Monday, March 12, 2007

At the Post Office...

The traditional British Post Office has been taking some stick in recent years, its a staple of British town and village life that is fast disappearing in a tsunami of cost cuting and downsizing as HM Government tries its hardest to bring its spending down to nothing on the postal service.

In theory its a private service, the Post Office has its own budgets and expenditure, but it has grants and its tightly controlled by civil servants so that the Postmaster General has to crawl up Downing Street on his knees over white hot broken shards of glass with cap in hand before asking Tony B if he can put the cost of a first class stamp up by one penny, and even then he'll get told "no".

The Post Offices that we all know in our locales are certainly privately owned, but maintained by central Post Office funding for doing jobs like stamping parcels very hard with those hard rubber stamping things, right where it says "Fragile, do not stamp here", then asking if you want to buy insurance for that.

And we all have this vision of what a Post Office is like and how vital a Post Office is to our local communities, how all the old people gather at the Post Office every day for tea and a chat and how we'd miss them terribly if they all disapeared and we'd have to take the parcelled up stuff we'd just flogged on eBay to a couriers depot for delivery instead, no that would never do we all cry and we bemoan the demise of the local Post Offices and beseach Government to grant them some more grants so that they may survive just a tad longer.

So today I went to my local Post Office.
Its been there as long as I can remember and my local knowledge of this area goes back nearly 50 years now (I don't remember the bits before I started to talk).

For the first ten years that I remember it was owned by someone ferocious looking with a huge grey handlebar moustache called "Squire" - and that was just his wife.

Recently I haven't a clue who owns it because until today I had been in our local Post Office almost exactly nil times.

Today I went in there to hand in a form that requests the Post Office to redirect our mail from our old address to our new address - a simple enough task, fill the form in correctly where it says "name" and again where it says "old address" and then finally and most importantly the bit where it says "new address". I managed all of this without too much assistance from the four pages of notes that they kindly supplied with the single sided form and taking two forms of identity with me (presumably I might forge one document but would never stoop to forge two), and £15 with which to bribe the Post Office people into performing this onerous redirecting task, I entered our local Post Office.

Random old people stood around, writing things on forms at various shelves around the perifery of the public area, one holding a Bic pen to the light to see if there was any ink left in it or whether it was his cataracts that were playing up again, one old lady was re-arranging the contents of her old-lady-tartan-bag-on-wheels, two old ladies stood muttering to each other whilst using extravagant hand gestures to illuminate their gossip, and one of the two counters was occupied by yet another geriatric who was leaning almost right through the glass plate in order to hear what the miserable cow serving on the other side was saying to her.

With no-one seemingly interested in taking up the empty counter position I volunteered myself, to be greeted by a lady of breeding in a high frilly collared shirt buttoned with a brooch in the style made famous by Laura Ashley who made her millions thirty years ago by selling to such ladies whilst not bothering to spend any of her fortune on a good, reliable stair carpet fitter.

The sour-faced old hag in the Laura Ashley blouse and brooch stared her sour-puss face through the inch-thick bullet proof glass, stared into my very soul and demanded, "Yes ?"

"I have earlier filled out this here form" I presented the form in front of the glass but did not yet push it through the slot for her attention, "this form which was collected by my wife from this very counter just three days ago" I further explained, "and I think I've filled everything in, and I have brought two forms of identity as requested, and I would be most grateful if perchance you would look it over and accept fifteen pounds in payment for your excellent and reknown redirecting service", I explained.

She said nothing but one hand pointed to the slot in the bullet proof glass, indicating that I push the form through there, which started me thinking - why bother with bullet proof glass if you then cut a slot through it at what is stomach height to the counter staff, surely the robbers with the guns and bullets will just shove their pistols through the slot too ?

Anyhoo, the old bag took my form with a look of distain as if she would catch some filthy disease from it, which indeed she may as I have had a terrible man-flu these past few days of removals and for all I know the old bag could well be a man, she has the whiskers for it.

"I think I filled it in correctly", I offered.

"Yes you did" she replied, "but its the wrong colour" she added with just a hint of delight in her voice that did not go un-noticed by the other hags on my side of the counter who shuffled forwards to gaze and nod and confirm that yes, it was the wrong colour.

"The wrong colour" I queried for I knew nought of what she informed.

"The wrong colour" she responded, pointing at something at the top of the form.

She leaned backwards into a drawer behind her and without taking her miserable face away from mine plucked another redirection form from its depths and thrust it back through the glass at me.

"Its got to be filled in black ink" and she sighed as she finally gave away the answer to me.

"Black ink ?" I still wasn't taking this in.

"You used blue ink" her patience was fading fast by now, "you used blue ink" and she stabbed at my completed form with a long pointy finger as if I were the worlds most stupid Post Office customer and with the same amount of exasperation as if I came into her post Office every single day with the same form filled in with blue ink instead of black.

And that was it, no post redirection for me then.
I use the wrong ink for my forms.
I'll be buggered if I'm buying a black Bic just to please the old bag.
I'll walk around the corner to the old house and collect my mail until people stop sending it there.

But at least I now have no need to hold any sympathy for Post Office staff when they close them all down.

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