Nigel Thrumpton looks like any other postal worker as he goes about his job. He parks his Nisan Micra at the start of his round, drags his heavy mail bag from the boot and starts delivering letters to the good people of Hemel Hempstead. He seems like a happy chap and he whistles the first two lines of whatever song he heard last on the car radio, over and over, for the next three hours as he goes about the business of delivering the post.
But Nigel Thrumpton has a secret. A secret that, until now, has been hidden from public view. For Nigel Thrumpton is none other than a colleague of the Ninja Postman.
After much soul-searching, Nigel has decided to come forward and tell his story, and that of Tony Maxwell - The Ninja Postman, for some money.
"I first met Tony Maxwell, or rather Tony Ninja as he is now known, when we were training together at Postal College. I was learning the ropes on my GNVQ in Postal Operations, and Tony Ninja was my mentor; my sensei if you will. He was studying for a Master's in Advanced Mail Techniques and Kendo."
Nigel says the training was tough under Tony Ninja. "He would drop me off in one of the villages in the HP postcode area with nothing but a bag of unsorted mail and a local street map. I would have to deliver the post while Tony laid various traps and tests for me along the route.
"Once, I saw a Post Office pen sitting on the path. I went to pick it up when Tony suddenly appeared above me swinging a set of nunchucks. He must have been hiding up on that pylon since before it got light, disguised as a backup transformer. My concussion was short-lived, but when I got out of the hospital, someone had secretly delivered all my direct marketing leaflets for me.
"On another occasion he set up a tripwire along a line in the pavement, connected to a sprung frame of sharpened stakes, treated with an untraceable nerve toxin. Luckily the local Primary School kids came out for lunch before I got there or I could have been seriously hurt."
Nigel has many, many stories about the time he spent studying under the Ninja Postman. Some of them end in the unfortunate destruction of property or bystander injury and death, but Nigel considers it all worth while. "I got the top mark in my finals, and that must be down to Tony's attention to detail, extensive knowledge of the syllabus and the abject fear he instilled in the college examiners."
"At my graduation he had this big metal bowl full of burning embers which I had to pick up using just my forearms. It branded a symbol into each side - a Royal Mail logo on one wrist, and a pagoda with an overflowing letterbox on the other."
Nigel rolls up his sleeves to show his scars. Does this mean that he is now in fact a Ninja Postman?
"No, no, no. I'm still just a student in the ways of the mail. At the moment I'm a second-post-dan or yellow belt. Under my regulation Post Office jacket I secretly wear my yellow hi-visibility belt, which shows I still have much to learn about Ninja life."
And road safety. So what is Nigel permitted to do as a second-post-dan postman?
"Well my GNVQ diploma allows me to wear shorts all year round and to adopt the 'Postman's Gallop' between houses. I'm also qualified to wave jauntily to neighbours and drop rubber bands in the street, although I have yet to attain the giddy heights of pillar-box next-collection-time plate replacement."
But why then study to be a Ninja Postman rather than just a plain old postman?
"Apart from anything else, Ninja abilities, like being able to predict the weather and exert control over animals, are really useful in this line of work. So are the slight-of-hand skills that allow us to surreptitiously slip a pack of advertising leaflets and 'To the Occupier' circulars in with the proper mail without anyone realising. But we try not to do anything too blatant, too aggressive."
Surely, though, his training under Tony must allow him to make use of some Ninja techniques during his round?
"Well, sometimes it does, although you do have to be careful until you reach first-post-dan grade and become a full Ninja. For instance it is actually illegal for a postal worker who has not reached Ninja level to assassinate even the most aggressive dog or inconsiderate homeowner. If you were found out you could go to prison, or even lose your pension, even if you were provoked.
"I did once use my Ninja powers to Taser an Alsatian unconscious, but that was after I'd been sorting parcels for a straight fourteen hours on the night shift and the damned animal kept barking while I was trying to get to sleep."
But apart from Tony Maxwell, are there other Ninja Postmen out there using their skills on a day-to-day basis for the benefit of the Royal Mail?
"Oh yes. My mate Jim Flanagan told me once that he had seen a Ninja take out a Bull Mastiff using one of those Shuriken throwing stars. But he did say it might not have been a postman because he'd heard that the meter readers had got some Ninja's now, too, and they all tend to dress alike."
So what can Nigel tell us about Tony Ninja, The Hemel Hempstead Ninja Postman?
"Well, obviously his name's not really Tony Ninja. He has to keep his proper name absolutely secret in case of reprisals. They all change their surname to Ninja so they can identify one-another as belonging to the brotherhood on the work rota and overtime sheets.
"In fact there are several things that you have to do when you become a Ninja Postman. For instance you can always tell a Postman who's made it to full Ninja status because they are missing the last joint of their left little finger. They have it removed in a ceremony called Yubitsumi, where they swear their allegiance to the Royal Mail and their fellow postal Shinobi.
"Barry Jenkinson pretends to be a Ninja Postman but he isn't really. He got Yubitsumied when he was in a rush and tried to deliver a large packet through a vicious letterbox in Jupiter Drive."
And what are Tony Ninja's actual duties?
"Well he does a mail round like we all do, but nobody ever sees him doing it. I know for a fact that he runs straight across the big pond in Galley Hill, although that's mostly in the depths of winter. The most you're ever going to see of Tony is an elusive shadow creeping silently along the roofline of the Cupid Green estate or a fleeting figure abseiling down from the top of the Snow Centre building. But he also has extra things he does that we're not supposed to talk about."
"Like assassinations on behalf of the Royal Mail or their partner firms, corporate espionage, industrial sabotage and punishment visits to errant Sub Post Offices. There are also the more subtle aspects, such as forging postmarks, erasing proof-of-posting receipts, and the odd bit of forensic philately. But we're not supposed to talk about it."
So has Tony Ninja explained all this to Nigel himself?
"Not as such. Some of it is stuff you hear from other postmen or back at the sorting office. I mean, you can hardly just go up to Tony and ask him about it in the pub!"
"You see, most of us drink down at the Sorter's Arms, but Tony and his Ninja ilk frequent the Origami Envelope Winebar in Gadebridge, therefore we can't just go up and ask him about it in the pub."
Finally, does Tony Ninja have any special skills or abilities that make him stand out above the other Ninja Postmen?
"Ah, yes. I wondered when you were going to come to that. You're talking about the ancient art of Pokécardi.
"For the layman, Pokécardi is when you wait in all day for a delivery, and then at about six o'clock you spot a red and white card on the mat. 'Sorry we missed you' the card says, and it means you've got to make a trip to the sorting office to pick it up yourself. Well, I won't say he's the only one who can put those cards though undetected in the true Pokécardi fashion, but he's definitely the best.
"People sometimes say 'I've got electric security gates, full coverage CCTV and two guard dogs and I still have no idea how he got that card in my letterbox.' In fact, one bloke in Adeyfield had his letterbox welded up and he still got Pokécarded!
"But you see, the general public, or even serious postal service users like ebayers and serial extortionists, are completely unaware of the kind of postman they could be dealing with. They are just not allowing for the years of intensive training, the superhuman discipline and the strange other-worldly skills of the mysterious Ninja Postman."