Friday, 15 February 2019

Asleep at Post!

The more senior residents of the UK may recall that there were many butts for the nation's darker humour, way back in the nineteen-seventies. With an element of good fortune, and maybe the odd guardian (angel) in an important or influential position, many of those selfsame butts were able to battle onwards and survive well into the nineteen-eighties.

Here in the nineteenth year of the 'new' millennium there is less room for the (older) butt jokes. Moreover, those 'easy' targets have long been assimilated, or dissolved, or smashed, or otherwise discontinued. Mostly they have been assimilated, but rather like a kidnap-victim in a second-rate TV drama, the identity may have been altered, maybe almost beyond recognition, perhaps beyond salvation, or so we are frequently encouraged to (mis)believe.

A particular item for scorn in the 'newspaper' of my parents- The Daily Mail- was British Rail. My, how the Daily Mail hated British Rail. Daily, the Daily Mail lambasted British Rail! And, because the reporting of this national 'failure' was being reported in a 'newspaper,' the 'failure' of British Rail was assimilated into common parlance and oft repeated as a national fact.

My parents had 'standards,' so the hatred of The Sun (even pre-Murdoch), for example, for British Rail was unknown... but assumed, as it was with many of our other national newspapers.

Today there are many rail companies to ridicule. The scathing commentary has not stopped, despite the Daily Mail's goal of privatisation having been 'fully' met! But, the railways are now far, far worse than ever they were in the nineteen-seventies, late, overcrowded, and prohibitively expensive!

But, this post is not about trains and their peculiar ailments, it is about another butt, the Post Office.

In all truth, I'm not entirely sure that the Daily Mail's hatred for the Post Office was ever that obvious in the nineteen-seventies. I'm not even sure that the Post Office was yet in its cross-hairs. I am sure that the Daily Mail's currency was still largely in the 'coinage' of hatred. I think that it was a far more overtly racist paper back then, with its sights upon other, more 'urgent,' targets!

The type of racism spewed by the Daily Mail, these days, is that of an altogether more 'inclusive' breed. Invariably such dilutions as this may even weaken the bloodline, and yet the Daily Mail still fights its corner with such rabidity that it now, often I find, resembles nothing quite so much as some sort of aggressive societal cancer. Aspirations, aspirations...  

My first serious recollection of a growing disdain for the Post Office was in the nineteen-eighties, under the inglorious reign of Thatcher. Although the beast that was Thatcher always maintained that she would not ever sanction any physical attack upon the Post Office. She mustered her most superior and tutored enunciation to utter something about "the queen's head," being safe whilst she (Thatcher) was in charge.

But, despite its adoration of the woman, the Daily Mail still doggedly disliked the Post Office. And, being the Daily Mail, it undoubtedly stoked and encouraged this dislike to fester into a hatred! A more familiar currency!

Late deliveries, especially during the Christmas rush, were frequently being cited as reasons to 'modify,' break up, alter, but really to privatise! First class did not ever deliver first class, we were oft reminded. So the Daily Mail's 'desired' process was duly brought to the fore! As was and is the habit within ostensibly rightward-leaning nations yet another appeasement of the politically right was duly put into place.

Like a gigantic cake, the old Post Office was meticulously sliced into ever smaller segments. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that the 'old' Post Office used to cover virtually all postal services and all telecommunications services before 1969.

I think that the more financially-attractive telephone service was the first thing to go. Now we have many 'service providers,' few of whom appears to be able to hold up a (virtual) certificate of 'commendable,' or even 'reliable,' 'service' for more than a few months. Costs in general, particularly those of land-lines, have gone upwards, yet the Daily Mail's agenda has once again been fully realised! The now seriously modified British Telecom is no longer just a service, it is now a corporation, 'service' having been assigned a more 'suitable' place further down the queue.

As (Murdoch's) Sky has done with its 'own' TV 'services,' the Post Office has been looked at and reappraised, again and again... the cake has been rearranged and repositioned upon the plate, but the ultimate goal has consistently been to slice any offering yet thinner and thinner!

Now there are many, many courier services, none of whom are really any cheaper than the Post Office once was. Certainly, none of these are able to provide quite the cover that the Post Office previously managed!

Disingenuous rag that it is, the Daily Mail is most cunning at making its agenda read like it is actually 'our' agenda. The disdain that it felt for the Post Office was, in fact, never even disdain. What it was, instead, was an agenda that was disguised as disdain- a hidden agenda, if you like.

Now, I am actually something of a fan of the Post Office, although this 'appreciation' is, like other aspects of the Post Office, daily being reduced further and further. Really, it is more the concept of an earlier model, of which I am a fan. But even as a wavering fan, I would have to contest that, should you wish to acquire a stamp in the city of Norwich, the very last place from which you would wish to do so would be the Post Office. Quite likely, this is true of many Post Offices- those that have been tampered with- in many large towns or cities... those still fortunate enough to still have a Post Office!

