Tuesday, March 13, 2007

At the Post Office, again...

or... why can old people still be racist and get away with it ?

I'm starting to enjoy going to the Post Office.
Its a brilliant place to people watch.

Yesterday I returned to the house still clutching the blue-penned mail redirection form after the abortive attempt to get the old bag of a Post Mistress to accept the wrong coloured ink and as I entered the house explaining of my trials and tribulations together with the vow never to return to the bloody Post Office again I was hit hard in the head by a heavy thing thrown by Suzanne.

I awoke this morning refreshed and with the convction that I had to return to the Post Office with a new mail redirection form - I thought that I had thrown out that Paul McKenna "Hypnotise your partner for fun and profit" book, but maybe not.

So I filled out the form again, got everyone to sign it again, ticked all the boxes again and set off again for the Post Office.

But this time I went to a different Post Office, one that is located in not such a leafy suburb, one that caters almost exclusively for its clientele of benefits drawers and pension claimants, its a bit down at heel and the money handed over its counter in one direction far outweighs the money handed over the counter in the other direction, I'll leave you to guess which direction is the most popular.

Its a small shop with two glassed-in counters at which two gentlemen of the Post Office were serving, one of whom was Indian and owned this Post Office and at least one other in the district, as I was to discover.

That is, I think the other Post Office employee was serving the man stood at his counter as neither of them seemed to be doing anything that could be construed as a transaction of any kind, the man behind the counter was gazing down at something on his desk and the elderly customer was gazing at his own feet whilst leaning heavily on his walking stick, silence ensued.

Or at least silence would have ensued if the Indian owner and his customer hadn't seemed to have known each other, nor seen each other, for many years. Three other people were in the queue in front of me and as I entered the shop they all turned to me with a desperate look of acceptance of their fate - we were in for a long wait, the Indian owner and his customer were catching up on old times.

"You remember John don't you..."
"No I don't think I do madam,"
"You do, John, you know, John, John, married to Elaine"
"I remember Elaine, was she pregnant last year"
"Yes, Elaine, well thats Johns wife"
"Ah yes, I think I know John"
"You must know John, Elaines husband, she was pregnant last year, had a little boy"
"Did they, how nice, I know Elaine"
"Well you'll know John then, her husband, they had a baby last year"
"Yes I think I know John"

I'd only been in the shop for two minutes and already I was bearing the same look of resignation that the other queue-ers were,

"Well John, Elaines John, he was in Tesco's the other day"
"John with the new baby ?"
"Yes, Elaines John, well he was in Tesco's"
"Yes ?"
"Well thats it, he was in Tesco's, I was just saying, he was in Tesco's see."
"Oh very nice, I don't use Tesco's"
"No neither do I normally, but I was in there the other day, and there was John, Elaines John, in Tesco's"

The small old man stood in the queue in front of me sighed heavily, reached out and leaned on a greetings card stand which started to revolve ever so slowly and I found myself wondering if the degredation of mental prowess in the aged would mean that he wouldn't notice that it was moving until he had reached the point at which the weight of his upper body moving across the fulcrum of his waist would be pulled inexorably to earth by gravity in an unstopable tumble and fracture of one or both hip bones, or perhaps if his hip bones were already plastic he may gash his head badly and I'd be able to tear off his stupid tweed tie and use it to supurate the blood flow.

None of this happened but its an indicator of just how slowly time passes in a Post Office queue that such things actually spend time in your concious thoughts at all.

The door opened and yet another small old man entered the already crowded shop - why are all old people so much smaller than subsequent generations ? - this old man looked up with a face as miserable as I've ever seen outside of a car smash thats just happened right outside a car showroom after a new car has just been collected, he shoved a sign advertising pre-payment electricity tokens out of his way and took up his place in the queue behind me muttering something that I couldn't quite pick up on.

"Do you still have the Post Office at Bramhope ?"
"No we closed that one"
"Oh dear, thats a shame"
"Not really because no-one used it you see"
"Oh well thats all right then, Elaine told me you'd closed it, she said it was a shame"
"Yes well we were very quiet there, not like this place"
"Ooh yes its always busy here isn't it"

And in my mind I see my arm reaching out and tapping her on her stupid shoulder so that her stupid head turns and I get to look straight into her stupid face and tell her that its wouldn't be quite so fuckin busy in here if she'd just shut the fuck up, buy her fuckin stamps and fuck off back home again, but I don't, even though the old sod behind me would probably join in as well, the old git in front probably would too from his prone position, broken hipped on the floor, but we don't, none of us do, we just stand there and stare at the ceiling or floor because us British are too reserved to upset fuckwits who just want to talk aimless, mind-numbingly aimless, absolute fucking pointless conversation all day long - we stand there and we sigh and sometimes glance at another queue sufferer and raise our eyebrows in mutual helplessness, but we never say anything.

Ten minutes later and I'm at the counter and I smile and hand my mail redirection form to the man behind the glass and he looks at it as though its not a real Post Office form at all but a declaration of war on France or similar and I have to explain that its a mail redirection form, filled in with black ink, and he looks very carefully at it and nods once as if he agrees so I ask him how much it will cost to redirect the mail for three months even though I know its £15.10 and he looks very carefully at the part of the form where I've ticked the option that states "3 months - £15.10" and he tells me that it will be £15.10 so I fill out the cheque.

Its gone quiet again in the Post Office and then the old sod who was stood behind me joins me at the counter where he is served by the Indian owner and while my counter man sits down and starts to read the mail redirection leaflet right the way through to make sure that he doesn't miss ticking a box or over-charging me for something else, I tune into the old sod's conversation next door...

"Recorded delivery" is all he says and flings a letter underneath the glass
"Yes sir" says the owner, "first class ?"
"What ?"
"First class ?"
"What ?"
"Do you want it to be sent first class ?"
"Of course I do"
"First class recorded delivery ?"
"Thats what I said" and he sighs as well.

"Shall I write your address on the back sir "
"What ?"
"Shall I write your address on the back sir"
"On the back of what ?"
"On the back of the envelope sir"
"Why ?"
"Well you can you see, it tells them who's sent it before they sign for it"
"What ?"
"It tells them who's sent it"
"They'll know who's sent it"
"OK, do you want me to do it then ?"
"Do what ?"
"Write your address on the back sir"
"Do I have to ?"
"I'll do it for you sir"
"Please yer bloody self then"
"I'll do it then"
"What ?"
"I'll do it then"
"If you want"

Its fascinating listening and I lean on the counter and turn to my left to get a better view and the old sod sees me, glares in my direction and mutters to me, "I can't understand a word he's bloody saying" and I know its because the Post Office owner is Indian and this old sod switches off when he hears an Indian accent no matter how mild it may be, this Indian owner must get this all day long in here, his own shop, he's providing a service to this miserable old sod and all he gets is rudeness and racism but because its old mans rudeness and racism everyone accepts it.

Its hilarious none the less, and I can't help an involuntary guffaw as I leave the shop and I hear the old sod tell the Indian owner "say it again, I can't understand what you're saying" in a particularly condescending way and I wonder how the rest of the world has moved on from the 1950's and left this old sod behind with his predjudices and how many more of them are like him living on this council estate and how many of them are miserable simply because they have to speak to an Indian Post Office owner several times a week.

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