It’s that time of year again, when I go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. In fact, during the week the only exposure I get to natural light is when I decide to pop out at lunch to grab a sandwich and play dodge the Christmas shopper. It reminds me of when I was much younger and had a paper round. In the summer that little round was really rather enjoyable. I’d hop out of bed at six thirty in the morning, the sun already warm and the birds singing in the trees. Short and t-shirt were ample coverage. The advantage of growing up in a rural Wiltshire village is that the average paper round was a lot more scenic than your inner city route. The round was less pleasant come mid December. Rather than popping out of bed I would have to scrape myself off the mattress, dress in the dark desperately trying to wear every piece of clothing I owned to fend off the paralyzing cold. It is quite difficult to get a bike helmet on when you are already wearing three wooly hats! I would then gingerly cycle round my route, listening to the fizz of my bike tires on the layer of crystal ice and hope that when I turned the handlebars that my bike didn’t decide to just go straight on anyway. The worst day was Sunday, when all the broadsheets added in their extra bits. I’m sure they only had all those supplements so that little paper boys like myself could grow up looking forward to a curvature of the spine. On a cold winter morning, lugging that bag around was a nightmare. And whilst I was desperately trying to get The Sunday Telegraph wine supplement to fit in a piece of pipe that doubled as a paper bin, inside the house the owner would be merrily bobbing around in slippers and a dressing gown with a cup of steaming tea. I’d even sometimes get a jolly wave or a nod of appreciation. Getting home with a numb face and fingers that actually hurt from the cold isn’t my idea of fun, but owning a cat is a win win for warming your hands again. They like the attention and, unlike a hot water bottle, they never get cold!
All in all, I’m rather glad I don’t have a paper round any more, even if at this time of year I do sometimes still get dreams about having to get up and do one. What I do know is that doing a paper round instilled a sense of responsibility and a work ethic that I have never lost. I’ve always said that every young person should have to do a job like a paper round. Delivering those papers, come rain or shine, frost or snow, is character building. It is the kind of spirit that made England what it is today…well, what it was in the eighties maybe. But what I have noticed recently is a distinct lack of paper boys and girls. I can’t remember the last time I saw one trudging through the streets, pulling a bag behind that is so heavy they can barely lift it. The problem is that the news is so freely available on line that people don’t need a bulky printed paper these days. There simply isn’t the market for it. I can get my news on the move on my mobile phone, so why would I sit down at the weekend for an hour and try to read something that is so large you have to use the entire dining table in order to read it. And maybe that is the problem with our country today.
We are being told by the politicians at the moment that the biggest issue, indeed the deciding issue, at the next general election will be immigration. Everyone has a view on it. Whether we should get out of the EU to close the open borders, whether it is that immigrants are coming over here to steal our jobs, maybe even that it is a good thing. No matter where you stand on the argument though it seems that one thing is noticeable. Most of the foreign labour that comes over here are only too grateful to have any job. They don’t moan at the menial jobs, or the nasty jobs. They get stuck in. And whether you like it or not, that is a good work ethic. There might be 6% of the UK population unemployed at the moment, but how many of them are unemployed because they don’t want to accept the jobs on offer? I’m willing to bet those same people didn’t do a paper round when they were young either. And I’m also willing to bet that those people who go on strike simply because they don’t get their own way didn’t do a paper round either. We are coming out of a double dip recession, welcome to the real world. Those of us who work in the private sector don’t have a guaranteed wage rise, or even a guaranteed job when it comes to it. But we did paper rounds so we know not to moan about it and sulk like a spoiled child!
There has been talk time and again that bringing back national service would be a good way to ensure that the youth of today grow up understanding the values of respect and doing their best. But I say a cheaper way would be to introduce mandatory paper rounds for all young teenagers. Get them out in the dark and the cold, dodging angry dogs and getting frost bitten fingers that Sir Ranulph Fiennes would be proud of then you’ll grow up only to glad of a nice job. You certainly won’t go on strike when the price of the office doughnut rises by 3p!