MUCKING IN: Mercury journalist Stuart Laundy rolls back the years to deliver the news
MUCKING IN: Mercury journalist Stuart Laundy rolls back the years to deliver the news

The coronavirus lockdown has forced many small businesses to adapt and operate more flexibly in an effort to survive the current difficulties. The Mercury is no different and is how Stuart Laundy came to tackle his first paper round in almost 40 years.

13B... Where on earth is 13b? I have one final crisp copy of the Telegraph to deliver and my round is over.
I am stood looking at a door with a shiny brass number 13 on it, but of 13b (or 13a for that matter) there is no sign.
A call to delivery HQ at Galgate News initially brings no joy until the Oracle – in this case Paul Caffery – is consulted. Most people in Barney will recognise Paul. He's usually to be seen on his bike cheerfully carrying a couple of paper delivery bags.
And thankfully for yours truly, there isn’t a nook or cranny in the town that he doesn't know.
“Ah, you need to go through that door, carry on through the next gate and you’ll find 13b there,” he tells his 52-year-old trainee.
With that, I had completed my first paper round for almost 40 years.
Delivering papers was the first job I ever got paid for.
I used to do a Sunday morning round in Hurworth before I hit the big time and landed a job delivering milk five mornings a week.
However, for the past 30-odd years I have been involved at the beginning of the newspaper process as a reporter, photographer, sub-editor and editor.
In fact there can’t be many jobs in a newsroom that I haven’t done during a career that has been an absolute blast, helped me see the world and even introduced me to my wife.
So when an urgent call went out to join the dedicated band of about 20 lads and lasses to cover a paper round, it seemed an obvious thing to do (literally going the extra mile, as one of the newsroom wags put it).
So just before 7am on a fine late spring morning, I strapped on the delivery bag (I'd forgotten how heavy a bag stuffed full of papers is) and headed out.
Now, as back in the day, I thought I knew pretty much all of the streets and cul-de-sacs on my route.
But it is only when you deliver papers that you come across places you never knew existed... such as 13b which, on entering, struck me as being Barney’s very own Secret Garden. My round had started in straightforward fashion. A quick jaunt down The Bank and then along Newgate, down Park Terrace and on to the vicarage, where Revd Alec couldn’t resist a chuckle when he saw me approaching with his daily copy of The Guardian.
“When it comes to tips, let’s hope The Lord provides,” I joked as I wished him a good day. Then it was through the cut at the back of the church and into School Close, down the bank to Priory Close and round the corner to Thorngate. Then came the ultimate test of stamina... over the Green Bridge and up into Ullathorne Rise.
Who knew it was so steep – and curved round so far?
It was about now when it dawned up me that I am no longer in the first flush of youth and perhaps, to use horse racing parlance, I am carrying a bit of “winter condition”.
After that, fortunately, it was quite literally downhill all the way and back to the shop to hand in my bag.
There is, of course, a serious point to all this.
If you’d asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be out doing a paper round, you’d have been greeted by a strange look.
But these are strange days and small businesses – including the Teesdale Mercury – are having to adapt and operate more flexibly than at any time in their history. Galgate News, which is part of The Teesdale Mercury, has welcomed more than 200 new customers asking for their papers to be delivered in recent weeks.
And while the day job remains helping to produce the paper, if getting up an hour or so earlier to ensure readers receive their paper in time for breakfast is what it takes to see us through these most unpredictable of times then count me in.
To be honest, I’d loved every minute of it and the money earned from that first day paid for delicious scones from Shona, at Oliver Twist, which in part then went to support The Hub’s project to ensure the dale’s most in need receive the goods they require.
Delivering papers was my first job and, in a few years' time, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it was my last.