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Being a Paper Boy

by Arnold Jordan

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Arnold Jordan
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Arnold Jordan
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21 November 2004

Having struggled home with the weight of two Sunday papers under my arm, I started to consider the differences between my time delivering newspapers and that of the paper boys and girls of today. I really don’t know how they cope with the sheer volume of todays daily bundles. In my era there was a strict control on the size of the daily newspapers, because this was the time of the second World War. Unless special permission was given, no paper contained more than eight pages - such was the shortage of the raw material. The quality of the printing paper was pretty poor. We are used to present day papers yellowing with age, but those of the 1940’s were like that to start with! The commercial aspect of the producing companies must have been difficult. We are told that publishing today relies heavily on the income of advertising, but when you only have eight pages that you can fill, advertising can’t produce much income. Mind you, with virtually everything being either rationed or in short supply, manufacturers wouldn’t need to consider a heavy expenditure on advertising!
There weren’t too many regulations regarding our employment. As now, there was a stipulated time before we could appear on the streets. It was frustrating when you had assembled the papers for your round, and there was still ten minutes to go. Fortunately our employer had a lot to do, and most of us slipped out when his back was turned and when the appointed time arrived there was no one left! We had a valuable piece of paper. If we were late for school we could produce this paper to escape trouble. I can’t really remember this being abused, but sometimes there was a problem with the late arrival of the trains bringing the papers. Being wartime, there were difficulties with timetables. One of the things that we disliked most is still the same today - bad weather! I don’t know if todays delivery folk get grief, but I recall a few irate folk complaining about damp papers. I don’t know what they expected us to do about it, it wasn’t our fault that it was raining! The customers were often strict about the time we delivered. If we normally arrived at 7.20 a.m. they didn’t want to hear any excuses as to why we had pushed the paper through the letter box at 7.30 one morning. Time could be of great importance to some, such as the gentleman who had to study the back page in detail so that he could plan his bets for the day! He was one that got zealous treatment, because if you regularly kept to the early time the occasional tip came your way. Mind you, you could never really judge people by their attitude. They could be really grumpy with you during the year, and then surprise you with a generous Christmas Box.
I suppose todays paper boys and girls, like us, prefer delivering in the light mornings of summer, but the differences of summer and winter were much greater for us. Today, everywhere is well lit, but in 1940 there were just a few street lights and these had such weak bulbs (because of blackout regulations) that you didn’t see any light from them until you were right underneath. We did have lamps on our cycles, but the lenses of these had to be covered with two layers of tissue paper to reduce the strength of the light. You can imagine how effective these were when the batteries started to run down! If you had a regular round it was a little easier, because you could picture in your mind the layout of the area. I was unfortunate that for some of my time I was the “spare” boy, covering for anyone that didn’t turn up. Remembering the streets wasn’t too bad, but the way from the street to the letterbox of unknown houses in the dark could be fraught with problems. Finding yourself walking into a prickly bush in the middle of a garden wasn’t very pleasant. I haven’t mentioned dogs, and there were a couple that I can think of that it was best to avoid, but in fact a barking dog waiting behind the letterbox, was often a guide to delivering in the darkness.
One hazard not known to the present delivery folk was the sounding of the air-raid siren. Fortunately the “all-clear” had usually sounded for the end of night-time attacks, but I can remember the siren giving the alert when out on the round. I don’t think I took much notice of it, and just carried on but this does make me wonder what it was like for the paper boys and girls in the big industrial cities. I am sure there must be some stories to come from them. I will confess to one moment of foolishness. I stopped riding my cycle to stand and watch what I knew to be a German aircraft. I actually stood there mesmerised as a single bomb left it and dropped to the ground. Fortunately for me it landed about two miles away, so the remainder of my papers were still delivered that morning! There is one difference between then and now, and that is we collected the money from our customers. Imagine that happening today - the delivery boys and girls would be regular targets for muggings. Another reflection on the changing times was the number of customers who left their doors open, so that we could pick up the cash from a pre-arranged place if they didn’t happen to be around. Some of them you never met, but the money was always there. Which is just as well, because the attitude of the newsagentebottle was that it was your fault if you didn’t collect from some-one, and he muttered for ages if he had to send out a bill. Children were gainfully employed in those wartime years, not just delivering papers - for instance we were expected to go into the farm fields potato picking, but perhaps we considered this good. We had to do it in school time, avoiding tedious lessons - and were paid for it! After my own paper delivering days I moved on to be the assistant on a bread delivery round for the Co-op bakery. My one abiding memory of that period of my teens was being asked by a lady “if we could help her get her old man downstairs”. Thinking that perhaps he was not well, or had bad arthritis, the van driver and myself went up stairs to get the old chap down - and realised we were dealing with a corpse! Now I don’t think many paper boys or girls are faced with that one.

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