Richard Lutz, keeping his social distance, in a world called Lockdown.
The handwritten note on the envelope is emphatic, direct, to the point. No nonsense. “Four curly kales, two firelighter packs, one stamp (second class), The Herald. £2.30 inside”. It’s from Margaret and she’s on my delivery list for the elderly who regularly order food from Paul’s village shop.
She explains: “The curly kale is for the guinea pigs, the firelighters are for the front room, The Herald is for Alistair.” He’s a bit tired in the legs now as he enters his tenth decade.
On to Ethne. She’s got a bottle of gin coming with some tonic water, seven bags of crisps – not cheese and onion – and a packet of Chesterfield filter tipped Greens. But not like last week when I incorrectly delivered Chesterfield Blacks. They went straight back to Paul’s the next day. No Chesterfield blacks. “I think everyone’s got this routine of not going out down pretty well,” she says as she eyes a doubtful coastal sky.
Next door, Burt tells me a bit about his house. It has all the mod cons with underfloor heating, a pellet fuel system and solar panels. “Never have to heat the bedroom,” he announces as he takes his copy of The Herald, the paper of record from nearby Glasgow. “And they gave me £700 a quarter for all this environment stuff.” I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but Burt has it all figured out. Plus he has an eye filling view of the rumbly Clyde estuary that sweeps up the coast from Stranraer.
My route is more or less the same each day; it fits the bill of getting out each morning come wind, come rain, come some more wind and rain. I’m asked for potatoes, cat food, kindling wood, requests for posting letters- most of them addressed in that careful curling script used by ‘the older folk’.
My customers, some rooted in the village for 70 or 80 years, are all polite, chatty, interested. ho is this stranger, they want to know, that hands them their newspaper, their bread, their blue capped milk? The next time I come to the door, they know. “You’re Kathleen’s son in law in that wee white cottage.” They’ve been doing their homework. They know I live in that wee white cottage and that’s a shrewd calculation as I estimate 86% of the homes here fit that description.The route duration is linked to the length of the doorstep chats. The route duration is flexible, linked to the length of chats.
My final stop is at Mary’s. It’s a time for her to hear a voice. She lives alone and is at the door as I amble up the drive with my bags. We pass the time and we actually talk about the weather; “Oh dear,” she says, “it might be warm down in England but not here.” She seems to tug her green fleece tighter when she says this as the sharp breeze from Northern Ireland whisks through this part of the Scottish coast.
The route’s daily duration is flexible, linked, of course, on the length of delivery chats. I wear gloves,there’s a scarf wrapped around my face when I’m picking up the orders, there’s a polite but firm refusal to handle cash payment that’s not in an envelope.
Then, I’m home for morning coffee. Today, there’s not much time. Jane is part of a volunteer workforce. She’s about to pick up medicine for Andy McB. It’s her first foray with her new identity name tag and I think she’s kind of chuffed to ‘be official’.
Later after this voluntary duties, we head into the woods. It’s coming alive. There’s celandine, primrose, vinca, violets, mayflowers and the tips of emerging bluebells. Some of the early trees, like chestnut, are popping into leaf. You’d have to own a hard heart not to enjoy a bluebell wood bathed in a weak spring sunshine. It’s one of the gentle wonders of Britain.
The next day I pick up the payment envelope from Margaret of the guinea pigs. Above her list is a message to Paul the shopowner: “What would we do without you?” A gentle recognition in this, the time of living in lockdown./b>