eptember 9th 2022, 6.30am.
I switch on the ignition, the dashboard flickers and solemn radio voices in received pronunciation break the silence.
“As far as I have heard, within the next ten days or so, the Queen’s body will be brought to London either by train or by air.”
Twisting to fasten my seatbelt, I try to ignore the twinge in my lower back as I pull the van away from the kerb. I pass my neighbour, up early as usual walking his black Labrador. I skirt around the park where I wave to the woman with the Border terrier I always see there. On Fitzwilliam Street, the driver of the Star coaches bus has pulled into the lay-by for his regular cigarette.
In St Peter’s Street I find the entrance to the yard blocked by two long-wheelbase Mercedes vans belonging to a hydraulic repair specialist. I park in the street and make my way over on foot.
On the loading bay, a group of men in mucky hi-vis are gathered around the buckled tail lift of one the 600s—the small seven and a half tonne trucks used on local dispatch—the cardboard insert from a roll container has been repurposed to soak up a large pool of oil under their feet.
I pass Brian in the stairwell, he’s wearing a black armband.
“Where d’you get that?” I ask.
“It’s a sock, Kev. I just cut the toe off.”
I push through the scarred blue double doors onto the first floor where the radio is playing a succession of heartfelt ballads.
“I’m struggling a bit this morning, Kev” says Jimmy.
“Because of the Queen?” I ask.
“No, because I can’t stand Celine Dion.”
I dump my bag on my frame and adjust my knee support bandages.
Susan marches in: face mask, shorts, knee support bandages. She dumps her backpack on her frame.
“Hey, guess what? T’bloody 600’s broke down!”
“I know” I say.
Two managers walk down the alley in shirts and ties and serious conversation; some football referee or other has had a right shocker.
Lewis Capaldi’s Hold Me While You Wait floods the shop floor while Susan explains that she’s never considered herself much of a Royalist but last night she found herself in floods of tears. She’s welling up now, while she’s telling me. She says her and Douglas have a friend who’s a taxi driver in Edinburgh and all the black cabs there have been lining the streets as a mark of respect. She reckons we should do something like that here.
“We should all get in us vans and drive round town in a big concave” she says.
She pulls a tissue from her sleeve and dabs at her eyes.
“I wish they hadn’t called off the strike though” she says, “Me and Douglas were supposed to be going to Mathewson’s in Thornton-Le-Dale today. You know? The place they film Bangers and Cash.”
Adam arrives: bleached blond hair, shorts, knee support bandages. He dumps his bag on his frame.
“Bloody 600’s broke down” he says
“I know” say me and Susan.
He pulls a flask from his bag and takes a swig.
“How’re you doing?” I ask.
He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I wasn’t doing so bad until I came in here and had to listen to Jennifer Rush” he says, nodding towards the radio.
Adam thinks the union have let us down.
“They should have suspended the picket line but they shouldn’t have abandoned the strike. What message does that send out? We look like a right pushover.”
Simply Red’s version of If You Don’t Know Me By Now plays as Jimmy walks past with a handful of missorts.
“Bloody 600’s broke down” he says.
“I know” say me, Susan and Adam.
We begin prepping our walks, sliding the mail into the slots on the frame. It’s not as busy as we anticipated, perhaps the strike was called off too late for the night shift.
“Oh, I love this one though” say Adam and Susan when Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie comes on.
“It’s horrible” he insists.
Out on delivery, the couch grass on the verges down to Spring Farm has been flattened in the heavy overnight rain and I find my usual parking spot occupied by a noisy electricity generator.
“T’bloody storm’s brought all t’cables down, ha’n’t it.” explains Mr Boothroyd.
Mrs Sykes opens the door of the Lodge in the grounds of the Victorian mansion, she’s in her dressing gown and tattoos.
“Good morning, love” she says and she takes her parcel.
The birch trees are shedding first this year; the track down to the stables is lined with a porridge of leaves.
I walk through a spider’s web to give Mr Brooke his mail.
Nearly an hour in and no mention of the Royal News.
As I pass the window cleaner on the new estate of Executive Homes, he looks down from his ladder.
