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August 13th 2009

    I 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 haplessly, we 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 fresh air.  

     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 uniform.  

tim candler

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(Penarth Road sorting office)  (DECT)