Idle Eye 133 : The Loneliness of the Long Distance Pizza Flyer Delivery Boy

Winter, Mid-90s

The bundle arrives at 5am. Dan & Charlie don’t come in, they never do, just sling it down by the milk crates and drive off. It’s usually wet when I pick it up but it don’t matter, I throw the top and bottom ones out anyway. Saves about twenty minutes in the long run. Not recently, though. They’ve put the big houses up on the Ridge onto my round ‘cos it’s the holidays and no one’s about. Takes bloody ages to get up there and they’ve all got them ‘No Junk Mail’ signs so you know you’re not wanted. Sometimes one of ‘em comes out and shouts but you just pretend you don’t hear nothing and keep going. No time to stop, too cold for that. Just get it over with.

Nan’s got me some gloves for Christmas. The thermal ones, she said, to stop me pinkies going blue. Trouble is, you can’t sort through the flyers so you end up taking them off anyway, bless her. Sometimes I go round after I’m done ‘cos she’s always got the heating up. Like the Bahamas in there most days, even in summer. Might nip over later if it’s still light. She likes a natter.

The first bit’s dead quick. Mostly flats, all shoved up close together & no one cares if you chuck in some extras. They all end up in the bin anyway, so what’s a few more if it makes life easier? You’ve got to watch it, though. A couple of lads got the elbow for putting theirs in a skip last week and bunking off early; not what you want at this time of year. Usually you see a few posties on the way, struggling with their big sacks of parcels and fat letters and cards and that. Makes you glad you’re not one of them, even though they make loads more than us. We don’t talk, neither. Everyone wants to get back indoors, quick as you like.

As you move out of town, the houses get bigger and further apart. Some have drives you’ve got to walk up, and dogs giving it all that until you leave. And those letterboxes that snap back onto your fingers, ‘cos to them you’re no better than the draughts they’re keeping out. There’s usually someone in, but when they see you coming they go in another room and pretend they’re not there. You can see their shadows through the crazy glass, trying to keep still. When you finally get up to the Ridge, you know you’re on the home run. Grand old places all the way along it, but there’s not too many and it’s downhill all the way back. You’re glad of this ‘cos by now you’ve had enough.

Today though, this old geezer comes out of one in his pyjamas and it’s well after lunch. ‘Here we go’, I says, and pull up my hood. But he’s shouting and shouting and I’m thinking maybe I’ve dropped something outside, so I go back. He’s only holding a tray and offering it out to me like some bloody weirdo. Now, I’ve been told about this sort of thing back at the depot and how to deal with it, but he don’t look so bad. Quite sad, actually. ‘Happy Christmas’, he goes. ‘Have a mince pie. It’ll keep you warm.’ I’m looking at him harsh so he don’t think I’m one of them, but he’s right: it’s bloody freezing and it’ll be an hour or two before I get back. So I take the pie and it’s lovely and warm in my hands. I watch him take a bite of his so I know it’s alright, then I put the whole thing in my mouth and swallow it down quick. And it’s proper nice. All sugary sweet with raisins and fruit and everything. But then I look up to say cheers and the bastard’s gone back in. Like I said, bloody weirdo.

Don’t think I’ll make it over to Nan’s after all. It’s getting dark and I’m up early in the morning. She’ll wait a day and you know what? That pie will do me until I get in, and the streetlights sort of make you feel warm too. It’s not so bad. And it’s downhill all the way back…

Idle Eye 97 : The Census

One of the more unexpected items jammed through my letterbox this Christmas, in amongst a flurry of festive flyers inviting me to dial a ‘pizza hotline’ or vote in some hairless Herbert at Croydon Council as the next brown bin czar, was a windowed envelope from the Welsh Government, redirected from my father’s country seat. It looked too bland to be ignored so I opened it, not without some trepidation, and steeled myself for the worst. But instead of the usual bureaucratic rhetoric demanding its pound of flesh (Dear Sir/Madam, To the Executor of the Estate of Blah, To whom it may concern), this one flashed its knickers with Dear sheep and/or goat keeper. All of a sudden I’m listening.

To be honest, my knowledge of Welsh livestock rostering is at best rudimentary, so the timing of this particular bulletin could not have been more fortuitous. With its handy factsheet, Q&As and helpful bilingual tips I was up to speed in no time, implicitly understanding the subtle difference between Single Payment and Rural Development Scheme claims and the concessions available to double-tagged older animals. But then came the crunch: My father had a holding number, which meant I had to fill out a form. As an executor this has now become familiar territory, but I was stumped at question three and indeed, beyond:

3. What is your main occupation?

A) Farmer (full time)
B) Farmer (part time)

No C), just a green chasm suggesting that if you can’t answer this one, you really shouldn’t be raising sheep and/or goats. I decided to leave this one blank.

4. Please indicate the purpose(s) for keeping the animals.

A) Meat
B) Dairy
C) Breeding
D) Wool
E) Other (please explain)

Quite scary. I knew he had three lady sheep (all named after the Beverley Sisters) that just loafed about in the field above his house, taking up space. He was fond of them and never had them clipped as he thought it was cruel. A) to D) out then, which left me with E). So, how to explain other to the Welsh authorities. Peccadillo? Or worse still, matrimonial? I decided to leave this one blank.

Then there was the minor matter of electronic tagging, introduced in 2010 and no doubt useful for ovine identification. Unfortunately for the suits at Rural Affairs, each and every sister resembles Gnasher off of the Beano (their halcyon hairdays now a distant memory) and no amount of government-funded electrickery would help tell them apart. I decided to postpone the whole shooting match and found something creative to drink instead.

And so we wind up the year. I’ll probably dribble out something next week in between the pies and the port (and who knows, I might even go as far as a post), but in the meantime, thank you for reading thus far and I wish you all appropriate seasonal greetings. And here’s to an outstanding 2014.