The hero of everybody’s tour
In November 2019, Tom Boonen was the voice behind a campaign video called the ‘Champion of everybody’s tour’. It was an ode to the postman, who, rain or shine, delivers his letters and parcels just like a cycling champion aiming for the finish line. We followed such a champion. For eighteen years now, Jean-Marc is doing his daily round, his Tour of Rèves.
It is Wednesday. At 8 o’clock we arrive at the bpost sorting centre in Fleurus, near Charleroi. Between the snowflakes we already saw the huge building from the motorway. Inside, our two pairs of eyes are not enough to absorb all the activity: parcels fall into trays, scanners are squeaking frantically, postmen come and go. The smell of paper and cardboard tickles our nostrils. We truly are in the backstage of mail delivery.
Team leader Yves Jordens greets us. Despite the hard work, there is an atmosphere of camaraderie in the Mail Center. The employees laugh and joke. They even joke about cranky postmen. About 90 people work here in Fleurus. Jean-Marc is one of them. He is 45 and has been with bpost for 24 years. He approaches us with a broad smile. He always starts his day – at half past seven – by greeting all his colleagues. “A habit that only makes him more popular,” says his chief. “He has a good word for everybody and an eternal sincere smile.”
Jean-Marc became a postman more or less by coincidence. On May 2, 1996, he was deployed as a replacement at the Frasnes-lez-Gosselies post office. He has remained loyal to his postal uniform ever since. “Being a Frasnes citizen myself, I began in the neighbourhood where I lived. After just two days I started my rounds. In the end I stayed in Frasnes for six years, after which I went to Les Bons Villers, where I have been delivering mail for eighteen years now in the borough of Rèves. In my opinion, a good postman is versatile, sympathetic and has respect for his customers. Of course, a good sense of direction is also indispensable.”
“A good postman is versatile, sympathetic and has respect for his customers. Of course, a good sense of direction is a bonus.”
Jean-Marc’s workspace is no larger than three square meters, just enough space to turn around his own axis. “In the early days, a postman still had to sort the mail by street and then by house. Now my colleagues have already sorted the mail before my arrival. All I have to do is pick it up and put it in the bins before I leave on round. It is a great advantage that you only have to perform one single action.” Jean-Marc’s movements are fast, precise and it all seems to be automatic. “We work with a colour code. Red indicates the streets, while yellow represents the place where I stop my van to distribute the mail.”
In his early days, Jean-Marc delivered four to five parcels a day. He put advertisements in all mailboxes once a month. “We delivered the mail on foot or by bicycle, sometimes by moped. We used a van to deliver large volumes. Nowadays we do everything by car and you need racks to store the parcels. This morning is not too bad: 25 parcels is very little. During the Holiday Season it can mount up to three containers a day. The great evolution of our profession lies undoubtedly in the increasing number of parcels.”
The big clock in the depot indicates just after 9 o’clock when Jean-Marc is about to load his van. He puts on a sweater, jacket and cap and takes a striking bunch of keys. “Rèves is a wealthy municipality with 90 percent villas. I’m lucky to have been doing the same round for almost twenty years now. In time, some residents have entrusted me with the key to their gate or garage. If they are not at home, I can leave their parcel in a safe place. I always leave a note: Attention, parcel. Signed, Jean-Marc. With a smiling face. That is a habit of mine.”
With his fully loaded van, Jean-Marc takes to the country roads for a tour that ends around 4 PM. The bond he managed to forge with ‘his’ inhabitants earned him – rightly – the nickname ‘Mayor of Bons Villers’. Everywhere the faces of the inhabitants light up when they see ‘their’ postman arriving. Also at Nelly’s place, where Jean-Marc stops every Wednesday for a cup of coffee. “A tradition that started about four or five years ago,” Jean-Marc recalls.
Being a postman means hard work. Fortunately, there are still people who, like Jean-Marc, give meaning and a human dimension to this beautiful profession.