Jason Goodwin: The Amazon delivery man who went up a driveway and came down a hill

Our columnist Jason Goodwin on the ups and downs of that most first world of problems: figuring out how to make sure you get your packages delivered.

Our closest neighbours live in a house called Top Parts, up the hill through the woods. It’s about 500 yards as the crow flies, but quite steep and there’s no particular path. The lower part of the wood lies in the bowl of the hill, a tangle of ash saplings, holly, hazel and bracken, very popular with deer. Higher up, the wood thins out, the trees grow broader and higher and there are slender animal tracks between the anemones. The garden of Top Parts backs onto this wood, like a house in a fairy tale.

Because on a map we seem to be so close, we share the same postcode, although to drive from our house to theirs is actually a 10-minute journey. They have an inordinately long drive, which approaches from the south; the only road out from us goes north. To get there by car, you have to navigate a huge square, taking the first turning to the right five times, like in the maze at Hampton Court.

By sharing a postcode, we are at the mercy of people’s satnavs. We get a lot of our neighbours’ visitors and, if it’s a stand-in postman, some of their letters. Couriers leave stuff for us in their porch and vice versa.

Is OK to leave van? I go.’ To my astonishment — and admiration — he loped off.

‘Turn right at the top of the drive,’ I say, when another Lithuanian van driver stands forlorn at the front door.

‘Right again at the top of the hill, right on the main road, right at the next turning, and first right after about half a mile. It’s at the end of a long drive,’ I add.

Sometimes, to make it clearer, I wave my arms around, and point towards the wood.

Last year, one of the drivers took a long, thoughtful look at the hill. ‘Is only half kilometre?’ ‘That way uphill, yes. It’s probably two miles in the van.’ ‘Is OK to leave van? I go.’

To my astonishment — and admiration — he loped off. It was a sunny day. I glimpsed him once, thrashing through the undergrowth, and he was back in less than 20 minutes. I heard him starting the van and he gave me a thumbs-up through the window as he drove away.

I admire his enterprise, but for sheer unexpectedness I prefer the man Walter encountered last week in London, after his girlfriend ordered a vacuum cleaner from Amazon. She took the option of having the machine delivered to a shop near her flat in Kennington and on her way back from work she went to the address to pick it up.

‘Over his shoulder they could see a heap of Amazon parcels almost filling the hall’

But the shop no longer existed. Large black panels were screwed over its windows and a cage had been fitted on the door. She wasn’t surprised to get a message later to say that the courier had been unable to deliver her package.

She rang the helpline to let them know that their shop was defunct and to organise a re-delivery. It took ages to sort out, as these things always do, but when she was on the phone, she was surprised by a second text message, to say that her parcel had been successfully delivered, after all.

Baffled, she and Walter went back to the shop. It was still shuttered and dark, but down an alley to the side they found a door with the same street number. Walter rang the bell and after a few moments, a young man came to the door.

‘Come for a parcel, yeah?’ ‘I think I can see it,’ Walter said, pointing. ‘No worries.’

He opened the door a little wider, and they stepped inside. Evidently this was the man’s own house, yet over his shoulder they could see a heap of Amazon parcels almost filling the hall. ‘Just take whatever’s here for you,’ he said, gesturing amiably at the pile.