The British postal service, so people are fond of saying, is the best in the world. If that’s the case, heaven help you if you live in the rest of the world!
This year has seen a series of postal strikes, half-cocked and intermittent: I am not sure what they resolved, if anything, but perhaps they made somebody feel better.
Meanwhile naturally, the delivery service was (as planned) seriously disrupted – though to be fair it was not always that easy to tell.
Back in May my daughter Grace planned a home birth at the little house where her sisters live in St Leonards-on-Sea. Accordingly, since the birth was to take place in my bed there, I sent for two spare sheets, a waterproof terry-towelling mattress protector, and a set of similar protectors for the six pillows. They did not arrive. The ebay vendor from whom I had purchased them, a philosophical type well-acquainted with the British postal service (the best in the world), expressed no surprise, and dispatched a second set with good success, by private courier.
In the anxious time awaiting the arrival of the original set, I quizzed the postie several times. They were, he said, all at sixes and sevens in the sorting office. The parcel might eventually get through. Or it might not. To my wondering aloud whether I should walk over to the sorting office and investigate, he responded with an emphatic negative: 'I wouldn't do that if I were you!'
That was a large parcel. What on earth did they do with it? I can understand delay and confusion – but even a sorting office is only a box, not a wormhole in the solar system. If they have a parcel there, surely at some point it must come to light? If they have a habit of absorbing non-delivered parcels, surely the building must eventually reach capacity? How odd.
More recently, one of my family at that same little house was approached by the postie while she was waiting at the bus stop. ‘There’s no-one in at home,’ he remarked: ‘I’ve put your parcel in the black bin to save time’. She had no idea what he meant. Afraid of appearing foolish, she nodded and smiled as one does, and assumed he had taken the parcel away and fed it into a separate section of the system. The following day, when emptying her rubbish, something caught her eye at the bottom of the dustbin. Only then did she realize that the postie had actually deposited her parcel in the rubbish bin, ‘to save time’! What?!?
The postie likes my girls. Just as well. He is meant to deliver only letters and packets, but the other day he brought round a parcel, explaining that it had been sitting on the shelf at the sorting office for a week, but the man who was supposed to bring it couldn’t be bothered, so he thought he’d pop it in his own bag and deliver it. To reiterate: heaven help the rest of the world!
This December I have bought a number of items from ebay. In the main they are trickling through eventually. Yesterday a parcel was brought to my door. I live in a typical English street, smallish houses in rows, odd numbers down one side of the street, even numbers down the other side. My house is number 18. The delivery man asked if I would take in a parcel for the lady next door. I did not have my glasses on or look at the label, but said I would. I asked which next door, and he spoke confirming his earlier jerk of the head – it was intended for Sylvia at No 20. She was surprised when I took it round later, as she had not been expecting a parcel. Inspection revealed it to be for No 21 – which is some way down the street on the other side. I took it over. The householder laughed. ‘I’ve got one for No 10,’ he said. The day before, I took in a parcel that I was assured was for me. It turned out to be destined for the old people's home.
Feeling nervous about my ebay packages, which are late arriving as might be expected in this pressured time of year approaching Christmas, I looked at the receipt for the most important of the parcels now several days delayed, and felt relieved to discover that a tracked delivery mode had been selected, and a tracking number provided.
I went to the Royal Mail website and entered the tracking number, hoping to be reassured that something was known about my parcel, and it was at least possible to verify its passage through the system. Nothing in my imagination could have prepared me for the (automatically generated) response to my tracking enquiry; which was that this particular category of tracked mail could be tracked only after it had already been safely delivered.
I say again; if the British postal system is the best in the world, Heaven help the rest of you.