Home delivery is not a new-fangled idea at all. Back in the 60s I was part of a small army of delivery boys working for the many grocers in Pontycymer’s Oxford Street.
The job was, as I remember, very lucrative in many ways: it was paid work for a start and if you were diligent and keen you might get the chance to actually work behind the counter permanently.
The reason I answered the advert in the window for a Delivery Boy wasn’t the food or the proximity of the fragrant girl assistants. Oh no! It was the ‘Transport provided’ bit that hooked me.
A bike! A delivery bike, a huge heavy black bike, complete with a basket attached, which I could take home. I flew through the
interview, hours of work, rate of pay etc. I couldn’t wait to seen on ‘my’ bike racing from house to house with the orders; I had not completely thought out the job, had I? Pontycymer had some very steep hills which I would have to pedal up before I could even think of speeding down. It is a wonder that I did not get thighs like Sir Chris Hoy. Well, of course it did not take too long for me to realise there was another fly in the free transport ointment, which was that this involved me being responsible for the bike’s maintenance! And I was even paid an extra Half a Crown (2/6) per month to pay for parts.
I freely admit I was very lax in this matter, oiling the beast only when I remembered and letting the inner tubes resemble my Nana’s patchwork quilt, and spending the extra money like a drunken sailor in Jack’s or at the Cinema in the ‘Mem’, or Top Hall.
My downfall came when I had swapped the brake blocks around too many times for them to be of any use at all. I took a delivery up to Upper Adare St, and Job done, and with a shilling tip in my pocket, I turned my bike around and headed back to the shop. Halfway down the street I attempted to slow down to take the David St hill. I squeezed the brake only to see the front brake blocks fly out on either side! The same thing happened to the back brake. Now going too fast to negotiate the corner, I hurtled into Lower Adare St. This street ends in a stone wall, there was a very small pedestrian way at the bottom, but there was no way I was going to make the turn into that at speed. That wall had already claimed the life of one Garw boy: Albert Healey had been out on his bike in 1948 and his brakes had failed, he crashed head on into the wall and died instantly.
There were hardly any cars in the street I remember, my choices were limited, the street on one side is lined by the Grammar School wall, and on the other side were houses with railings. Panicking I closed my eyes and stuck my foot into the front wheel spokes!
I sailed over the handlebars and landed on the gravelled road, My foot was hurting, and when I looked down I saw that I had lost the top of my dap, and most of the toenails on my right foot. The bike was several yards down the road, mangled and resting against the wall. I also had a major case of gravel rash
down one side, a ripped and torn jumper and jeans, but I was otherwise unharmed. I was shaking all over but alive, but that presented a problem in itself. How was I to explain the damage to my clothes? The cuts and bruises I could shrug off as rough play, but to ruin your clothes was a major crime. It was no good looking for
sympathy when I got home, I know I got a good hiding from my Mam first and then my dad when he got home from work, which at least took my mind off the pain in my foot. And I had to spend the weekend and my wages putting the bike back in order! The Ffaldau blacksmith did help me out by heating up and straightening the forks and welding some of the broken bits back in place, but I had to trawl the river as far as Llangeinor to scavenge a couple of decent wheels and other fittings. I bought new tyres and inner tubes, and when I got the bike back to the shop it was almost good as new.
My foot had lost all its toenails and was very swollen, so much so that I could not put a shoe on. I got around this by wearing a Wellington boot, traditionally bought several sizes too large to enable you to ‘grow into them’, and it fitted like a glove.
I was picking bits of gravel out of my elbow and legs for quite a while afterward but they eventually scabbed over nicely, which afforded me hours of endless fun ‘picking’ them off again. My bicycle maintenance improved no end from then on. I had a few more spills, but that was considered another occupational hazard for a delivery boy in those days, along with dogs with a death wish trying to bite the tyres, and of course sheep!