Getting Around

Ladies' bike with basket, flowers and copy of Mearns Leader

By ”The Mearns Rover” –

Next time your teenager asks you for money, tell them to go down to Waldie’s and ask about getting a paper round to earn some cash for themselves. Then watch as they regard you with slack-jawed incomprehension and mumble something along the lines of: “Huh? A what?”

These days we are immersed in the world of the internet. In a couple of clicks you can see what the weather’s like in Kuala Lumpur, what’s happening on a webcam in Mumbai, or you can Skype your cousin in South Carolina. Digital capabilities beyond imagination have rampaged through our lives in the last 25 years. It is head-spinning to have witnessed the world change so much in such a short space of time.

Back in the late 1980s I was in my early teens. The internet did not exist, except in laboratories and in the minds of boffins. A computer was a treasured games device like a ZX Spectrum, an Atari or an Amiga, on which you would play something like “Daley Thompson’s Decathlon”, hammering the rubberised “n” and “m” keys beyond their tolerance as you tried to break the world record in the 110m hurdles (once they stopped working you would inflict similar punishment on your Kempston joystick).

The paper internet

So a rite of passage for me, along with many boys and girls my age, as we took our first faltering steps into real life, was to get a paper round. Papers were the pre-2000s version of the internet, filled with vital information for our daily lives, and almost as much garbage!

For a derisory sum, usually £1 a day, you could get up at 5am, get dressed and step out to face the world in all weathers (worst case scenario: bitter driving rain, sleet, snow or sheet ice) to deliver papers around one of Stonehaven’s paper boy / girl routes, set by the newsagents. If you were lucky you’d get an evening paper round, which was less savage as you could do it after school. If you were super tough – and / or desperate for money – you’d do both a morning or an evening one, for £2 a day!

On a Saturday, after a week of hard work, one of my old friends used to take his weekly wage of £5 down to D&D’s Amusements on Barclay Street (it was across from where Farmfoods is now) and blast the lot.

The big five

As dealers in papers, the local newsagents were big hitters back in the 1980s. The “big five” in Stoney were Waldie’s, Eddie Craib’s, Taylor’s – which were at roughly at three corners of the Market Square – RS McColl in Brickfield and Smith’s on Mary Street. Waldie’s is still there – The Last of the Mohicans – and from the square it’s up Evan Street a bit, Craib’s is now Ritchie’s Leasing, Taylor’s has gone through a few changes but is now Specsavers and RS McColl in Brickfield has been Howie’s hairdressers for many years now. Smith’s? I don’t know. A lot of my pals at that time had landed paper rounds (there was quite a lot of competition) and I wanted in on the action.

Signing up for duty

I scored when RS McColl’s announced they were going to start delivering papers around the brand-new Lily Loch Road estate. At that point none of the Canmore Parks, Farrochies or Redcloaks had been built yet and the street was a tar and brick island amidst a sea of mud, dust and piles of rock.

I had seen paper boys doing their rounds, looking cool on their mountain bikes, labouring with their bulging, battered orange paper satchels over their shoulders, which must have been holding about 60 P&Js or Evening Expresses.

However, my debut into this exciting new world was somewhat less compelling. I didn’t have a mountain bike yet, so my mum lent me her bike … her lilac and white ladies’ bike. To make matters worse it had a huge white basket on the front. I might as well have had a bunch of flowers in the front and ribbons on my handlebars.

Donning my parka, balaclava (called a sealy hoo in my family) and gloves I cut a nerdy figure as I pedalled from Martin Drive to Bricker one winter’s day for my first day on the job. I was hoping to salvage some “ghetto-factor” by getting a battered orange paper satchel for my round to at least look like a seasoned campaigner. But – to my horror – I was handed a brand-new luminous yellow one, bearing the name of the newsagent. The paper boy equivalent of Han Solo on a Tauntaun I was not … more C3PO on a Sinclair C5.

Since the street was brand new and unfinished, I only had 10 papers to deliver, so gone was any prestige to be gained from lugging around a huge bag. Picture me riding a ladies’ bike, wearing a balaclava, carrying a skinny, luminous, pristine satchel that could have lit up the inside of Pittodrie.

But it was good getting out there into the world, earning my keep (well, a miniscule fraction of it).

 Lending a listening ear and facing foul play

Two things stick with me about that paper round. One of my first stop-offs was an old boy’s house, at the start of the street. He must have been hiding behind the door because he always sprung it open to speak to me. Not once-a-month, not once-a-week … every single day! The poor lad must have been starved of human company during the day and I guess I represented a welcome relief from the silence.

Having spoken to my old pals, this is a common theme experienced on paper rounds – elderly residents stopping them for a chat most days. That’s a positive, engagement-in-the-community, human-factor service that has been lost as the internet has taken over our lives. The disappearance of paper boys / girls has probably increased the loneliness factor of those who don’t have too many people to speak to each day – an unintended consequence of progress.

