I live in an out-of-the-way sort of place. Sometimes it feels like the end of the earth. Believe me, when everything goes grey in November, when the only-road-out starts to flood on a regular basis and the gale-force winds arrive, you wouldn’t want to be here. It’s mostly a case of staying indoors till March.
So, we are a long way from anywhere, and not everybody has a car. I do have a car but can’t afford the petrol to go gadding about unnecessarily. I drive when I absolutely must, and then I try to accomplish everything on my ‘To Do’ list in a single round-trip – get petrol, attend dental appointment, parcel to Post Office, collect medicine from vet, farm shop for birdseed, etcetera. It requires careful planning and makes for a long, tedious outing. Infrequently as I get out of the house I am always relieved to get home.
Hardly surprising, then, that most people round here shop online, which means an awful lot of vans. On any one day, van after van arrives – Post Office vans, Amazon’s courier; everyone else’s courier; a giant lorry delivering parcels in bulk for one of its couriers, who lives here; delivery vans bringing groceries from all the major supermarkets. That’s not counting, of course, all the other traffic – plumbers, electricians, dustmen, drain-unblockers, odd-job gents, cavity-wall insulators, solar panel specialists, the gypsies’ truck looking for scrap metal, mobile dog-groomers…
Our community would be hard put to manage without all these incomers. We have no Post Office, no chemist, no railway station, no petrol station, one bus stop and one tiny, inadequate all-purpose-type shop. You might just be able to survive on that shop if you were a carnivore and had only one pet, but not a hope for vegetarians or those who need to buy pet food in bulk; it’s steak and kidney pud or all-day-sausage-and-bacon-breakfast-in-a-tin, combined with mushy peas in a tin, or nothing, and if you find a couple tins of Whiskas on the shelf you’re lucky. That was their stock for the week. By mid-morning there’s no bread left. If you need to post anything bigger than a standard letter or postcard you either drive twenty minutes or walk twenty-five minutes (and another twenty-five back, by which time it will be raining).
So obviously we tend to get to know the various couriers, or at least recognise them. Most of them are nameless, so we think of them as DPD, Yodel or whatever. A few get nicknames. The one who comes to me a lot is the Amazon delivery guy. I get virtually everything through Amazon, from paperback books to spare light bulbs to cat litter to duct tape to birthday cards. I do know his name now, if only because Amazon keep texting it to me in advance of his visits, but for a long time he was just Nice One. This is not because he is particularly nice, although of course he may be, but because every time I succeed in scrawling some sort of signature into the little box on his recording device he exclaims Nice One!
And then there’s No Speaka de English. Now, this isn’t a name I invented – I don’t think I’d want to be that patronising – but it is what the neighbours call him. I don’t know what nationality he is, but obviously not from round here. It was a bit of a problem at first because he really didn’t seem to speak more than a couple of words of English. If you had to go out and left the usual note taped to your door – Gone out. Back soon. Please leave parcel round the back/ in the greenhouse/ in the recycling bin/ under the doormat – if it was No Speaka the note would be ignored. Instead you’d get a card poked through the door with a ticked box to inform you the parcel had been left with a distant neighbour or returned to the depot. But then if No Speaka couldn’t decipher our notes, how was he to act upon them?
At first he didn’t smile. He’d appear on the doorstep with the parcel and his little black recording box and mumble Chhhello with eyes downcast. As soon as the parcel was signed for it was Bye-Bye and off up the garden path. Inevitably you found yourself calling Bye-Bye after him, then feeling foolish.
After a while he became bolder. Once he arrived in his delivery van just as I was walking back from posting a letter. Good time! he shouted up the road. Yes, I shouted back, Good time! Then I thought, maybe I should have shouted Good tim-ing. How’s he going to learn if everybody speaks pidgin back to him?
Then the other day he turned up with one of the biggest parcels I have ever seen. I’d mail-ordered a plastic dog kennel kit-thing to replace the old wooden rabbit hutch I’d been using as a food shelter for feeding stray cats and a hedgehog overnight. Over the years frost, flood and the weight of many a large tomcat and snuffling, hefty hedgehog had done for the raised floor, which had split and fallen through. But I had underestimated the size and weight of the kit-thing. When I opened the door and discovered No Speaka de English fidgeting there, more or less obscured by this giant, unweildy parcel my face must have told the story. Oh My God! I gasped. He grinned. Oh My God! he said, mimicking my accent and horrified expression perfectly. Leave round back? Usual place?
No Speaka de English is learning. Learning de English and learning to connect.