Alf inherited the newspaper stand from his father when the old man retired back in the 1970s. How he wished he didn’t have to take it on at first. He was barely into his 30s and having to get up at 3am every morning to take delivery of the day’s papers was the last thing he wanted to do. He couldn’t go out drinking with his mates and be up that early and the last influences of the 1960s still meant free love on your average night out.
His father helped out at first, wanting to keep his eye on the family business. Then he had a heart attack, just a small one, but enough to persuade him to take it easy and let Alf carry the bundles of papers out of the van. He would sit on a stool next to the stand when the weather was warm, smiling at the customers, saying hello to the ones who remembered him from the old days. But in time the commuters changed so he didn’t know many at all and the weather got colder, so eventually he didn’t come to sit there anymore.
Alf saw the 1980s arrive and watched as shoulder pads got bigger and suits got sharper. People got too busy to talk to each other and most didn’t speak when they picked up their morning paper for the train. Business was good though, with plenty of money around and sometimes people rushing didn’t even want change. Alf bought a nice car in the 80s funded by yuppies and the bankers on the way to work.
Over time Alf got so used to waking at 3am he couldn’t imagine a time when he had laid in later than that. Even on holiday or at Christmas he would barely manage 4am before his eyes opened and he couldn’t get back to sleep. By now he had a wife and three children and he enjoyed having the later part of the day with the family. Those business types would be still at work then slogging their ways home long after took his boys to the park to play football.
In the mid 1990s Alf hit 50. The family had a surprise party for him, not a late night do fuelled with beer and curry, but an early breakfast party where they decorated his stand in gold and shared cake with the few remaining regulars he had. His sons took over for the day, insisting he sat on a stool much as his father had done over 20 years before. He munched golden cake and realized how lucky he was and how much he loved his life.
The millennium bug held no fear for a newspaper vendor, but for years he saw headlines question whether civilization might come to an end with that click of Big Ben’s hands. By the time he walked his daughter down the aisle nobody mentioned the bug any more. Nobody really remembered it even. The bankers talked away risks of all kinds and convinced everyone to save for the future, before blowing much of it in ill-considered investments. Still, it wasn’t their money and the bonuses were still enough for a terraced house in most parts of the country.
Alf knew the end was coming when the coalition took over the country. He told anyone who stopped long enough to chat that they wouldn’t look after the little man, and he was right. Train companies provided free papers now so who needed to buy from him? The cash-strapped watched the news or went online instead of purchasing a paper. Those richer preferred electronic papers downloaded onto iPads and readers, so much more convenient than a broadsheet. The dwindling of his business was matched by the dwindling of his health and his interest in carrying on.
He was sad there was nothing to hand on to his own children, nowhere for him to sit near in the sunshine and offer unwanted advice. Maybe he would sell the pitch for a coffee stall instead.