“Y’a’right, mate?” he says, as usual as I trip the noisy sonic deterrent that’s designed to stop cats shitting on the plastic lawns.
The skies brighten but in the lee of the cardboard box factory the road is still wet.
Mrs Mitchell tells me I’ll not be calling as often now her son’s gone off to university.
“He’s the one who orders all the parcels” she explains.
At the old mill, the joiner with the tattooed calves has lost his van keys. His shouting Paul, another joiner with tattooed calves to see whether he knows where they are.
The two grey haired women in purple fleece jackets are walking down Old Moll Road as usual.
Mr Walker at Wrigley Court apologises for taking so long to get to his door. I explain I need to take a photograph of him holding the parcel and he calls his dog over so she can be in the picture too.
The man who always answers his door in the same dirty black t-shirt says exactly what he always says;
“Good morning. Thank you. Goodbye.”
No mention of the Royal News. No mention of the fact that I’m supposed to be on strike.
I stop to empty the post box on Lea Lane, there’s a single letter inside and the stamp has been eaten by the snails. This isn’t the first time this has happened, they often nibble the envelopes and they seem to have a real taste for stamps in particular.
The woman from Cocking Steps passes with me her beagle where she always does, on the bridge. She gives me a wave and a cheery Hiya!
Two hours in and Mrs Hall is the first person to mention both the Royal News and the strikes. She’s worried that the joint birthday party she’s planned with her daughter will have to be cancelled because it falls during the official period of National Mourning. When she asks about the strike I tell her how we’ve all been standing about on the picket line drinking coffee.
“Wait there!” she says, and she disappears inside briefly before returning with a tin of Café de Panama from Fortnum & Mason, “Take this, it’s gorgeous.”
Mr Wilson on Lightenfield Lane has replaced the plastic container with the cracked lid he’s used as a mail box since the early 2000s. His new box is of a very similar design but is obviously less weatherbeaten. When I open it I’m slightly disappointed to find that the faded 2004 copy of the Daily Mirror, which served as a lining and featured a picture Gary Neville lifting the FA Cup, has also been replaced. Folded into the bottom of the new box is a copy last week’s Metro and a picture of Liz Truss.
I think about using the pair of buzzards that circle ominously above the idyllic rolling valley as an analogy for the sense of impending disaster enveloping the nation, but I decide not to bother.
At the building site which will soon be another new estate of Executive Homes, the call of the tiny blue nuthatch, thirty feet up in the sycamore, is easily loud enough to be heard above the cement mixers and JCBs. I think about somehow weaving a message of hope for the future around this little bird but it’s hard to motivate myself.
On Midway I’m caught in a torrential downpour. A curtain of water sweeps across the valley, turning the streets into rivers and cleansing them of all the horse shit, dead wood and takeaway litter. I think about maybe putting together some kind of vengeful metaphor, but I decide there’s not much point.
Number one Church Lane: “Thank you, bye bye.”
Number sixteen: “Cheers! Bye bye now.”
Number fifty-one: “Brilliant! Thanks, lad.”
Five hours in and I call at Red Irene’s with a parcel.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she says, “Why aren’t you on strike?”
I explain that the strike has been put on hold because of the Royal News.
“Everything’s been put on fucking hold!” she says. She takes the parcel and tells me to get myself back into the van and out of the rain.
I set off back to the office, past the dilapidated airfield where the engineering tycoons used to fly in from Monte Carlo in the 1960s, past the derelict Standard Fireworks factory, past the rotting textile mills in the valley bottom, past the advertising hoarding on Manchester Road which is now hosting a memorial to the Queen, and past the long queue of people, mainly pensioners who are clutching bags for life. There are dozens of them lined up along the pavement outside the food bank, past the closed down pub and almost up to the pissy phone box where the man in the long overcoat used to go to read his Dean Koontz novels when it rained.
Back at the office I hand in my PDA at the key desk and report the snails in the post box to Stewart.
“Bloody molluscs” he says, “they’ve got no respect.”
Kevin Boniface, an artist, writer and postman in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK, is the author of Round About Town (Uniformbooks, 2018) and Lost in the Post (Old Street Publishing, 2008).