Bernard’s Good Record
by John Freeman
A fairly good record, says the manager.
It’s a very good record, Bernard says.
Off for two weeks after Christmas this year
and last year, a pattern, or coincidence?
Coincidence, says Bernard just as firmly,
I broke my ankle last year, falling over
a step on a customer’s property.
And this year I’ve had a chest infection.
How could anyone who knows Bernard doubt him?
Or seeing him, in the last couple of weeks,
back at work but looking very poorly,
imagine that was put on for effect?
He couldn’t catch his breath, had to stay in bed,
as he told us when we saw him at long last.
He says if he finishes his round early,
that half an hour’s banked by the management,
so that when he’s got a heavier load
than usual he can’t claim overtime.
And they’re giving him a larger round, he says.
It’s just impossible to do in the time.
He’s taking on an extra village next week.
He’ll do the best he can, and what’s left over
he’ll deliver on the following day.
He waves his phone. From next Monday, he says,
they’re going to watch us all through the round.
Like now, they’d notice I’ve stood here, not moving,
for ten minutes, they’d see a yellow dot
getting larger. We’re allowed forty minutes
for a break, and I never use all that,
I take twenty. The other twenty I spend
talking to customers. People are worried,
but I say, play by the book, do the job,
and they can’t touch you. We’ll see how it works out.
More strikes? Nothing planned. Another ballot.
I tell him that in Australia, or so
a friend there writes to me, letters won’t be
delivered anymore, they’re losing money.
And there was me, she says, imagining
it was a service. Bernard isn’t laughing.
That could happen here. He says Royal Mail
is considering outsourcing letters
to another company, it’s a plan
More and more I feel
what I’m bearing witness to with Bernard
is the slow death of an institution,
of a golden thread that has run through life,
with all its troubles, for two centuries.
Those of us who knew it will regret it.
the young won’t miss it and won’t care, mostly.
Perhaps some child with an imagination
will catch an after-echo, as we hear
of a gone world with linnets and skylarks,
lapwings, butterflies, hedgehogs and crickets,
and feel uneasily how sad it is,
before getting on, as we all must, knowing
that if we stand still thinking about things
or talking for too long, a growing circle
round a yellow dot in our internalised
line manager will bark at us, hurry up.