Second-hand stamps, checking on elderly neighbours and requests for new tilly lamps - it’s all in a day’s work for the Udny sub-postmaster.
George Stephen and wife Danuta have marked the tenth anniversary of running the Udny Post Office in quiet style, with a few balloons on the door. Speaking to the Times, however, the couple have spoken of their time in the job, running one of the north-east’s few remaining rural post office/general stores.
Tucked into a small slip road just outside Pitmedden, the shop’s frontage is thoroughly traditional: no ‘Consignia’ style re-branding exercises here. The store itself would appeal to readers of a certain generation, who can remember the traditional rural shop in the countryside, selling everything and anything, perhaps with a dedicated post office kiosk. Though modernity and commercial pressures have taken their toll on many such establishments, the Udny Post office and Mosshead General Store continues to survive, and even thrive,
“It was something different,” George said, referring to how he took the job. “I was originally a lecturer in computer science at Aberdeen College, and so was Danuta. We fancied a change in direction, so this is where we came. The business has developed a lot from when I started. Some things are still the same - people still do their postage, collect pensions and buy premium bonds, but there are other things we’ve been moving into - people can withdraw and pay into bank accounts for 90% of banks here, for example.”
Though the products sold at the Post Office might have changed, George says that the couple still get novel requests from customers.
“We have requests for tilly lamps, paraffin wicks, bottles of ink - things you wouldn’t expect anyone to ask for anymore because they’re pretty much obsolete.”
Danuta told the Times: “We do, however, do a roaring trade in mousetraps, starch and 100W lightbulbs, because people know they can still get them here. The problem is, once people know we’ve got them, they buy up everything very quickly and we have to find more!”
George added that the couple do have one odd request which is made again and again,
“People always ask for second-hand stamps rather than second class ones. I collect stamps, so amusingly enough I have quite an extensive collection of second hand stamps - they’re just not for sale!”
The couple moved from Aberdeen, initially to Balmedie, before coming to Pitmedden, and say that they have found themselves made very welcome in the area. Since taking over the shop, the couple’s work has been nominated for three awards - reaching the finals in the Best Post Office competition, 2009 and twice being nominated for ‘Neighbourhood Shop of the Year’.
Asked what he enjoyed most about his work, George was enthusiastic.
“The people - we have a lot of extremely loyal customers,” he said. “Our oldest customer is 92, and she comes in every day for her papers. She knows to phone us if she isn’t coming down, because we’ll get worried! But yes, the people are the most interesting part of the job.”