“There aren’t enough hours in the day”: a self-employed private courier, on the Christmas delivery round

So. Many. Parcels. Image: Getty.

This festive season the new sport seems to be courier bashing. The latest installment comes from the Daily Telegraph, under the headline “Delivery drivers using ‘Sorry we missed you’ notes to get out of Christmas rounds, Which? survey finds”. As usual the story is twisted and distorted, and several bits of it don’t make sense if you are a self-employed courier trying to make a living developing parcels.

The Which? survey finds that 9 per cent of people have had calling cards pushed through the door, even while they were in. But it is unlikely that many of these notes were left by someone who made no effort to knock on the door or ring the bell. Unless the courier is paid by the hour, which few are, we do not get paid for posting a card and running away: we don’t get paid for a failed attempt, only for the successful delivery.

So if we’ve managed to make it to the house, why wouldn’t we complete the job, save ourselves a return visit, and get paid? Most couriers have, however, experienced the strange phenomenon in which a customer can’t hear you hammering on the door, but can, somehow, hear a piece of paper falling on their doormat.

The second finding, of customers being told by email or text that a delivery was attempted when no-one was seen or heard, is also easily explained. This is due to a glitch in some carriers’ notification systems which says a delivery was attempted, whenever it’s been carried forward to the next day for any reason whatsoever. The carriers don’t exactly broadcast the existence of this glitch, but it’s also not a secret: the tiniest amount of digging by either Which? or the Telegraph could have turned up this nugget. We couriers are trying to work with our carriers to get this system fault rectified.

Since Black Friday delivery numbers have been extremely high. I have been supporting my colleagues in neighbouring rounds. I also worked the following two Sundays: many of my customers have expressed surprise at seeing me on unusual days or at unusual times.

At this time of year I deliver between 100 and 150 parcels a day; some couriers have over 200. At those rates, you are left with less than a couple of minutes at each house, which doesn’t leave much time for knocking on neighbours doors trying to find the one person who is in, and who is sometimes getting quite grumpy because they have a hall full of parcels for neighbours who ordered things to be sent to houses that they knew would be unoccupied during working hours.

Stories about what happens to couriers under those pressures, and couriers who make honest mistakes when making decent attempts at safe place deliveries, are to be found in local newspapers up and down the country. I don’t condone couriers who dump parcels on doorsteps, over gates or otherwise cut corners; but any criticism of misdeliveries should take the demands placed upon us into account.

We do our best to get your parcels to you when we receive them; but with numbers as high as they are at the moment often there aren’t enough hours in the day. Carrying a parcel forward without visiting a property is not done lightly. One day I had so many that I worked from before 8am until 9pm but only managed two thirds of the parcels assigned to me and, yes, that meant some people didn’t get their next day deliveries. It pained me to have to throw in the towel, but there was nothing I could have done. The next day I made my best efforts to catch up and many customers greeted me with, “Did you call yesterday, cause I was in.” They had all received those misleading emails that we couriers so, so love.

It is hurtful that the press do not take a more responsible and balanced attitude to reporting on these issues. But perhaps to do so would be more dog bites man than man bites dog.


“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”

Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.