Thursday, 28 June 2007

Going Postal

Yes, I know, "Going Postal" is the title of an extremely funny Disc World novel by the incomparable Terry Pratchett (if you haven't read it, do so without delay), and I am a little reluctant to blaspheme the great man's work by using it as the title for a rant.

But I'm going to, because, after this afternoon's hassle, I can quite see how less temperately inclined folks might harbour slightly uncivilised thoughts towards the Post Office. This tale begins several days ago, when they attempted to deliver a package to an elderly gentleman.

Sadly, the old chap was out, and a note was pushed through his door advising him that his package would be kept at the sorting office, and that he could request delivery by telephone. This he did, and was assured that his eagerly awaited parcel would arrive the next day.

Needless to say, it did not. Nor, despite further telephonic assurances, did it arrive the next day. Being the nice guy that I am, I offered to visit the sorting office and collect it for him today. Fully appreciating that postmen have occasionally been overtaken by speeding snails, I waited until midday, lest it was still in transit from yesterday's absent delivery. This, I judged, would give postie ample chance to deliver today, and leave me an hour to get up to the sorting office, which closes its doors to the public at 13:00, lest he did not.

Unsurprisingly, the parcel failed to materialise, and I set off on what I thought would be a very short trip to the sorting office. Having threaded my way through the labyrinthine industrial estate in which the office is cunningly concealed, I presented the delivery card to the guy behind the counter, only to be told, "Ahhh, no mate. That's not 'ere. It's at the Post Office. Third one on the trot, this - got a new lad on, 'es used the wrong cards. Sorry."

Well, these things happen, so I accepted his apology with good grace and toddled off to the Post Office, which is a couple of miles away from the sorting office. Have you been in a busy main post office at lunch time recently? It's packed out - a long queue winds its way to the door, populated with plodding pensioners, young mothers gossiping while their screaming kids run amok unheeded, people trying to buy their road tax or figure out exactly how much it is to send a large letter to Sheffield and, at the back of the line, me.

With relief I eventually reached the counter and handed over the delivery card to the woman behind it, only to be told, "No, luv, that's not 'ere. It's at the sorting office. See, it sez so 'ere on the card." She helpfully held the card up and pointed at the offending address as, with rapidly evaporating patience, I told her that I knew that, I'd been there, and they'd sent me here. "New lad," I said confidently, "used the wrong card. It's here."

Apparently satisfied, the lady pottered off into the back, only to return empty handed some minutes later. "It's not 'ere luv. I've bin on the phone. It's at the sorting office, like I said." It was now 12:55, and I pointed out that the sorting office closed at 13:00. "It's OK luv," the ever obliging lady behind the counter said. "'Ee said 'ee'd wait for you if you're going now." Aha! Customer service! Thanking her, I rushed out, hopped back in the car, and, feeling like a yoyo, trundled back to the sorting office.

Despite unexpected roadworks, I arrived there by 13:03, and was dismayed to see the guy who I'd spoken to earlier yomping rapidly away up the road, obviously in a hurry to get home. Gritting my teeth, I refused to give up and tried the office door. Locked, of course. But, there, in the loading bay, I spied another guy.

I could see he was busy having a quiet smoke, and while I fully appreciate that these things need to happen in any civilised society, my patience was at an end. I approached, thrust the delivery card under his cigg, and asked to speak to someone about it. "We're shut. Close at one, mate."

AGGGGHHHHH. I explained to this gentleman that I already knew that, had been here once already, had been sent to the Post Office, sent back, and that the now-vanished counter attendant had promised to wait for me. The guy sighed, tossed his smoke aside and took the card from me. "Ahhh, it's the new lad. He's using the wrong cards. Only found out today. He's on another walk - bet he's doing the same there. Sorry."

Off he went with my card, and seconds later I was clutching the errant parcel. I was so relieved to have finally caught up with it that I didn't bother to question how it came to be there at all if, as I had been told, the new lad was indeed using the wrong cards. In fairness, though, despite my irritation and needless bouncing up and down along various major roads, through industrial estates and around diversions, everyone I dealt with was polite and, insofar as was possible, helpful - except, perhaps, the escaped counter guy.

But this chaos just should not happen - a system as vast, sophisticated and damned expensive as the Post Office should not, in this day and age, be thrust into chaos by a new guy apparently using the wrong cards. Of course, trainees in all jobs make mistakes. It's expected, and the system should be able to cope with it.

Plainly it can't, and I dread to think how many more lost souls are trundling to and fro between sorting office and Post Office, frantically chasing phantom parcels. What about those who don't have their own transport, or are unable to get to the sorting office for other reasons? Ringing them obviously doesn't help, and I foresee a number of items being returned to sender purely because the intended recipient can't find out where they are.

It just isn't good enough, and, coming on the eve of a national postal strike, is a perfect demonstration of why these guys should not be allowed another penny. Organise (or privatise) the system, turn it back into the proud and efficient organisation that the Post Office once was, and folks may be willing to pay - until then, pay cuts all round sounds like a good idea to me.

Billy Seggars

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