Josna Rege

47. The Paper Round

In 1960s, Britain, Stories, Work on May 26, 2010 at 4:14 am

photo from bbc.co.uk

When one is fifteen and one’s pocket money is only half a crown (2s 6d) a week (only 30 new pence or no more than 75 cents), one becomes desperate to find a way to make some money of one’s own. That was my condition in the spring of 1969. When you consider that even a 45, a vinyl single, cost seven and six, or three weeks worth of pocket money, you may get an inkling of just how desperate I was. I had managed to buy Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go to, My Lovely” (4 weeks at No. 1), and the Beatles’ “Get Back” (6 weeks at No.1)  and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (top of the charts for 3 weeks despite being banned by the BBC for blasphemous content), but there wasn’t much left over for anything else.

My desires were few and focused. I longed for a cloche, black leather boots, and a long woollen maxi-coat, Twiggy-style, but the prospect of ever saving up enough was pretty dismal (not to mention the trips to the sweet shop I would have to give up). I had racked my brains, but the only idea I had been able to come up with was strawberry-picking in the summer, and it was highly doubtful that I would be allowed to go, even in the unlikely event that I were able to work out how and where to make inquiries about it, let alone actually get the job. So when the local newsagent told my Uncle Ted that he needed someone for a weekday morning paper round, I jumped at the opportunity.

The trouble was, my cousin Jacky wanted a job too, so since, at 13, she was underage even for a paper round, Uncle Ted stipulated that I would have to take her with me and share the pay with her at the end. I had no choice but to agree, although I’m afraid I did so with a bad grace. After all, some money would be better than none.

It seemed ridiculously early, as if we had only just gone to bed, when the alarm went off that first Monday, and Jacky and I bundled up to face the chill autumn morning. Uncle Ted must have driven us to the newsagent’s to pick up the papers but I can’t remember for sure, neither can I for the life of me remember what we used to lug them about with us, and whether we went on foot or rode our bikes. Our route wasn’t too long; it included Admiral’s  Walk and several dead-end closes and crescents off the high street. Once we had got the hang of it we should have been able to get it all done in half an hour and still have time to change into our school uniforms; theoretically, at least.

In fact it was a tremendous scramble every single day, and that week seemed interminable. Struggling out of our warm beds was bad enough, especially for teenagers, and, after the job was done, bolting our breakfasts and belting out the door in time for school, but the paper delivery itself was unexpectedly stressful. The worst part was keeping track of who got which paper. The tabloids were the most popular, on our route the Daily Mail and the Sun, while some houses took both the Mail and the Daily Telegraph, and a much smaller number took just the Telegraph or the Manchester Guardian.

One morning in particular nothing seemed to go right. We started late, so we had to rush, and were trying different tricks to shave time off each segment of the route.  We had just perfected a coordinated folding and stuffing action, and were quite pleased with ourselves about how efficiently we had stuffed the last row of mail slots, when we suddenly realized that we had delivered tabloids to the whole street when they should have received the highbrow Telegraph—and even, in a couple of cases, the highly refined pink Financial Times. Our blood ran cold when we realized what we’d done, but we couldn’t even contemplate knocking at  every single door to explain ourselves. We made one mad dash back up the row again, creeping up to each door and managing to retrieve some papers that were still sticking out of the slots, but several of them had already been collected and, in any case, we had to get to school. The moral dilemma hung over us for the rest of the week, and I’m not sure what we were more afraid of, confessing our mistake to the newsagent or losing our job; probably the former.

We were soon exhausted. By the time we got to school in the morning we felt as if we’d already been up for hours—we had; and evenings lounging in front of the telly were cut short because we had to go to bed earlier. I tried to keep my eyes on the prize—the cloche (£2, Mary Quant)—but by week’s end they were getting too bleary to focus on much of anything. At last Saturday morning came and Uncle Ted went to pick up my—our—first week’s wages (I was too frightened to face the newsagent, since I still hadn’t said anything about our terrible mistake).

What a let-down! I was to have got a whole guinea, but by the time I had given Jacky her half  (which, privately, I didn’t think was quite fair), all I had for my pains was a paltry ten and six; at that rate I would have to work for a whole month of weekdays before I would be able to afford the cloche, let alone the boots and the maxi-coat. I can’t remember now who decided to call it quits, and I don’t know who was more relieved, Jacky and I or our long-suffering parents, who, now I come to think of it, had also been getting up that much earlier all week in order to make sure that we got up, out, and back, changed, breakfasted, and off to school on time.

One silver lining was that the newsagent never said anything about having received complaints about the misdeliveries. It’s lucky we hadn’t made the reverse mistake, of delivering the Financial Times to households that took the Sun, or we would surely have heard about it; as it was, I expect that a few people rather enjoyed page 3, for a change, instead of the stock market report.

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  1. hi Jo. You have solved a mystery for me, as i always had this vague memory of having done a paper round in the dim and distant past, and remembered so little of it that i had wondered if it was figment of my imagination!
    Now I know why – I must have been doing it while still in my sleep, from your description. I do remember the 45s though – and the excitement around the arrival of each one – almost exclusively brought into the house by yourself!! Also the one of the main admirers of this ‘new music’ being my father , despite his love of ‘running it down’ as well. Ithink one of his favourites was Jimmy Cliff.

    Do you remember my dad’s running commentary while we watched ‘Top of the Pops’ !!?

    • Hi Jacky, until you said paper round I had forgotten that that’s what it’s called in England!
      Yes, I certainly do remember Uncle Ted’s running commentary on Top of the Pops. And Opportunity Knocks–I could write a whole entry just on the importance of those two programs in our lives. I think it was Desmond Dekker, singing “Israelites,” that he found amazing, mostly because he danced as if he was made of rubber. He and Mum loved Mary Hopkin singing “Those Were the Days”—she got started on Opportunity Knocks.

  2. How wonderful to read Jacky’s memory of the paper route and, more vividly, the 45s that you brought to the house. Now I want to hear about Uncle Ted’s responses to the music that you and your cousin enjoyed. During the ’60s and ’70s in the U.S., we referred to the disconnect between the teenage/parent cultures as the “generation gap”. My parents could barely tolerate it.

  3. jo the fella I loved so much on Opportunity Knocks was Hughie Green.
    Now I know how to add commentary, (Jackie on phone now instructing) i’ll be doing it more
    unc ted

    • Uncle Ted, so glad you can comment now. Yes–Hughie Green! Just the day before yesterday Mum and I were looking at a book of photographs from the 30s, 40s, and 50s that you had send Mum in 1982, with terrific annotations you had written for the photos. One of them was a photo of a touring show bus with a young Hughie Green grinning out of the window. x Jo

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