Even while we sleep, the world runs with precision.
I considered breakfast, up until a few years ago, to be a slick and well-organised operation. In the time it takes to boil an egg, I would leave the house, walk down the street, cross the main road, enter Lockwood's the newsagents, buy a newspaper, cross the road, walk back along the street, enter the house and turn off the boiled egg. The timing was perfect. Assuming the traffic lights were working and that there wasn’t a long queue in the newsagents, the egg would be just as I liked it. But then things changed.
Mr & Mrs Lockwood retired and closed the business: it became a hairdresser's. The nearest newspapers were now available from a local Sainsburys, but that was slightly further away and queues were rife. Even at breakfast time, whereas some of us wanted a paper and nothing else, others plainly couldn’t start the day without a six-pack of Strongbow, twenty Bensons, a lottery ticket and a Sporting Life whose barcode refused to be scanned. As a result, breakfast became unsatisfactory, a disjointed, slow and drawn-out affair.
Then we discovered another newsagent, a proper one, who offered a delivery service - even to our house, over half a mile away. We signed up, and ever since, with a squeak of the flap on the letterbox and a comfortable thud on the doormat, the newspaper arrives in our hallway every morning. I now boil the egg in the time it takes to eat a bowl of fruit salad. But while I do that, my thoughts are of the remarkable timekeeping involved in the newspaper’s delivery to our door.
It comes through the letterbox at precisely 5.53 a.m. Not 5.52, or 5.54, but 5.53 a.m. Every day. How? What rigid schedule determines that number 10 is reached at that precise moment every day - and why? Surely a delivery time as early as this doesn’t need to be precise? Yet it is.
We have never met our paper boy. We are pretty certain that it isn’t a boy at all, but a man. Solitary footprints in the fresh winter morning snow reveal the impressions of rugged size-13 boots. One of the children thinks he might have long hair. A card on the doormat with the newspaper one Christmas was “from Anthony”. But that’s all we know.
Those footprints visit another house in the street, but ours is the furthest they achieve before turning and heading back, so we are at the extremity of the route. I have visions of our paper deliverer, probably an ex-SAS operative, a renegade perhaps down on his luck, with his steely gaze fixed on the cold, dank pavements ahead of him, the hem of his Army greatcoat fringed with melting slush and swinging in his wake as he hits the green man at every traffic light without a change to his stride. He takes in the time from clocks on refrigerators and cash registers in the back of darkened shop premises you and I will have never noticed, in order to verify he is meeting his uncompromising schedule. Every day, his journey is wended through sleeping and empty streets with accuracy and determination. The newspaper will arrive at number 10 at 5.53 a.m. That is the way it will be.
The rest of us can sleep soundly in our beds. Precision is key. The world belongs to Anthony.