Firstly there will be interminable queues- this much, in cities, has not changed, perhaps merely extended- then there will be an almost draconian refusal to allow you to pay in coinage, over a counter to a person with a face, unless one particularly savours the British queue. Unlike other automations that employed by the Post Office appears, first and foremost, to have been (re)designed to frustrate. How you will wish you had found a friendly face in a corner shop, or remembered to pick up that book of stamps whilst still at the supermarket. It is really one of life's many ironies that just as 'our' government are clamouring to shut as many Post Offices as they can get away with, so the nation is once again growing to value those formerly untampered-with lost services?

Still, even here, actively being (mis)organised deliberately to fail, we find that the Post Office remains, in one highly significant respect, far superior to the competition!

Imperfect as it undoubtedly is, the Post Office's parcel and letter service remains as good as or superior to much (all?) of the competition. How it must goad at the Daily Mail's ideology, for this still to be the case! But hatred, like that perpetuated by the likes of the Daily Mail, has these days to be spread ever thinner- there is just so much for 'them' to despise, and so few pages upon which to do so. The old war horse, Paul Dacre- his unshackled contempt for humanity was damaging even to the Tories- has been given to pasture. Dare we hope that his is not to be a pleasant retirement?

Austerity, when it arrived, was rather like manna from heaven to a party of multimillionaires and industrial-scale landlordly types. It offered itself like one immense screen, behind which everything public might finally be carted off to the great car-boot sale in the sky, that which had actually survived thus far... the likes of the Post Office!

Money that was desperately being diverted to prop up failing (but now private) rail companies, for example, was being hacked raggedly away from the public bone. Curiously, the sums now available to repeatedly (and shockingly) failing rail companies are far in excess of anything that was ever deemed imaginable in the days of British Rail. We know what the Daily Mail thinks, or presents as thinking, but does the Daily Mail?

In the scrabble to reduce and to minimise Post Offices presented themselves much like sacrificial lambs, their purposeful buildings were vacated and alternative-skeletal-services were transferred to salvaged old school desks, hastily set up in the darker corners of supermarkets and other shops- WH Smith in Norwich, for example- the Post Office took another round to the flanks!

Hundreds of wonderfully and purposefully constructed community-serving buildings were opened up to the free market! Or else were boarded up and left to gather dust and longing looks from an older generation of locals. If one finds oneself living away from the far larger conurbations, one's 'local' Post Office (local Crown Post Office- note the distinction!) may be as far as a dozen miles away, a twenty-plus miles round trip! The language has changed, and the word 'local' has mutated. Seriously ironic, we might consider, given the state of our rural public transport.

As the markets are being continually 'opened up' to governmental friends in the city, and other playboy types, 'investors' are ever hoping to cash in! Of course, and given the manner in which failing businesses are able repeatedly to shovel cash into the bank-balances of culpable CEOs and major share-holders, those types seriously do cash in! But the courier 'services' that are springing up are all based upon the 'cutting corners, getting rich quick' models of current UK business practise. Investment, in any real sense, is merely a catch phrase, to be wheeled out, time and time again, should a wider public notice how shoddily the 'service' is performing. The proof as ever is in the eating!

When my family used to live in Aylsham there was a wonderful and ever-busy Post Office, until austerity saw fit to squash this into the nearest supermarket and to relocate parcel storage facilities some twelve miles away. Competition courier service, Hermes- is that contagious?- used to quietly slip their, 'sorry you were out,' notes through letterboxes and then run away! So tight was the timetable of the poor courier that he (or she) didn't even have time to knock on a door and to wait for a less-than-instant reply. Once or twice, I caught up with the embarrassed chap and challenged his efforts but, really, it wasn't his efforts, was it?

Other courier services left things in the refuse bin at the rear of the property, justified via a hastily scrawled card dropped upon the doormat. Had they in fact checked that bins were not to be emptied later that day, or before the parcel was to be retrieved? Of course they hadn't, how could they? Presumably, the companies deal with the flak resulting from binned valuables in much the same manner as all modern day complaints procedures... that is without serious concern, and via an automated 'answer service!'

Now that my family lives in a city apartment, the question often asked of us is, "Is there anyone we can leave it with, if you are out?" The follow up is invariably, "Is there anywhere safe we can leave it?" We live in an apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment block to which 'non-residents' will only be permitted access at certain times in the mornings. "Is there anywhere safe that you, Mr Courier, could store it?" might be a not unreasonable response.

At our home in Norwich we are expected to suffer couriers like Yodel, who will not so much as deign to buzz an occupied apartment, instead preferring to jettison a card with the message, "Sorry I missed you when I came to deliver." "Except you didn't, did you?" I often hope to confront the runner with. Have the couriers now become quite this time poor? Surely this behaviour is the modern city equivalent to refusing to make a delivery because a front door has not been left ajar... just in case. What then is really their purpose?

