When I arrived in the USA from Halifax in 1958, I was struck by the routine way many university and high school students had all kinds of part time jobs. Back home a paper-route [paper round] seemed to be about it.
One exception was the tradition at Heath Grammar School (and other schools, I'm sure) of what we called posting, meaning signing up at the main post office on Commercial Street to help out with the Christmas rush. I think the minimum age was sixteen, and only males were hired. We worked for roughly the two weeks leading up to Christmas day. I was in the sixth form for two years (1949 to 1951) and went posting each year.
The money was good, but equally important was a feeling of adventure. Before starting we got a mimeographed sheet which decreed the wearing of warm clothing, the necessity of gloves, scarf and stout walking shoes. In practice I always felt hot and rarely wore my gloves. Yorkshire winters were so gentle compared to those in North America that I was later to encounter. Also the letters were much easier to handle and push through the letter-box with bare hands. While on duty we wore an official post office arm-band.
On the first morning we were assigned to the postman whose route we would do. An effort was made to put us in familiar territory, and so it was that my route began at King Cross and followed the Burnley Road (with several diversions, including Green Lane, a bit of Rochdale Road and the nether stretch of Willowfield Road) ending at the Peacock Inn at Cote Hill.
Along one part I could look down at our house, number 23 Willowfield Road. My mentor was a pleasant chap who drove a motor bicycle, and claimed, not entirely convincingly, to be satisfied with his ten pounds a week wage. The first day he had the letters sorted in proper order, but by the next day I could pretty well do it myself under his watchful eye. There were three daily weekday deliveries: early morning (by far the heaviest), followed by lighter mid-morning and afternoon.
On Saturday morning I remember just one delivery. The best part of the job was meeting the customers, some because I delivered packages and large envelopes that required knocking on the door, others were waiting for me.
At the beginning of my route was a wonderful collection of workers' row houses (long since demolished except a beautiful small stair tower, popularly known as Tatie Tower) built by the philanthropist Wainhouse of Wainhouse Tower - Wainhouse Terrace, perhaps?
Two or three old single, doubtless lonely, ladies always engaged me in conversation and one of them pressed a sixpence into my hand as a rare Christmas tip. She insisted I take it.
At the other extreme, I met the lady of a rather grand house that had always intrigued me at the bottom of Trimmingham Lane. Also I delivered to even grander Willow Hall, but do not remember meeting anybody. Seems Phyllis Bentley occupied part of the Hall at that time. We were paid by the hour; the hours tracked by morning sign in and afternoon sign out.
The word soon spread that there was no point in rushing back to the post office after the afternoon delivery was done. An hour or two could be put to better (paid) use. I would hurtle around my afternoon delivery then pop off home or do some Christmas shopping. I retain slight guilt pangs for the fraud I committed.
There was time and a half or even double time for some periods such as Sunday work. I volunteered for a final (overtime) early morning delivery on Christmas Day. I was assigned an unfamiliar route that stretched down the far side of the Moor below Crossley Porter School. A light snow was falling on the deserted streets. All was appropriately peaceful. At the end of one row street I realized I had misdelivered everything one house up. No harm done. I imagined some Christmas bonhomie, everybody redelivering the mail to their next door neighbour.
Next Christmas, I was promoted to city centre parcel delivery, feeling very grand accompanying the taciturn PO van-driver, bowling into all the businesses and shops on Horton Street, ogling the secretaries, taking in the wide variety of occupations and products. I was no longer my own boss, no skiving off home.
Being a postman gives you gratifying feelings of intimacy and ownership of your route that is difficult to describe. And I was left with great respect for all postal workers.
I also had two summer jobs during those years at Heath.
The best involved farm-work. In a field opposite our house a local farmer called Valentine grazed cows, whose milk was delivered daily by a horse-drawn van. The driver filled our jugs and pitchers with delicious unpasteurized milk and cream ladled from large milk churns. The herd was TT, meaning officially tested to be free of tuberculosis, hence safe to consume untreated.
Further up Willowfield Road, in the direction of the Peacock Inn, the farmer had a large hayfield, and it was there that I and a good pal were hired for a few days to help with haymaking. Fun work that ended somewhat badly. We two lads were left alone to manage a horse pulling a large wooden rake. Somehow part of the horse's leather harness unravelled, got entangled in its hooves. As farmer Valentine, high atop the hay wagon, looked on helplessly the spooked beast broke free of the rake, and took off, gathering speed, out through the open gate, turned left up Willowfield Road, then right on Willow Drive and soon reached Burnley Road. Resisting a likely hankering for a pint of Webster's at the nearby Peacock, the panicked equine turned right again towards King Cross, ignored its home at the Valentine farmhouse complex across the Burnley Road, and only came to a halt almost at the King Cross intersection, witnesses later said, when the bits of harness tightened around its legs, impeding all further motion. For days the marks of its horseshoes were visible along the Burnley Road sidewalk. Luckily no cars or pedestrians seemed to have got in its way. That was the end of our haymaking job.
By 1950, runaway horses were no longer the serious danger they posed earlier in the century. There was still a little bit of horse-and-cart activity in Halifax, especially beer-barrel delivery and pick up. Often, walking to or from school, I would admire Ramsden's dray horses waiting outside the Wellington for their masters to down a few pints.
Another year a family connection of my haymaker pal got him and me a job at the Mackintosh factory below the railway station. This employment was to end two weeks later even more badly than the one in the hayfield.
At that time Halifax was an odiferous town. There were four breweries which made Halifax smell like Edinburgh. In some parts of town, the appealing aroma of malt, hops and fermentation was challenged by the equally appealing strains of toffee, chocolate and all the exotic ingredients that went into Quality Street. We two happy ex-haymakers arrived bright and early one summer morning at Mackintosh's to help with a seasonal rush. We couldn't believe our luck when informed that eating the candy was perfectly okay, though sneaking any outside the gates would mean instant dismissal. Little temptation because all kinds of seconds were available for a token price. Method in the madness! By the end of day two, we eschewed mere toffees; by day four would only consider the most sophisticated items in Quality Street, like Brazil Nuts; by day six we never wanted to taste sweets ever again. The end came when bored of of our skulls we were caught skiving and given our cards
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