AT 73, Bill Foulkes might be the oldest paper boy in the Wrexham and Flintshire area.
The Connah’s Quay native is certainly the oldest paper boy I’ve ever met.
He’s a stripling compared to Newt Wallace, a 93-year-old paper boy in America, and Ted Ingram, also 93, who does his delivery in Dorset.
Even so, 73 isn’t bad going, so I went to find out what kept Mr Foulkes on his round.
“Fun money,” he laughed, when I asked. “For my cigarettes.”
The real reason, he admitted to me later, was a bit more personal.
He said: “I was widowed 20 years ago when my wife Iris died. It left a void in my life.
“There are three things you can do after that – you can sit around moping or you can take up with another woman – and I didn’t want to do that. I’d had the best and didn’t want the rest.
“The other thing you can do is get out there.
“This keeps me vital. There’s exercise and you chat to people.”
To my relief, he was delivering the Leader’s sister paper the Standard, so I wouldn’t feel like a traitor when I started pushing it through people’s letterboxes.
I took a sheaf of papers and almost instantly a cluster of inserts slithered to the ground.
“Not to worry,” he said. “It’ll all come out in the wash.”
I’m aware some people don’t like inserts but Bill sees a specific benefit.
“You try shoving a paper through a letterbox without them,” he said. “Sometimes they’re quite difficult, and without these bits and bobs the paper won’t be strong enough to get through. So I like them.”
Bill showed me how to roll the paper into a letterbox-friendly cylinder.
“Be careful,” he said. “Some letterboxes will have your fingers off. And watch out for neurotic hounds.
“If the gate was closed when you came to it, make sure you shut it after you. Make sure you push the paper all the way through. And off you go!”
We patrolled Dodd Street, in Connah’s Quay, delivering a dose of local news to each household, except one: I found a household where both letterboxes had been nailed securely shut.
Bill is something of a philosopher. He quoted the first three verses of The Guy in the Glass, a poem by Dale Wimbrow by memory, though he’d only discovered it three weeks ago, and he has come to his own conclusions about life.
“I think letterboxes can tell you about a personality. You get these houses with tiny, poky little boxes that you can’t get the paper in to. And when you meet them you find out why.
“They have poky little minds!” He laughed uproariously, and then composed himself.
“Well, not everybody, I suppose. And there’s those who move into a house and get the letterbox that was already there.”
Bill, a methodical worker, took one side of the road while I took the other.
There was one hairy moment when I approached a garden to find a dog loose.
I hesitated at the gate, in case it was a “neurotic hound” but, as it was lying on its back with its belly in the air, I thought I’d risk it.
As I bent over to put the newspaper through the slot, the dog rolled onto its feet, pattered over to me and nudged my buttocks with its nose.
“Argh!” I said.
It wagged its tail.
“He’s a good one,” said Bill, oblivious to my mishap. “We get on well.”
Bill was born and raised in the area. His family hails from Connah’s Quay and Wrexham, and he lived in Hawarden 40 years before moving back to the Quay.
It turned out we had a school in common, although when he attended, it was called the Central School in Mold, while I knew it as the Alun school.
His many jobs have included working as a trucker, a contractor fitting motorway crash barriers and as a self-employed landscape gardener. His footballer father, also a Bill Foulkes, played for Wales.
“It’s tough,” said Bill, “When you’re Billy Foulkes’ son. It sticks. Even when I was little, if I scored a goal, people would say ‘oh, well he would do that, wouldn’t he? Look who his dad is’.
“You don’t entirely feel that the accolades are yours.”
Going back to the paper round, Bill has a relaxed attitude, although he offered to meet me at 6am if necessary. He’s been delivering up to 250 papers a week for about a year.
“I’ll do it in blocks,” he said. “One street and then the next. As long as they get there on time, I don’t mind. Do you fancy a cuppa?”
On the way back to his home, he stopped and chatted with passers-by.
“I’m that kind of person,” he said. “I like to chat. I think as long as you’re the affable type, you won’t struggle to make friends. But I’ve only been in this part of town a year, so doing the round means I’ve met people faster.”
Before I could even offer to help, he hauled the remaining papers, probably weighing a stone, plus the trolley, up the three stairs to his front door.
“You’ve got to be strong in this world,” he said. “I’ve been working since I was 13, I used to work on farms, milking.
“Our family has always been grafters. My kids have all done well. My lad, another Bill, is operations director at RJ Jones Transport in Flint. We like to be busy.
“Keep vital, be good to people, eat well, drink like a fish,” he cackled. “It’s the best way to be.”