After hearing plans to cut the Australia Post mail deliveries from daily to three times a week, I was reminded of my childhood in Ireland where the postman came twice a day (including once on Saturday) and almost everything was delivered or collected.
Here is my story:
When I was a child I was never alone. The most amazing assortment of people called at our door. Our only telecommunication was a party line telephone shared with the people next door and it was for emergencies only. When I was very good and a treat was in store I was allowed to dial the time and I would listen to the ‘speaking clock’ in great awe.
The postman came twice a day, knocked on the door and laid the letters out on the hall table. He was called the Admiral and I can only think it was because he was once in the navy. The baker from the Co-op called in the morning and he delivered sliced white and brown bread. Then in the afternoon the baker from Ormo came and he brought scones, wheaten bread, soda, potato and barnbrack breads. The milkman was the first to come and he delivered buttermilk, fresh milk and cream. The milk was left on the back doorstep and he collected the empties. He would call out, ‘Good Morning Mrs. Bell time to get up’ and he was as regular as our alarm clock.
All of the delivery vans and flatbed carts were pulled by horses. I particularly like the breadman’s horse Dobbin and I would take him an apple from our orchard and a chunk of bread. Sometimes I was allowed to bring him a pail of water. When the horses ‘plopped’ in the street the driver got his shovel and broom out and collected the manure in a sack. Sometimes we took this for the vegetable garden.
Twice a week the bin men came and took the rubbish from our backyard cupboard. They carried the bins out on their shoulders, tipped the contents into their lorry and delivered the bins back. Twice a week the insurance company came. On the first day they collected twopence for the life insurance policy and on the second another man from the company collected the insurances for the house. Two of the delivery men fascinated me because of their black clothes, leather aprons, coal black faces and startling white eyes. These were the coalmen and they delivered coal, anthracite and slack (slivers of coal to keep the fire alight overnight). I don’t know how often they called with the big bags on their backs and the struggle to heave them to the ground and then empty them into our coal cellar. It would have been often in winter and rarely in summer but I never got used to the white eyes in the black faces.
Once a month the knife sharpener came on his bicycle with a portable sharpening stone attached to a wheel which he pedalled with one foot. He called out along the street ‘sharpen your knives, come sharpen your knives’. My Mother rushed around collecting ours to take them to the front gate and we watched as he moved from house to house grinding knives and pushing his bike along with his stone, oil and money bag.
Every week or two a man carrying two heavy leather suitcases knocked on our door. He sold brushes and gadgets to cut down on housework and my Mother said ‘he had the gift of the gab’ and was hard to resist. A woman came with a catalogue and showed us clothes for sale. Once a year I had my photograph taken in the front garden by a man with a big camera who called at houses offering to take portraits.
But best of all once a week the ice cream van came and I got a penny to buy a poke with vanilla ice cream. Sometimes on the same day the hurdy gurdy merry-go-round came and it was a double treat as I got to ride on the hobby horse. If the one I wanted was taken I would run to the street corner, get first in the queue and wait for the horse and cart to stop again.
The herring man came on a black bicycle and my Mother would go to the gate with her plate. They were always fresh and delicious; straight from the sea and brought in a wooden crate strapped to his back. He had a strange accent and my Mother said he was French.
Every now and then the gypsies came to tell our fortunes. They would ask us to cross their palms with silver and then begin their stories of our coming good luck and success. They took clothes and rags which they swapped for china. The gypsies use china as a bank and many had fine collections which when I was a child seemed odd for people on the road in caravans. When they set up camp in the fields behind our house I was no longer allowed to go through the back gate and pick flowers. I was told that sometimes gypsies spirit children away from their homes and that was enough to keep me standing looking through the fence, but how I longed to join in their games and sit around their campfires.
We had a rag and bone man who pushed a large pram. He could be heard calling out from a long way off, ‘any old rags, any old rags’, he called out over and over. He paid a farthing for a small bundle and a penny would almost fill his pram. My mother said he was a bit soft in the head and she always gave him bits and pieces. It was only later in life that I realized she meant he was unbalanced.
A few weeks before Christmas a choir stopped under the street lamps. They pushed an organ on a cart and sang carols. I watched through the iced-up windows and their misted breaths hung in the still air. When it had been snowing it looked like a picture from the Christmas cards that adorned our mantlepiece. They would sing in the early morning almost every day for two or three weeks and I was always sad when they left on Christmas Eve. After they sang a choir member would collect coins to help the poor enjoy Christmas too.
Then we had the calls my Mother didn’t want and I had to hush and crouch down in case they looked around the back or through the letter box. These people were evangelists and came from all creeds and were near impossible to get rid of. My Mother didn’t even like our vicar to call as she got tired of the preaching and felt he compared different houses and afternoon teas with other parishioners. She thought he was a pretty miserable soul and his permanently red, long narrow, dripping nose didn’t help him to look cheerful.
But today I no longer see our postman. The letters are put in a box at the street and the hawkers and deliveries are long gone. The letters once so important in our lives have been replaced by email and even bills are sent electronically. It certainly is the end of an era and I would love to hear from you and your memories of presents coming through the post and special letters for important occasions, or perhaps you have a collection kept in a special box or ribbon.