The Saturday Slant with Craig Fleming

How many Christmsas cards will Fylde coast posties deliver this year? Below, Arthur and Katie Roe and their elder daughter Katherine
How many Christmsas cards will Fylde coast posties deliver this year? Below, Arthur and Katie Roe and their elder daughter Katherine
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Much is being said about the high cost of postage which could deter people from forking out 50p a time to send a Christmas card.

While the newly-privatised Royal Mail might make millions, spare a thought for the friendly posties who have to lug around bags which are every bit as bulging as Santa’s sack.

Arthur and Katie Roe with their elder daughter Katherine in 2011

Arthur and Katie Roe with their elder daughter Katherine in 2011

It’s not the easiest job to be custodian of all those greetings cards and I do speak from experience.

In each of my two years as a sixth former at Haslingden Grammar I was granted permission by the headmaster to miss the last two weeks of December schooling to become a temporary postman.

The same deal went to other classmates to help finance a four day visit to London, either side of New Year, representing the school at the annual conference of the grandly-titled Council for Education in World Citizenship, established in 1939 “to promote the importance of political and civic engagement within and across national boundaries”.

We met at Central Hall, Westminster and in 1969, were welcomed and addressed by Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, 10 years before this uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh was assassinated by an IRA bomb.

We took part in various sessions and workshops but there was free time too, and on what was my very first visit to the capital, I saw a new decade arrive in true Trafalgar Square party style to the chimes of nearby Big Ben. Unfortunately the following year when 1970 became 1971, celebrations were marred by gangs throwing empty beer bottles above the crowds.

While delivering the post I also saw an empty bottle when an elderly lady insisted I had a Christmas toast on the doorstep.

“I have some special glasses” she told me, and proceeded to drain the last inch or so of sherry into.... two empty Shipham’s crab paste jars, remnants of the labels still showing.

If that sounds delectable to the palate, another pensioner shared her clotted cream fudge with me. The confection stuck in my throat when she revealed they were a present from a friend on holiday in Torquay “not this summer, but the last one”.

It would have been tastier to have licked a stamp - even one that today costs 50p.


According to national media reports Health and Safety officials in South Wales threatened to stop a church in Neath from staging its version of the Christmas story planned unless the Virgin Mary wears a ...crash helmet!

It seems they had concerns she might fall off the real life donkey carrying her from A to B (as in Bethlehem).

And the owner, whose animals have already carried hundreds of youngsters on the beach without incident, was anxious to comply with council guidelines and his insurance policy.

Fortunately Mary was able to hide the helmet beneath her shawl, but what wardrobe delights are in store elsewhere?

I can remember being a shepherd in primary school productions when we just had to don dressing gowns, yet these days the angels are probably earning their wings by turning up in their “onesies”.

And at the risk of alerting that social networking aficionado King Herod, will the Three Wise Men decide to lean in together - like those world leaders David Cameron, Barack Obama and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesburg - for a “selfie” after depositing their gold, frankincense and myrrh at the cribside?

I was pleased when my granddaughter told me this week she had a part in her school nativity.

“Are you Mary?” I enquired, half expecting to hear she was in the sheeps’ chorus.

“No, I’m wife number three,” she replied.

My first thought was of that successful Broadway and West End musical The Book of Mormon, but I gather that she is actually the wife of one of the three innkeepers, no doubt in a Bethlehem now full of budget hotels.


It has been an incredibly-special day for a couple of friends of very l-o-n-g standing.

Katie and Arthur Roe celebrated a real milestone in their marriage.

These octogenarians have clocked up a staggering 65 years together.

And, having known the couple from the very first day I started at The Gazette, in June 1972, I’m proud to raise a Saturday Slant-style toast to them here.

Katie was 18 when she signed up for the war effort, joined the Wrens and found herself in the top secret team tasked with cracking the Nazi’s infamous Enigma code.

Her role was so covert she didn’t even tell her family about it. In fact it was only when she saw an exhibition years later about Enigma that she finally told them she had been at Bletchley Park.

After the war, Katie returned to work as a secretary at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where she met her future husband Arthur, then a laboratory technician.

When our paths crossed they were newsagents on Whitegate Drive, literally around the corner from my bedsit.

On my way to the number 26 bus stop and keen to give a good first day impression in the newsroom, I called in on the Roes for a packet of mints to guarantee fresh breath.

I also ordered weekly copies of Melody Maker and New Musical Express which I continued to collect until I moved away, when I was married, seven years later.

Mrs Roe was always convinced I was neglecting myself as in my late teens I was so skinny that if I had ventured onto Blackpool beach even eight stone weaklings might have attempted to kick sand in my face.

It was just my metabolism, but unconvinced, Katie regularly insisted I join the family for an evening meal.

And my portions of her tasty homemade fare were always so huge that even Desperate Dan, of Dandy fame, would have been jealous.

They came to my wedding and, in the days before I had a car, when it was time for my wife to come home after the birth of our daughter, it was Arthur who insisted on being our chauffeur from the hospital.

The Roes have three children - Katherine, Michael and Susan - and five grandchildren.

And in case you were wondering, 65 is a blue sapphire anniversary, midway between diamond and platinum.