By Sam Lomberg
Simon Glyndwr John’s story about his policeman father brought to mind a pleasant childhood memory about another “public servant”– our local postman. Pre-war a letter posted before 6 p.m. in central London to an address in central London would be delivered with the last delivery at 9 p.m.
In those days the post was delivered morning, noon and evening. As did the local “copper”, rain or shine the postman walked his route albeit at a quicker pace, no bikes, scooters or cars – the word “service” was still in the dictionary and not a “four letter word”.
The post was also collected several times a day, with a late collection for the business post. Fitzrovia had three post offices, Rathbone Place, Newman Street and Great Portland Street and there were numerous post boxes – some divided into London and Country.
Back to my childhood memories. During the good weather months I’d wait on our doorstep for our regular postman to come by with the 9 p.m. delivery. He was a very pleasant young man – a six-footer that I called “Lofty”. I would then join him to walk the rest of his route – or as much as I could manage. We would walk along Fitzroy Street around the Square, Cleveland Street, Clipstone Street Carburton Street and surrounding streets. It was quite a route and usually I left him to go home at around ten o’clock.
Very often there would be somebody on the doorstep waiting for Lofty to arrive with the post.
“Hullo Mr. Dopolski look’s like a letter from your sister in Poland” – “Hullo Mrs. Young, how’s your daughter, recovered from her operation?” – He’d also introduce me as his new assistant. Afterwards Lofty would tell me the name of the persons we’d seen and interesting tit-bits about them – if they were foreigners where they came from, their work and so on, but no gossip about their private lives.
Maybe stopping for a chat meant that it took longer for Lofty to complete his route. But, how shall I explain it? I think it added a new dimension to his work, made it much more pleasant and interesting – he wasn’t just a postman delivering letters, he was a dispenser of good and bad news, a link to the outside world.
I may not have thought about it at the time, but thanks to Lofty I knew my way around all the back streets, discovered a mews here and there I’d never seen before, but what was most important was that I met people from all walks of life, found out what made the area “tick” – heard its “heartbeat”. Sadly I doubt the postman has the time, nor possibly the desire, to stop for a chat these days – everything moves so fast.
By the way, Dear Reader, when did you last receive a handwritten letter from a friend? “Shut up, you silly, nostalgic old man. Go and check your e-mail.”