I really should say the delivery officer’s day, because the word postman is definitely sexist, but post person does not roll off the tongue like postman. The job has certainly changed in the last thirty years. For one thing post ladies were very thin on the ground back then.
In the towns delivery officers still walk on their daily postal rounds as they always have done, but the country postmen all drive round in vans today. The red bicycle is a thing of the past. In the 1980s the postman’s bike was still the same as it had been fifty years before. It still had ancient roller lever brakes and no gears, and the bicycle only came up-to-date with modern cable brakes a few years before it passed into history. If you go back a little further to the early years of the last century the rural postman rode a horse to deliver the mail.
The uniform has changed as well as the means of transport. No longer does the postman wear a smart jacket and a military style cap; to be fair he didn’t wear his hat back in the 1980s, but it was still part of the uniform he was issued with. It was the real thing with a shiny peak and brass badge, not a mere baseball cap (though that came later). In fact the uniform was a step back into the past. In the 1970s it had been a neutral grey colour, rather like a businessman’s suit, but in the 1980s it reverted to the traditional dark blue. It no longer had the red piping down the seam of the trousers, but this remained in vestigial form as red piping along the trouser pocket opening. A red and blue tie was provided, and all the postmen had to wear it; over the years the traditional tie that was secure by a knot was replaced by a ready knotted attachment that merely came away when the wearer was grabbed by the neck. This is a sad reflection on the growing violence of the time, and even the postman was subjected to it.
The uniform was blue, but gradually more and more red started to creep into it. At first this was just a panel on the overcoat shoulders, but eventually the whole top the uniform (the shirt) became this colour. The uniform had changed by the twenty-first century to a much more casual appearance. Shorts became general for summer wear, and some hardy souls wear shorts throughout the coldest months of the year. Trainers have replaced sensible black lace-ups for most postmen, and ties have disappeared completely.
At last we can get round to the postman’s day. In general it started much earlier than it does now. It was normal for him to get up at four a.m., even if he lived not far from the delivery office. He would be at work by five, and after receiving the sacks of mail, opening and sorting them, he could be ready to get the ‘all clear’ to go by seven o’clock. Part of the reason for this early start was the fact that many postmen made two deliveries a day. He worked Saturday mornings and this made his working week one of over 40 hours. This made him rather unusual, even among manual workers, by the late twentieth century. In spite of this heavy workload, because of the early start he was home by lunchtime, so the afternoons were free to the garden or go shopping.
Good Friday working ended in about 1990. No postman minded working on Bank Holidays; it was all done on enhanced overtime rate, so the pay was good. Although Saturday deliveries still continue, postmen now work a five-day week and the contracted hours have consequently been reduced. The most fundamental change is that, after half a millennium as a department of state, the Post Office is now a private business. The fact that it is now an ordinary company hardly matters, now that the writing of letters is a lost art; who really cares who delivers the advertising material and official bumf that still pours through our letter boxes? Have these people never heard of email or online communication? Nevertheless I am old-fashioned enough to regret the passing of this Nationalised service. Things which rely on a national network, like the railways, electricity, gas and even the post office need organising on a national basis, and the fad for privatising these things has not resulted in better service in my opinion.