I often try and imagine myself doing other people’s jobs. A supermarket checkout assistant, for example, a line of work to which I would be singularly unsuited, since I am unable either to shut up and mind my own business or pick things up without breaking them.
I know I couldn’t resist commenting on customers’ purchases (“Do you really want to buy that? Are you sure your household should be eating those?”) and if any customer stood in front of me with their mobile phone held up to their face I wouldn’t be able to vouch for my good manners. I’d be out on my ear – and out of a job – faster than you can say “Do you want any bags today?” or “Would you like any help with your packing – and please don’t say yes because everyone’s in the staffroom.”
Just as well I’m not on a checkout, then, and just as well, at this cold, wet time of year especially, I’m not a milkman, a postman or a dustman.
Yes, I know they’re not called dustmen nowadays, and I mean no disrespect, but we do at least know who and what I mean when I use that distinctly old-fashioned word and not the ambiguous ‘waste collector’, which frankly sounds a bit drain-focused and honey-wagonish to me.
I couldn’t do what they do. I wouldn’t be able to reach anything, lift anything or keep those big gloves on.
A non-starter then, so what about the good old milkman of blessed memory? Assuming you can find one, he qualifies for a status that isn’t so much a vanishing breed more a museum exhibit, thanks to being priced out of business by supermarkets, where pints cost no more than a bottle of posh mineral water.
Pity the milkman, that poor benighted saint, the neighbourhood watcher without compare, who is hard at work as dawn breaks and whose profit margin on a pint hardly enables him to break even. Little wonder there are so few of them about. Seventeen years ago, when we turned the new century, 27 percent of milk drunk at home was delivered to the doorstep. That figure is now less than three percent.
It probably isn’t the job I’d be aiming for, since I am sure it can hold little in the way of career prospects and even less in the way of satisfaction for someone who admits – and call me a softie if you wish – that being snuggled under the duvet at 4am on a January morning is preferable to remembering who wants a pint of full-fat and a tub of cherry yogurt in the maze of a bleak, frost-bound housing estate.
I’m not sure I’d cope with being a postman, either. Or postwoman, if you are pedantic enough to insist on that clunky gender-specific title.
It isn’t just the shorts – I really couldn’t – it’s the snappy dogs and the even more snappy letterboxes, slicing off finger-ends and reducing every delivery to a game of chance.
Our postman, Richard, also known as the best postman in the world, sets the bar very high. He is reliable, like the proverbial clockwork, enterprising in his ingenious methods to deliver against the odds, impervious to any degree of inclement weather, looks pretty good in shorts and, here’s the thing, endlessly, infectiously cheerful.
In an age when such traditional jobs are endangered either by technology or increasing competition, or both, let’s give thanks to those who, so often unseen and unsung, keep our wheels turning.