The way I work:
Kevin Boniface

The Huddersfield postman walks 10 miles a day, says that the dog problem is getting worse – and reveals the real reason why posties wear shorts all year round

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My working day starts at 6.30am. When I first worked for the Post Office back in the late 1980s the start time was around 4.30am, which I didn’t really mind, to be honest, because you used to finish before noon so the rest of the day was yours. The major problem then was the six day working week, whereas now it’s five: we have Sunday off and another day, which rotates.

I began with the Post Office in Huddersfield during my teens after finishing A levels. I just looked on it as a job, because all my friends were working and had money. It was a novelty back then and, as I was in a band at the time as well, I was really enjoying things. Looking back I’ve never had as much disposable income since – nowhere near – but that’s what life’s like when you’re young.

You’re kind of invisible and seem to have access to pretty much everywhere and everyone

But by 1990 I’d decided to study art in Liverpool. I had never given my long-term future a lot of thought as I presumed that would be something they’d help me with at university, and maybe I’d have some sort of epiphany. Turns out it wasn’t like that so me and my wife Georgia, who I met in Liverpool, started Laundry, a fashion design and textile printing company back in Huddersfield. When that began struggling I inevitably ended up back at the Royal Mail and that’s when I began writing about the things I was seeing around me. I find scratching beneath the surface of the ordinary endlessly fascinating. It’s like looking through a microscope and seeing things in life you would never realise existed unless you examined them really closely. Writing felt like therapy really, when I was a bit fed up and coming to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to be an international fashion designer.

Being a postman has changed a lot over the last 30 years. It’s obviously much more parcel-focused these days as email has almost killed the letter side of things. On the other hand, the internet has sent parcel delivery through the roof. The structure of my working day has changed too, become much more formal, and then there was all the privatisation business that everyone went through. To a degree it was interesting being at the heart of a proper industrial dispute, seeing things from the inside, but it was always pretty obvious what the outcome of that was going to be. I try to keep the political side out of my writing though. Anyway, despite all the changes to the job, whether I’m driving the van or doing a walk, the opportunity to think and observe has always been there.

The other thing that’s remained constant is the interaction you have with members of the public when you’re working. It’s a strange one really because you’re kind of invisible and you seem to have access to pretty much everywhere and everyone – I think what a lot of it boils down to is if you wear a uniform and hi-vis vest, you can do whatever you want! And when you’re in uniform random people in the street say hello to you and I say hello back to them, neither of which would happen if I wasn’t a postman. It’s great for me and my writing, but rather an odd situation. I never steer any conversations in a particular direction just to make for a better anecdote though – that would be unethical and totally the opposite of what I’m trying to do. I really do aim to be 100 per cent fly-on-the-wall, as it were, with my observations.

There are occasional recurring themes that crop up in my writing, such as my thing with spotting flocks of waxwings round and about Huddersfield. When I was a young lad and liked bird spotting they were a real rarity and I can’t remember seeing a single one, but now they seem quite common. The best part of the job is you’re out and about so much and able to notice such things. I don’t think I could handle being inside all day, and that even goes for when the weather is terrible. There’s so much going on when you’re outdoors and, as you’re interacting with people, every day is different. And of course you get loads of exercise, walking over 10 miles a day, which is great but on the other hand it’s quite knackering as well so things like my knees are beginning to suffer. Frankly, I’ve never fancied an office job so I’ve never even considered one.

One of the things the public seem oddly fascinated with is the fact that many postmen and women wear shorts almost year round. Sorry to disappoint anyone but there’s a rather prosaic reason why: the long trousers you get with the uniform don’t fit very well. The crotch is terribly saggy and when you’re up and down steps or running across roads you can’t be stopping all the time to hitch up your trousers. Years ago you were measured up for your uniform and there were Royal Mail issue snake-belts – happier times for sure.

The other thing people, for some reason, tend to ask about quite randomly is if I get propositioned while delivering letters. Maybe they’ve been watching 1970s Confessions films a bit too often but it’s never happened to me and I can’t remember a colleague telling me it’s happened to them either. I know Charles Bukowski claims to have been frequently propositioned in his book Post Office, and that’s maybe where the myth comes from, but I think that was just him being an old pervert and making it up. Something that does occur from time to time though is when you have to knock and deliver a parcel and people who’ve obviously just got out of bed or the shower poke their head and their hand around the door, apparently forgetting their door is actually made from frosted glass. That’s always amusing.

Dogs are the postal workers stereotypical bête noire, and for good reason. The problem is getting worse, too, with more and more people either seemingly incapable of looking after a dog properly or actively encouraging them to be vicious. Company policy is not to go onto a property where there is, or you suspect there is, a dog loose but the problem is you don’t often know a dog’s loose until it comes running for you. I’ve probably been bitten about 10 times over the years, but there are some local posties who have suffered some pretty horrendous injuries. And, not surprisingly, the dog shit issue is getting much, much worse too.

If a big publisher offered me a massive advance for a further volume of my work, I think I would give up my job as a postman as it’s such hard going and you’re constantly up at the crack of dawn. I don’t think I’d lose my inspiration, but maybe I’d keep the uniform and hi-vis vest, purely for artistic reasons.

Round About Town, Kevin Boniface’s latest collection, is available from uniformbooks.co.uk, Amazon and independent book sellers

Photo: Rebecca Lupton

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