spent a year working shifts in the parcel department of the postal service
in the city of Cardiff in South Wales.
Complicated and loud
machines manned by competent people determined where a parcel was bound,
my job was to simply man a hopper and wait for parcels, put them into
canvas bags, and when the bag achieved sufficient weight, tie a label onto
the bag and then toss the bag onto a trolley. Every now and then,
the trolley would be shuttled off to loading docks. It was lonely
work that required a peculiar mental discipline that many struggled with.
Those who did find this mental discipline had first to develop an ability to
entertain their mind. A successful parcel man was one who could move
slowly and talk endlessly to themselves. At break time we would
shuffle toward the canteen and sit together in almost silence.
Necessary to survival was private and uninterrupted reverie. When some newcomer to the job babbled
would just stare at each other.
Shuttling of trolleys was achieved with a
speedy electric tractor called a DECT, I think. Of those DECT
drivers an older man called Griff was my favorite. He had flare with
the trolleys and he would always pause to share gossip with those of us in
the far reaches of the sorting office.
Griff had joined the Postal Service, he
claimed, because the uniform reminded him of happier days as a Royal
Marine. To get home at the end of work he drove a motor-scooter at
terrifying speeds, and one day he had a road accident that nearly killed
him. While he was recuperating I was assigned to drive his DECT.
Sometimes I wondered why those in
charge of us chose me for such an enjoyable and active role in the flow of
parcels through the office. I knew better than to think it a
reflection on my character. Others had turned the role down. At
the time I thought them foolish for surrendering that possibility of
movement and adventure.
When Griff was well enough to work
again, I found myself back at my post, putting parcels into bags, tying up
the bags and then waiting for Griff to shuttle the trolley out into the
One late night Griff said this to
me: "You can't go back, can you." And I had to agree with
him. A week later, to no-one's surprise, I handed in the badge and