A friend of mine has started a new business and to promote it he has had a load of leaflets printed out.
I didn’t know this when he phoned, and asked: “Steve, are you doing anything tonight?”
‘No,’ I answered, imagining he was about to suggest heading to a local hostelry to enjoy a pint, a chat, and perhaps, if we were feeling flush, a bag of pork scratchings.
“Good,” he said. “I’ve got 1,000 leaflets to deliver and I need someone to give me a hand.”
By that point, of course, I had given away the fact that I had nothing on and so couldn’t get out of it.
It meant that last Friday, when I could have been spending a happy few hours fighting over a 90” half-price flatscreen TV with a teenage lad in Tesco, I was wandering the streets of St Annes pushing little bits of paper through doors.
But I really enjoyed it.
It took me back to the days when I did a paper round and would spend hours trekking the streets, delivering the local paper. For this – about five hours labour, not to mention the possibility of a serious back injury in later life – I was paid exactly £1.80 a week. Our newsagent owned a BMW convertible and to this day I swear he purchased it using the money he saved on not paying his paperboys properly.
I always enjoyed being a paper boy, from getting dirty news ink on your hands to never quite knowing, in that moment when you popped a paper through a letterbox, whether a salivating Rottweiler was about to take three of your fingers off.
There was one house in a cul-de-sac which gained notoriety among paper lads for containing a dog that was, I swear, about the size of a rhinoceros and had the loudest bark I have ever heard – and I include in that the moment Mrs Canavan gets in from work and realises I’ve spent my day off playing the guitar instead of decorating the lounge.
A sign on the door of the rhino-dog house read: ‘Warning – when delivering letters, do not put fingers through the letterbox’. Talk about unnerving.
The dog inside started going berserk the moment you so much as you put a toe on the driveway and it took all your bravery to stick a paper through that door.
I still recall the moment with terror: tentatively edging the rolled up paper toward the letterbox before, a nanosecond later, the howling dog ripping it from your hands. I imagine the owners returned home every day of the week to bits of newspaper strewn over their hall carpet.
These memories came flooding back the other night as I traipsed the streets delivering leaflets for my mate.
But it was great and one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed it was, I think, because I’m a remarkably nosey person, so I found it great fun to wander up the driveways of total strangers and to peer through windows and check out what furniture they had in their lounge.
One thing that has changed from my day as a paper boy is that homeowners now seem to love a sign or a sticker in their window.
The majority go for something serious like ‘cold callers are not welcome here’. Which is fair enough, though what about a bloke who’d spent the night in a freezer, stumbled out and knocked on their door begging for help?
My favourite sign – and I remember this well because of what happened next – was stuck to the porch window of a house and read: ‘This is a place full of humour and happiness’.
As I pushed my leaflet through the letterbox, I thought “that’s nice” and turned away.
Then I heard the sound of the door opening and a woman’s voice.
“We don’t want junk mail here,” she said. “And you’ve just set the dog off, too.”
I had to suppress the urge to suggest she get rid of her sign, or at the very least to insert ‘not’ between the words ‘is’ and ‘full’.
Bet she doesn’t give a Christmas tip to her paper lad, no matter what her sign may say.
Take a chill pill over bagger-uppers
It is an undeniable truth that with age we become grumpier, or at least more impatient.
And I – despite that angelic face you see at the top of this page – am no different.
I found myself the other day getting irrationally irate about the phenomenon I call the bagger-upper shopper.
Let me explain what I mean by this.
I was in Sainsbury’s, buying a nasal hair trimmer and some extra-strong deodorant for Mrs Canavan, and queued at the checkout behind a man who had a trolley-full of items.
The checkout girl totted up his goods and said, ‘That’s £48.25 please.’
‘Right, thank you,’ he said.
But he made no attempt to pay. Instead he continued to very, very carefully pack his shopping away.
At one point he even took every item out of one plastic bag and re-packed it, because he was worried his eggs had slid down the side. This went on for a good minute and a half before he finally finished, glanced up and said, ‘How much was it again?’
Now call me picky but couldn’t he have stopped, handed the girl his credit card/cash, then gone back to packing while she processed his payment? It saves time for everyone, especially when there’s a bloke behind you in the queue who’s running late for his weekly badminton session and is mildly embarrassed to be stood in a supermarket wearing shorts that are just a little too tight.
Then again, a few years ago this probably wouldn’t have bothered me (the bag-packing, not the tight shorts).
I clearly need to chill out a little, or at least up the dosage of my blood pressure tablets.