Today , I went running. There, I’ve said it. I don’t like to admit to it too often as it perpetuates the myth that I do have some extra time when I could be cleaning. But now I have, I’ll tell you that that there was a frost on the ground and a clear blue sky. There wasn’t a car on the road and the birds were singing to me. It’s what I class as perfect running conditions.
I exaggerated about the cars on the road, there was a tiny yellow van which kept passing me, pulling up ahead, then overtaking me again later. Generally I run in another place, populated with a great deal of fairies and abstract thinking but I did take a glance back into reality to see what significance this yellow van held to my sunny day in March. It was a newspaper delivery van.
I thought about this van and decided that delivering newspapers in a motor vehicle was not very environmentally friendly. I suspect this may have been an electric vehicle which is highly commendable and as soon as they introduce gas pumps on street corners within 50 miles in all directions of my home and take a nought off the sale price, I’ll be first in the queue for one. But nonetheless, nobody could claim an electric car to be as environmentally friendly as going on foot or even by bike.
I ran over the hump-backed bridge, onwards to the half-way point. There it was again: the yellow van. Where have all the newspaper boys and girls gone, I asked myself. Some would say that teenagers won’t do menial jobs anymore and that all they’d do anyway is sling a bag of fliers over the hedge. I would be inclined to think that teenagers, in this case, like every other teenage generation before them, were being given a raw deal.
I suspect there would be the odd delivery person who would cast their sack of fliers and free newspapers over the wall and have the job ‘done’ in a fraction of the time. I suspect this because there were people who did that when I was a teenager in the eighties. Given half the chance, the next generation of teenagers would be doing that too.
But not all of them. And, if my experience of today’s teenagers is anything to go by, not many of them. They’re desperate for work. Some of the traditional routes to a bit of cash have been barred to them. Babysitting jobs are being snapped up by those in their mid-twenties, back from their degree courses, earning the minimum wage if they’re lucky and living back with their parents while they look for something better. Traffic has increased, as has an unhealthy response to health and safety and where once our offspring would have cycled to their place of pocket money, they are no longer allowed to so. Thus, unless their parents can drive them or public transport operates in the hours they wish to work, they can’t.
I realise the newsagent has to make money and I can’t expect him/ her to single-handedly attempt to rescue our youth from pocket money poverty but is he (forgive me, it’s just simpler to stick to ‘he’) really better off? Let’s forget the environment for a moment. The van will have cost a few thousand pounds, as will the fuel, insurance and maintenance. Then there’s the driver to pay. Would two or three newspaper boys and girls really cost more than that every week? And would it be really so difficult to find the ones disposing of great sacks of media and release them of their employment? Surely it needs little more than a spot check now and again.
And the paid for newspapers would look after themselves: Mrs D Mail would only miss her paper a couple of times before calling to check its whereabouts.
In my experience, people too lazy to do a proper job are generally too lazy to work out a covert defensive strategy. When I was growing up, we knew exactly where the delivery people used to abandon their wares, it was in the same place every week, over the back wall and into the compost pile (her family were very forward thinking) of Christabel’s garden. By the way, I lived in Northumberland, Christabel was nowhere near as proper as she sounds.
As I reached the half-way point and turned back towards home, I waved at the driver of the yellow van, we’d smiled at each other so often on route, somebody had to move the relationship on. He was of around retirement age and I felt guilty for a moment for depriving of him of his job, albeit only in my imagination, so I switched back to being practical. Why couldn’t the job be open to all – a set fee for delivery of all items? The job would then be open to all individuals of all ages to carry out in the manner they saw fit.
The final time I passed the parked van, the delivery person was inside and wound down his window. “You’re making me feel tired,” he said.
“It’s much more fun than it looks,” I replied and laughed to myself. While I’d been running, he’d delivered only to those houses on my route. He’d have been just as quick to put on a pair of trainers and a ruck sack and his health and the environment would have been better for it. He’d be even quicker on a bike. If he’d wanted to walk, he could, surely, he’d just take longer which would be his prerogative: these kind of things are always paid by the job rather than the hour.
Staggeringly, the way fuel prices have risen lately, for the price of a single tank of fuel, his employer could furnish him with a decent pair of trainers. I rest my case. Go newspaper boys and girls! Stand up and be counted!