30 Dec

PHE has placed me under house arrest

It’s a bit parky out there this morning, so I’d better not stray beyond the front door.

Public Health England (PHE) has told the aged to stay indoors. And they define an aged person as someone over 65. Well, I’ve been aged for nine years, going on ten and I’m afraid I’ve not been behaving myself. When, aged 70, I was living in North London in the coldest winter for a decade, I used to run round the park in shorts and t-shirt. According to PHE, it’s a miracle I’m still here to tell the tale.

That’s nothing. My grandfather Jim Priestley (born 1882) was a newsagent. For more than fifty years he walked five miles twice each day in all weathers, often in the dark, through the back streets of Leeds with two bags of newspapers to deliver. He was well-known among the locals for singing as he went and one of his songs was, “Poor little Joe, out in the snow.”

There were only two days in the year – Christmas and Good Friday – when there were no papers. Mind you, he had it easier on Sundays when there were no evening editions.

So I reckon he walked, heavily laden, 65 miles every week. 3300+ miles each year. About 165,000 over fifty years. That’s equivalent to nearly seven times round the earth or two-thirds the way to the moon.

He was still working aged 75. Energetic, enterprising and popular, he built up his business until he owned three shops: one on the railway bridge, near the Crown Wallpaper warehouse in Armley Road; another on Oak Road opposite the jail; the third on Tong Road by St Mary’s church.

In the coldest winter of the 20th century 1963, when the frost, fog and ice stayed from the end of December until Easter, Jim, aged 81, retired, and having recovered from three strokes, regularly walked the mile from the Tong Road shop, past the Oak Road establishment and down to the shop on the bridge taking messages, as he said, “To help out.”

His diet was porridge for breakfast, a pint of beer at The Brunswick pub – “The Brunny” – on Oak Road after the morning round, with stew and dumplings for lunch. About 4.30pm he would have tea and toast and some Epsom Salts and then set off with the evening bags.

He died a month short of his 88th birthday.

According to PHE, he should not have ventured out in the winter months after attaining the age of 65, in 1947.

Good job Jim Priestley didn’t know that.

Good job Winston Churchill didn’t have PHE to nag him either when, aged 67, he flew – making a long diversion to avoid enemy fire – in a converted freezing Liberator bomber to meet Stalin in Moscow in 1942.

Given these two examples, I think I’ll risk a stroll through the fog to collect the morning paper.