When the Post Office delivery service was operating at an optimum- never quite optimum enough for the Daily Mail- letters and parcels were regularly delivered at a fairly punctual, probably earlyish morning, time, maybe there was even a second delivery? Should any person awaiting delivery of a sizable parcel be out there was a thorough network of purpose-built Post Office premises where an undeliverable item might be stored... locally!

Fast forward to the present, where we had a recent delivery by the courier service Yodel; it was left on the doorstep of the apartment block, effectively almost upon the street. Whilst entering the building, I  distractedly picked up two irresponsibly left parcels, I had assumed on behalf of one of my many neighbours, and was amazed to discover that they were both addressed me. Pure chance! The items could instead have been taken by anyone! Probability would suggest that it is most unlikely that I was the first resident to make such a finding.

It cannot be considered the fault of those who live in apartments if the courier service has cut its options to the bone, can it? Although my family unit is not in quite this boat, there are many who have been forced into this lifestyle (it is not always a choice), through also a long-long-list of nationally inadequate housing policies.

To whom could such a woeful courier service, as that provided by these companies, be of any real satisfactory and ongoing use? As a nation we should give the issue much serious thought!

Well, I would imagine that Mr Dacre could afford to employ staff for the sole purpose of receiving random post items, as could the Daily Mail's offices, as could many households as occupied by the current members of our majesty's government, as could the offices of all the larger corporations, and almost all of the smaller ones, although not necessarily all small businesses. The likes of Messrs Bransom and Sugar are all equipped with fully staffed and functioning receptions. For these types there is always someone at said reception to receive that parcel.

These groups and people often now operate within a hermetically-sealed bubble of comfort, a sort of financial privilege, whereby they are always afforded public platform in order to convey their distaste for that which is daily foisted upon the rest of the country. In example, I know that Mr Sugar strongly dislikes, answer-phones, as Mr Bransom dislikes arriving late, and yet should one try getting through to any of Mr Sugar's companies via a telephone there will be found an array of prerecorded messages, before one is to be unceremoniously dumped at the wrong end of a considerable waiting line of similarly frustrated callers. Indeed such, often, is many of the larger corporations distaste for accessible telephones- but only ever for the service of other people- that they may well have either removed, or effectively buried, the merest mention of a serviceable telephone number. Just try phoning Apple!

Half-hatched and likely legally questionable, I think that there is a suitable response to the afore-outlined type of corner-cutting by courier 'services.'

Had I, for example, always opted to deny all knowledge of receipt of any or all of my more ad hock deliveries then I should imagine that I could have benefited easily to the sum (or equivalent) of several hundred pounds- parcels that may have been collected by refuse trucks, parcels that may well have been randomly picked up off the doorstep- perhaps more besides! Imagine projecting this idea outwards, over the length and breadth of the country. It is, I am led to believe, the company from whom the item has been purchased that is financially liable... what happens if collectively we make undertaking a claim every bit as routine as the pertinent courier service makes abandoning our parcels? They absolutely cannot be certain that unsigned for items have ever arrived... so maybe we could try treating these half-cocked 'deliveries' as if they haven't?

The flaw in my plan perhaps currently lies in the necessary organisation of such a movement. There within the coordination sits the implicit proof of intent, never mind the incompetence of the companies and the courier services that they choose to employ.

Maybe the very best, yet impossible, answer to the issue of the lost Post Office services lies in a virtual national journey back to the (values of the) nineteen-seventies, those times of a more-embryonic hatred employed by the Daily Mail. Seventies housing and seventies British Rail, the bad old days? If only there were some way that we in the UK could turn back the clock...

As we currently stand, and specifically with regards to the delivery of parcels and packages, we appear to have deregulated ourselves into a system whereby courier 'services may regard certain household deliveries as effectively a zero-hour arrangement- "We will attempt to deliver the items for which you have already paid a delivery surcharge sometime on the following Tuesday, between the hours of 08:00 and 21:00. Please feel free to cancel all other commitments for the stipulated day!"

There was a time, somewhat brutal, when falling asleep at one's post was punishable through execution by firing squad, with innumerable repercussions beyond imaginable! So, who's been asleep at their post this time and, more worryingly, who's been sneaking around whilst this has been going on?

We might like to delude ourselves that 'our' ministers are all too often figuratively asleep at their posts, but the reality is far, far worse than this. They have collectively and all-too-consciously ushered in an era of plastic suffocation, hastened an ecological holocaust, and enabled a global hierarchy whereby much of global commerce is driven at the behest of merely a 'handful' of teflon-coated-multibillionaires.

We were right to have felt betrayed by our parent's generation, much as our grandchildren's generation might rightly point a deservingly accusing finger at our generation. Perhaps The Post Office has just been swept up with the current.

Congratulations and 'God's' speed to all of those striking school children who are already pointing an accusing finger. May they fair far better than did we!

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