Many years ago, in a different life, I was a postman in the Scottish Borders. When the days close in as they do now, I remember these old days:
Winter mornings were the most memorable, whatever the weather. Sometimes it was necessary to brace oneself before opening the outside door to the world, for the blast of Border air was often biting but always invigorating. When we lived in Peebles I had a seven-minute journey through the town to the Delivery Office, and that walk set the pattern for the day. If I had to force the door open because of the pressure of snow blown against it, I knew that I was set for a hard delivery. But sometimes it was good to feel the frost crackling underfoot as I walked across Victoria Park, and to see the white mist coiling from the river as I crossed the iron footbridge. If I was early, I could linger for a moment on the bridge and look upstream, trying to make out the long hills of Ettrick in the dark. If I could see them, then they were white and sharp; if they remained invisible, then the snow had not come in earnest.
Perhaps I remember the cold best because it was frosty the day I started the Post. The first morning of any new job is always nerve-racking. My first morning as a postman was doubly, perhaps trebly so. I had been employed in the Edinburgh financial world, working in a penthouse office in a building where the furniture was of polished oak and the equipment was state of the art technology. A uniformed commissionaire ushered every worker into an elevator whose walls were of mirrored brass. Underfoot was a carpet so thick that one’s feet sunk without trace, while the coffee came in porcelain cups. The stock market crash of 1987 put paid to such decadence, so I found myself in the bitter black of a November morning watching nervously while half a score of men unloaded a lorry. My impression was of frenzied movement, flying sacks full of mail and an impressive amount of interesting invective. There seemed to be people rushing everywhere, shouting at each other; there was neither order nor sense in it.
‘Who’s that bloke standing there?’ The shadowy figure was huddled in a blue coat and casually carried a sack that appeared to weigh a couple of hundredweight. He jerked a thumb toward me. ‘Somebody had better get him out of the way before he’s trampled.’
I staggered as somebody burly barged into me, growling. I spoke to the man with the heavy sack. ‘I’m Malcolm. I’m meant to start work today.’
He looked at me with what I took to be a mixture of sympathy and amusement.
‘God help you,’ he said. It was not the most auspicious start to the day!