Am Bratach No. 320
June 2018

The postie’s post
by Peter Malone

A few months ago a friend, knowing my odd predilection for reading matter that most people might consider dull and dreary, gave me a book about the post bus service in Scotland. It documents many of the services in the south and west alongside humorous stories of driver adventures such as the cyclist who was converted from train spotting to post bus spotting when the post bus stopped for a chat after the cyclist waved at him. “No train has ever stopped for me when I waved,” observed the convert.

Not much has changed, with the post often carrying shopping or tourists in need of a lift or sometimes even livestock alongside the letters and the parcels. My favourite tale in the book is the story of the post bus driver asked to carry a coffin to a local undertaker and then return with the deceased. He was a bit reluctant: not for any squeamish reason about travelling alongside a cadaver but because he was unsure whether his passenger would be required to pay full fare on the return leg of the journey.

This book was brought to mind last week while half watching TV and half listening to the radio. When my wife and I moved south in the early eighties she was distraught to discover that the program “Take the High Road” was not screened by most English regional channels and her compulsory half hour fix had to be forgone. By the time we moved back to Scotland the show had been axed and to my mind something that was one third soap opera, one third farming program and three thirds drivel was no great loss. My wife was delighted to find that STV had begun screening repeats in the wee small hours and the wonders of modern technology meant that she could “tape” these and watch them at her leisure, hence my need to listen to the radio.

However, my eye was caught by the latest episode which featured a post bus. “Funny”, I thought. “I didn’t think there was a post bus route on that part of Loch Lomondside.” Unable to bear the agony of not knowing for a moment longer if I was right I scurried off to a book case looking for my small collection of “Post Buses of Scotland” timetables. (Bear in mind my earlier comment about my reading matter preferences). I know that you can probably find all this stuff on the internet or that there will be a Facebook page dedicated to post bus enthusiasts but to my mind there is just so much more satisfaction in doing this with a physical book in your hand. Oh! The happy hours I have spent looking up septic tanks or checking screw thread terminology in Kempe’s Engineers’ Year Book or trying to track down the name of a model kit I built as a boy using nothing more than the “History of Airfix Model Kits”. If I was ever to be a guest on Desert Island Discs I would want to take as my book of choice the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and the yearbooks of course. Plenty of reading material and the volumes are substantial enough to help build a makeshift shelter. I love reference books and in fact the only reference book I am unlikely to read would be the instructions that accompany any item of white goods or furniture that should be consulted before use or assembly. My wife says that isn’t confined to me but a genetic fault present in the male of the species.

But back to the post bus timetables. Sure enough: there was no post bus on that side of Loch Lomond and so the programme makers had taken a liberty with the Royal Mail. Such artistic license is not confined to TV and the Post Office itself has been guilty of such behaviour in the past. Many years ago I spent a night or two in the Bettyhill Hotel. The heating wasn’t working so the room was chilly, the hot water was slightly colder and it wasn’t a pleasant visit. This was before the present owner, Carl Jeffries, refurbished and upgraded it to the excellent facility it is now. At that time there was a plaque commemorating Haakon of Norway, who stayed in the hotel during the Second World War. It didn’t mention whether he had hot water or not but presumably he was used to cold. There was also a small collection of postcards showing Bettyhill, mostly dating from the late 1930s. The stamp cost was one penny and they were time-stamped as well as date-marked showing that the sender was out and about by 9.15am.

We don’t time-stamp post any more other than automatically with the ubiquitous PDA which tracks when we deliver parcels to various houses on our routes. When I asked about these postcards recently Carl very generously gave them to me. One shows, according to its caption, the post bus on a journey to Bettyhill. I was a little confused by the view which you can see in the accompanying photograph [turn to page 23] and spent a few days trying to work out where it was taken. Eventually I tracked down the spot to the rough track that runs past Ard Mor to Port Swingoe. It’s a pretty little cove with a boat or two moored on the stony beach that is sheltered by steep rocky cliffs. There are no houses down there and really no reason for a postman to be on that section of road unless he was hopelessly lost, using the post bus for non-post office related activities (in which case little has changed in the last thirty years), or maybe, just maybe, he was dropping off a passenger en route to a burial at sea.

Just before I sent this off to Am Bratach I was telling a friend about the basis of the article — strange choices of reading matter. He turned to my wife and said, “Pete needs to get out more”, so where did I put those bus and coach timetables?

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