My parents, aunt, uncle and grandmother all moved to Harlow within the space of ten years from the maisonette in Tottenham that we shared as a family. To my knowledge my parents never spoke of having any regrets. I guess, even though the property we left is now desirable, back in 1953 a work-based relocation to a modern new town was too good an opportunity to pass up. My childhood was, like most kids of that era, very active. Dull moments were few and far between, especially when more or less every house had children of a similar age to hang around with.
School was OK; opportunities to enrich your education, for those who were so inclined, were available. However, I was somewhat lazy – partly due to what we now know as dyslexia – bewildering when you consider my job. Back then it was a condition not fully understood, let alone catered for. Instead, those in my situation were more often than not assumed to be daft. Sentences I’d read aloud in class were not only embarrassing but nonsensical when in my mind ‘was’ became ‘saw’ and so on.
Upon leaving school I really wanted to follow in my uncle’s footsteps; he was an automotive draughtsman who travelled the world for both work and pleasure – uncommon in those days. I looked up to him, and the postcards we received from his globetrotting really got my mind wandering. An interview for a trainee draughtsman led me down a similar career path. However, after two years I realised being stuck in an office and watched over wasn’t for me. I much preferred the idea of being left to my own devices, but more importantly being outside. There’s no denying my generation had a charmed life. Work in one form or another (labouring being my preference) was in abundance. An average salary afforded you a roof over your head and a good quality of life – I do feel for youngsters nowadays who don’t have it so easy.
As I grew older I realised that I needed to get my act together; carve out a career that was more secure – with marriage on the cards it was especially good timing. As was the case for a few of my mates, the Post Office offered such job security. Granted, the pay wasn’t great – but it was a respected, trustworthy job and if you were willing to put in the extra hours the overtime would net you a half-decent wage. The added bonus was, while out on your round, you were effectively your own boss. In all it was an ideal stopgap, something that brought in a wage until I applied myself to a trade – bricklayer, chippy or suchlike. Just how that stopgap became forty-two years – longer than my first marriage – and counting I don’t know! Others, who’ve commented that they’ve seen out dozens of jobs in that time, are amazed when I say just how quick it’s gone – the days, weeks, months and years have just rattled by. And it’s not something I regret. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve a job that you enjoy and which, on the whole, has a good work atmosphere – especially during the time when we had a staff canteen and bar. Up until a decade or so ago, before the Post Office had a shake-up, it was the social hub of the depot, a place where workers, ending or starting a shift, could exchange banter over subsidised grub and sometimes a pint.
I’ve never thought about it like that before, but now you come to mention it I guess you’re right – I’ve likely walked every road in Harlow…and if a door has a letterbox I’ve put something through it. Throughout the years and countless miles that I’ve clocked up I’ve seen the town grow and the people change. A new name on a letter for a property that you’ve been delivering to for years just underlines how people come and go; change is inevitable, unstoppable and (on the whole) good for the town.
For the last ten years Harlow town centre has been my patch. Yes, the routine is repetitive, but in spite of that I find it far from boring – instead rather comfortable. With it being rather a solitary job I do tend to go into autopilot and just ponder about whatever’s foremost in my mind.
If I see a familiar face and I’ve the time I’ll stop for a chat. The same goes for those I occasionally encounter who are down on their luck. If they go out of their way to talk to me I’ll give them the courtesy of a reply. Yes, I’m there to do a job, but I’ve got a heart – I treat everyone the same regardless of circumstance.
I’ll be sixty-five in January. Friends who’ve already retired, and lived to regret it, have urged me to keep on going as long as I can. In all likelihood I will – I’d benefit from a new knee but aside from that I’m fit and healthy. However, when retirement does beckon I’m not sure what me and my wife will do. My son lives in Yorkshire; he’s hinted about us moving up there one day. It’s lovely up there, so I’ll never say never – but aside from the wrench of leaving my other son, family and friends (some I’ve known for fifty-five years) I’d miss Harlow. I personally feel the reputation that the town has earned is ill-founded. It’s had its problems but I’ve a good feeling about ‘future’ Harlow – it looks positive. So, like any good husband, I’ll leave it to my wife to decide whether we stay or go – and I’ll honour her decision.