Becoming the posh postie
Friday, 20 April 2012

How I became the ‘posh postie’

Tessa Hainsworth gave up her high-flying career for a new life by the sea and is now happily delivering letters – and dodging the dastardly local dogs

One of my first job interviews as a 17-year-old came from an advertisement in The Lady. It was for a position as PA to a Swiss banker in Mayfair, but when I was asked whether I could drive a Rolls-Royce through Europe, I obviously didn’t sound convincing enough. I had only just passed my driving test, after all.

If my driving skills had been better, my life could have been completely different. But then I never would have ended up, rather unexpectedly, living in a remote Cornish village… and working as a postie.

It did, however, take me quite a long time to get here. For 20 years, I was a ‘high-flyer’ with a young family I hardly ever saw and a fantastic husband with whom I was usually either tearful or stressed.

Family holidays were often spent in rented Cornish cottages and the journeys back to the city got harder each year. Then came an epiphany, the sudden realisation that we have just one life. Although we had a lot of material things, we agreed that we needed to re-think our priorities.

Luckily, I had a husband who was up for an adventure. We moved to a cottage a mile from a glorious beach and a lovely small village school – but our savings soon began to vanish. Never the most practical couple, we discovered that our cottage needed vast amounts of money spending on it and very soon we were in serious need of work.

My husband had trained as an aromatherapist and found work in local up-market hotels, but I was turned down for everything I applied for. I was overqualified, they said. But then I overheard a conversation at the school gate about a postman giving up his round. I applied and, being the only applicant, got the job. My husband looked at me in disbelief and my children howled with laughter when I modelled my new work uniform of baggy shorts, huge fleece and Doc Marten shoes. My new colleagues were friendly, but it was obvious that no one thought I would last more than a couple of weeks.Posh postie

Once I got used to the early (4am) starts, however, I fell in love with the quiet, dark country lanes, watching dawns over the sea and getting to know the remote cottages and farms and their inhabitants. No longer on a major salary, I actually felt richer in other ways: I had peace of mind and that irreplaceable time with my husband and my two children (five and six at the time). The other bonus was that I was being paid to exercise; I soon shed two stone walking my sevenmile post round and I became incredibly fit (not to mention hugely knowledgeable about the local area).

When I first started, I was unsurprisingly treated as an oddity. It was obvious to everyone that I was a townie and unsuitable for the job. When I questioned the request to deliver a fresh fish, for example, I was informed that it was easier and cheaper to post it than drive it across Cornwall. It was clear that I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.

The locals had been accustomed to the same postie for 18 years and my new face was treated with good-natured trepidation. After my first shift, a certain Mrs Grey coined a nickname for me after she complained about my postal delivery.

‘Tell that posh postie that the next time she delivers to me, to make sure she comes in the kitchen door and puts the post on top of the fridge, as I’ve got another kitten now and it’s been housetrained to pee on papers.’

From that day forth, I was always known as the ‘Posh Postie’.

One skill that I found to be essential was to remember how to treat the various dogs on my round. Luckily, I was provided with a detailed itinerary of each dog’s treat preference: the border terrier eats only green biscuits; the bearded collie/poodle cross likes only the bone-shaped yellow ones, and the black German shepherd will eat anything, including the odd postie.

At first, I was given a ticking off by the owner of Lily (the border terrier) by spoiling her with too many treats, while the owner of the collie/poodle tutted with disapproval when I offered him only one measly biscuit.

The warning about the local German shepherd also proved to be wellfounded. He resided at the last house on my round and I had started feeling quite jaunty as I neared the end of my first round. Initially, there was no sign of the dog, but after I had put the post in the letter box, I heard an almighty racket, barking and howls like a wild beastie, along with some petrified (human) shouts and screams.

‘Batman, stop! Come back, stop! Here boy, here!’

Batman? I thought wildly as I stood frozen to the garden wall. There was a roar and a growl as a huge monster of a dog jumped on to my chest and pinned me back against the wall, his massive jaw at my throat. I nearly fainted with terror.

Just in the nick of time, a woman, who was as tiny as her dog was huge, appeared screaming at him. ‘Batman, get off!’ Batman daintily disengaged his giant paws from my shoulders and meekly sat down at his owner’s feet.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘He’s never done that before.’

It was the first time I had heard those words, but I guessed it would not be the last. Not from this woman and this particular dog, nor from the owners of countless other yappy, tiny creatures and huge, hulking hounds who think baiting – or eating – the postman or woman is the greatest thrill life has to offer.

Tessa Hainsworth, known locally as the Posh Postie, has captured her years as a Cornish postie in her three books. Written with warmth and good humour, they are all perfect holiday reads. Up With The Larks, Seagulls In The Attic and her latest, Home To Roost, published this week by Preface at £14.99.

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