The second thing I remember was the day I got my bike light stolen. One morning I parked my mum’s bike outside the shop and, as I went in for the papers, I passed two older kids coming out – one was the older brother of a class-mate of mine and he wore an intimidating scowl as he regarded me. My big rectangular front and back lights were easy to detach and I always left them on the bike when I went in for my five-minute pick-up. You can guess the rest –  I came out and my front light was gone. Rather it was my mum’s front light, and having to go home and report to her that someone nicked it filled me with a sense of doom and panic.

After my round was done I cycled home, puffed up my chest, stepped in the door … folded like an accordion and started snivelling to mother that her light had been stolen and I knew who took it and it wasn’t my fault. She dialled up his parents on our red rotary phone to have it out with the accused, while I embellished my story by saying he was a latch-key kid who was never at school and had definitely turned to a life of crime at an early age. But he denied all knowledge of the theft and that was the end of that. He didn’t give me a hiding at school for the phone call, and Colombo might conclude from this, that he was guilty after all.

Such foul play was not uncommon on a paper round. One of my old pals used to sneakily cut through nearly the whole black mesh strap of another paper boy’s bag, leaving him with just a few threads holding the heavy bag together as he set off on his round. A time bomb ready to go off as he heaved it along a few hundred yards into his round!

I asked my old Stoney pals about their paper rounds, and they have plenty of tales to tell…

Waldie’s rickety staircase

All of us have vivid memories of the narrow, winding brown wooden staircase in the Waldie’s shop that took you up into the dingy attic space, where all the papers were laid out for pick-up for the respective rounds. This attic room must still be there today.

Once I was covering someone else’s evening round at Waldie’s. It must have been magazine Friday, because, up in that attic, everyone was folding the mags into their respective papers. Then one of the paperboys excitedly shouted: “Check this out”! We gathered round to see that one resident’s weekend reading was an illustrated version of the Karma Sutra. It must have slipped past the bosses, because surely they wouldn’t have entrusted the delivery of such an R-rated publication to a bunch of hormonally overloaded teenage boys. Needless to say, this supplement didn’t survive the trip, instead being divided up equally between several culprits. Saturday dessert in that house must have been vanilla, rather than the tutti-frutti they were expecting!

Mearns Leader mayhem

Everyone that did an evening paper round agrees that Fridays were the worst day, because these were the days that the weekly local paper, the Mearns Leader, was delivered. Basically it doubled the size of everyone’s delivery bag.

One remembers carrying 25 EEs, 60 Mearns Leaders and 30 weekly magazines – a brutal bag – in a force 10 gale with driving rain in the dark … all to earn a princely £1. Another remembers 51 papers on top of a normal round on a Friday. Magazines were always a pain, having to fold them into the relevant paper before you had to heave your bag over your shoulder and pedal away.

Out on the streets

Two friends had evening paper rounds in Bernham Avenue / Crescent for different newsagents, which crossed paths. Every night one would be cycling to his next delivery, when his pal would jump out from behind a car or hedge (it was different every day) and machine gun him with his rolled up satchel.

Another mate, who has always been competitive, used to do his morning round on a racer around Stonehaven’s Old Town. He recorded his times and his best day was when he delivered his 12 papers in 8 minutes 12 seconds, a local record which was never broken. There was no “Strava” for paper boys back then, so we have to take his word for it.

Generally, the Forest Park and Brickfield estates were widely regarded as the toughest to navigate as they are made up of a rabbit warren of streets, which was daunting for a newbie.

A full paper bag also made you lopsided, and riding a bike with it could be a nightmare. Two old pals remember coming off their bikes on the ice as they struggled to balance the weight. One of them came off at the right-angled corner of Martin Ave and Martin Drive, sliding on his backside in front of an oncoming car, which stopped just in time. 

Christmas cash bonanza and working double time

The festive period was a crucial time for a paper boy or girl as this was your best chance of making some extra cash from kind-hearted residents.

Me and all my mates therefore used to go round the houses with Christmas cards to pull on the heart strings and try to score as many festive tips as possible. One had a dot-matrix printer, which was a state-of-the art piece of kit in those days. His digitally printed cards were a major hit and he was suitably rewarded for his efforts.

The affluent Urie Crescent was a highly prized paper round. £5 tips at Christmas was a big deal for a teenager and this street gave you a very good chance of scoring big-style.

But sometimes tips didn’t just come at Christmas. One of my mates fondly remembers one old lady, Mrs Titcombe, who would give him a tip every single month.

If you delivered papers on a Sunday at Waldie’s, the boss there would give you double time – a massive £2 – along with a can of coke and a Mars Bar if you helped her sort the papers.

A rite of passage

Back in the late 1980s, starting a paper round marked a real milestone in our young lives. Me and all my pals vividly remember doing them, because they were such a marked change in our day-to-day lives. The job marked a boundary line between the carefree days of our childhoods, and the much more complicated world of being a teenager. It was one of the very the first steps on the rickety brown staircase that carried us up into the dingy reality of adulthood. They were simpler times and writing this has filled me with a nostalgic yearning to go back to them.

Ladies' bike with basket, flowers and copy of Mearns Leader

With thanks to My Beautiful Caravan for use of their bike in the accompanying images