Trevor Laffan: Final delivery... even posties’ bikes have got the sack now!

Progress is a good thing, and we can’t stop it, but we don’t always like the consequences, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Final delivery... even posties’ bikes have got the sack now!

RELIABLE SERVICE: Postmen and women deliver the mail in all weathers, but their bicycles are being replaced by electric transport

DID we ever think we’d see the day when the bicycle would be taken away from Postman Pat?

Sure, they may as well take Sonia’s O’Sullivan’s runners and Bruce Springsteen’s guitar while they’re at it.

The world is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up. Progress is a good thing, and we can’t stop it, but we don’t always like the consequences.

These days it’s all about productivity, profit margins, streamlining, and efficiency. Improving customer satisfaction means getting them in and out of the premises as quickly as possible with the least amount of interaction. Time is money and every minute counts.

Many of the things we did in the old days would not be acceptable in the workplace today.

My grandfather drove my father up the walls with the amount of time he spent straightening used nails when they worked together. He was old stock and didn’t like waste, so when he pulled bent nails from pieces of timber, he would patiently flatten them on a hard surface with his hammer while humming to himself.

Then he would put the rescued nails in his pocket, with as much satisfaction as David Attenborough would muster having saved a whale.

My father tried explaining to him that the time spent straightening old nails was costing him more than the price of a box of new ones, but it made no difference. He just thought it was wasteful and he wasn’t for changing.

Time meant little to him, or anyone else in those days, but it’s a precious commodity now.

When I was young, my parents had an account with a local newsagent and in that shop, there was a large timber construction on the wall behind the counter. It was divided into pigeon-holes and each pigeon-hole had the name of a customer printed underneath it. Whatever reading material the customer ordered was placed in there and kept until it was collected.

My father loved Time magazine, my mother had her favourites, and I had my weekly copy of Shoot, the football magazine, and they were always waiting for us in the pigeon-hole. They never went astray.

It was a simple, uncomplicated system that worked well, and the account was settled at the end of the month. I never considered that one day it might come to an end, until it did.

Maybe it was considered labour-intensive and too time-consuming but, in any event, the pigeon-holes went by the board. It’s hard to find a shop that even takes orders now and, when I’ve tried from time to time, it hasn’t ended well. On a good day, they’ll write my name on a paper and put it somewhere safe but even then, it can disappear.

It’s nobody’s fault. Shops aren’t designed to act as newsagents and shop assistants have enough to be doing without worrying about my order. It’s just another sign of the changing times, like the disappearance of Postman Pat’s bike.

An Post is doing away with delivery bikes and, according to their website, the top-notch Pashley Pronto bike has been the workhorse of An Post’s fleet for many years.

Staff who previously used one on their delivery routes are being equipped with the latest electric trucks, vans and trikes.

No doubt the new electric bikes and vans will be more practical, more efficient and better for the environment, but will they be better for rural Ireland, where community life is already taking a battering?

A shortage of priests has led to reduced services in some parishes and the closure of many garda stations, small pubs and post offices has done little to promote community spirit.

Young people aren’t too concerned though because they don’t need Mass to meet up. They don’t need the small rural pub either unless it has Wi-Fi and loud music, and they don’t need a newsagent with pigeon-holes because they don’t buy newspapers.

They have little use for the post office because they don’t write letters. They communicate with each other by email, text, or through their headphones while shooting the enemy on their latest internet war game.

They buy everything from Amazon, and have it delivered right to the door by courier, so they are less reliant on Postman Pat than the rest of us. That doesn’t bode well for the future of our posties.

Postmen and women all over the country came in for a lot of praise for their dedication during Covid-19. They’ve been going the extra mile for their customers and keeping an eye on isolated and more vulnerable neighbours. Checking in on them to make sure they’re OK.

They collected parcels and letters during the lockdown and distributed them free of charge. They fetched provisions from the shops and pharmacies and delivered local newspapers. They really rose to the challenge and deserve the plaudits for their service to the community.

It reminds me of a postman we had in Cobh, when I was a child, called Kevin Sealy. He was a giant of a man standing well over 6ft tall and he wasn’t skinny either. He was a fine cut of a man.

He travelled everywhere on his trusty bicycle and it looked tiny when he walked beside it. He had a word for everyone and always seemed in good humour. He was well regarded and, like a policeman, he brought a sense of security with him wherever he went. Nobody would mess with Kev. He was part and parcel of the daily routine and a fountain of knowledge too.

If Kevin were around today, he would find this changing world a strange place. He would have plenty to say about it and taking his beloved bike away from him wouldn’t be easy either.

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