and besides, I 'needed to concentrate on my O levels'). Just weeks later, reading the evening paper I notice that the newsagent had been arrested for cottaging in a neighbouring village. He'd said it was a case of 'idle hands'. I bet it was. It was a local scandal and the shop shut immediately. In fact, it never reopened. It's a solicitor's now. The newsagent's marriage ended but I hear he apparently married an old flame years later. Curious indeed. 

When I think back to those paper round years I must have been incredibly fit. I cycled miles. No wonder I was so thin. My trousers were indeed baggy.

This song reminds me of the all the kids milling round outside the newsagent, usually on the wane by the time I got back round there. Someone once slashed my bike seat and there was an awful lot of shoplifting going on. Bloody kids.


  1. I have never heard the 'idle hands' defence put to such imaginative use before. They should have let him off to chutzpah alone. I mean, what else do you do when you've got a spare ten minutes? Not worth starting a jigsaw...

    Our local newsagent apparently has a terrible time getting paper boys these days. The parents think the kids are going to be snatched by paedophiles, and the kids don't think they should have to do anything so demeaning, apparently. Our current newspaper delivery chap is a retired man in his sixties. He's been 100% reliable for the last three years.

  2. I loved my paper round. Don't know why. I quite liked being in the open, and I've never had any trouble getting out of bed early in the morning. Christmas tips were a real boon, weren't they? My newsagent (ex-RAF, lovely bloke. Even lovelier daughter) used to get us to take the Christmas Radio and TV Times (in the days when EVERYBODY had the Christmas editions) out in the afternoon because he knew more people were about and we were more liable to get a tip. He knew the score alright.
    I'll never forget the morning after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster; the newsagent and his wife thought their son - who was in the army in Germany at the time - was on the ferry on a leave trip. Fortunately he wasn't, but they were beside themselves. Horrible.
    I can even remember doing my paper round with a roaring hangover after the first time I got well and truly, snot-flyingly drunk. Happy days...

  3. Anorexia, chocolate, 'no, no, go on have it all'. A further JP classic moment in the continuing series.

    I did paper rounds for a while, morning and evening, at 12 or 13, 14 yrs. Didn't mind them; then milk rounds, (generally unpleasant & dangerous - 13/14), shop work - 14-18, post work at Christmas - 17-20, and bar work - 'ahem'-20. Shop and bar were the best.

    But in all of them, you met everybody & all sorts, were trusted and generally trustworthy with cash, and had to get the job done to set standards and times. So it was some kind of training course for later on.

    Personally I was far more lazy and unreliable at 21, after University, than I had been at 16 or 17. Bloody students.

  4. I preferred shopwork best. It was indoors.