A Shed team recently tried to earn a bob or two on the side and submitted the following report …
George Edwards reports on a venture into the sidestreets of the economy …
No Hawkers, No Circulars, No Junk Mail. No Doorstep Buying Or Selling, No Religious Discussion, No Cold Callers, No Canvassing.
Every other door is decorated with these injunctions, sometimes with the additional warning that the police may be called if you defy them.
As a householder, I have some sympathy. But as door-to-door man, I find myself being made a bit hostile by all this curt dismissal of the world outside the home. I find myself nastily wishing I was carrying news of a lottery win and could go back to base saying I couldn’t sure I’d be welcome.
As it is, I have to presume the instructions do not cover a copy of the good old Yellow Pages – once a respectable and even loved institution. But it turns out some people have carefully asked not to get even that. I miss an alert to this in the instructions for my first street and imagine the householder ringing my bosses in a fury, after years of leaving Very Specific Instructions, and putting a black mark against my record. Hands up.
Fair enough, most people probably nowadays go online to Yell.com or something instead.
“I thought you were bringing me something I’d ordered from Amazon,” said the disappointed farmer who had hurried across the yard to collect his prize.
The hard copies are catering to the last of a dwindling market. Understandably, the publishers are shaving where they can.
But the directories are still published and somebody still has to deliver them and when I was learning my way into retirement, I ticked a box somewhere saying I might have a go. I thought the odd day of labouring might be good discipline, and help postpone the day I have to give up my cigars and wine. And I thought I might get plugged into other sources of occasional income in the grey areas of the economy where pensioners lurk and swap useful tips.
The call to arms came out of the blue, with a few days’ notice of a distribution of rounds taking place at the Scout Hut, Tavistock.
My home village was already taken but I could have Bere Alston and Bere Ferrers, six or seven miles away on an isolated Devon peninsula made hard to get to by its position between the Tavy and the Tamar on their way into Plymouth. A vintage rail service from Plymouth has given them both a fair bit of commuterville but Bere Alston still has the look of an old mining village in its heart and there is a lot of rural business too.
The rounds were worth roughly 80 quid for roughly 800 copies.
The West Devon delivery organiser who called, Kevin, was pleasant and reassuring and I agreed to have a go. But I didn’t ask enough questions.
Lesson One was just how much space 1600 phone books take up. I filled the luggage space of my old Nissan X-Trail and then the rear seats, so I could barely see out of the back when I had piled my usual collection of car junk on top. Lesson Two came when I opened the doors at home and several dozen bundles of 12 Yellow Pages fell out and scattered. They are loosely tied, but no longer individually wrapped. I spend some time making room for a barricade of plastic boxes around the edges of the piles in the car and stacking the loose copies in them. By the time they are delivered, a few will have marked covers where two damp copies have stuck together. This could also be penalised, if anyone complains, but the allocation is tightly calculated and I cannot afford to throw them away.
Slightly daunted already, I recruit my wife and she organises the lists and guidance we have been given and produces a shopping basket on wheels – a good tool, it turns out.
Kevin has made an effort to provide rough maps, of streets and postcodes, which help with the decipherment of the Yellow Pages records. And with the help of a magnifying glass and a bit of Googling, e come up with a rough plan of action. The papers are held together with what are known as Treasury Tags, which are as useless as you would expect, and after the first day, we take them apart and punch them and put them back in a ring binder, along with some blank sheets for making notes of failure to deliver and the reasons for it. No visible letterbox or dry area for leaving post is one. Dogs on the loose is another.
The whole experience is a lesson in the Dogs Issue.
Some people have Beware Of Dog signs. One truth-sayer has gone for Beware Of Dog Poop, which is more like the truth in most cases. A number have dogs in the garden but no signs. No doubt the animals are sweet things if they love you, but we have enough experience to be wary of dogs which are probably in the garden because they do not get taken out much.
Then there are those which are kept inside but hurl themselves against windows and doors as if they might break through. You can only imagine the damage they are causing, not to mention what they are saying next door.
Some have learned to lie in wait below the letterbox. My wife swears she felt the teeth of one graze her fingers. Maybe dog ownership should require the installation of an exterior mailbox? Posties and paperboys would agree with that.
In the end, the closest we come to real injury is walking on that cheap decking which the Ground Force team got everybody whacking in during the 90s. Where it has not been maintained, it is now slick as oil with rot and mould. We wonder how many deaths and disasters might be traced back to good old Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh and whether it is time for a new series on how to rip out your decking and instal a proper garden.
Bere Alston has some surprisingly extensive suburbs, and a lot of extra bungalows tucked into corners, and after six hours with two of us on the first assault, we are only halfway through the job. Sometimes we are aware that we would have done it faster when young and fit – ducking under barriers, jumping past steps – but we have plodded on quite consistently. There are a lot of wasted minutes in real life which do not show up on a computer programme. Everybody’s gate has a different trick. Driveways and paths follow a logic beyond understanding. One road fades into another so you can easily double-deliver a corner. A whole set of numbers – 49-53 somewhere– is missing and even the neighbours don’t know where they are. A missing 13 is common. You cannot imagine the rare joy of finding a Number 1 on the first corner you look and being able to follow it through to a clear end.
On the second day, we give it another six hours, which includes three hours in lanes which mainly carry wet and mud down to the Tamar, trying to find not only country houses and farms but the barn conversions and annexes and business premises and extra bungalows which have been tucked in behind them.
There is still a bit of mopping up to go but that is the first round almost done – at the cost of 24 man hours, two lots of Co-op sandwiches, a couple of gallons of fuel, and one pair of shoes finished off. That’s 3.30 an hour, so far, minus expenses. Maybe the Bere Ferrers run will be a doddle which makes up for it?
Is it heckers, needless to say. We put in another 21 hours on that, plus an hour of mopping up for both rounds. The car will need the attentions of a Bulgarian cleaning gang who I wish I had joined instead. And we still have to submit reports and have our deliveries and explanations for non-deliveries checked before we get paid.
Could Yellow Pages afford to pay a minimum wage? Probably not, the way the world has changed. They no doubt have proof that the average employee in an average area can average some sort of average. If it was an area I knew, and I could bribe the local postie to help, and I wanted to get out for exercise for a couple of hours a day anyway, I might consider it. As it is, my wife says she’ll pay me more to never mention it again.
PS: Kevin was sympathetic; said office people sometimes reorganised rounds without knowing what they did; and said he’d raise a small protest on my behalf. Check my blog at http://tinyurl.com/nfe2s7d for updates if any.