Sunday, 4 December 2022

Oldies and Youngies

My dad regularly sends me random photographs and tells me what he is up to. Sometimes his energy and commitment astound me. That's him in the green coat. He is 86. He has campaigned tirelessly against Brexit ever since the referendum was announced and onwards since the result, talking to people on the streets and writing to the local paper several times a month. This weekend the local 'Devon for Europe' group were doing what they call a 'Democracy Meter'; doing a snap poll of public opinion (200 people in 2 hours he says) by asking people to indicate support or otherwise for different issues. 
At the other end of life's journey is Aaliyah, born on Thursday 1st December to Matthew and Harshi. Despite a slightly shaky start mum and babe now doing well, and Granny Claire is over the moon.
Stay safe. Be kind. Support the nurses strike. Save our NHS.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Z is for Zero

Ten years ago I had been working for Royal Mail for ten years. Sarah sidled up to me this morning and said I was the first person to receive the new, redesigned anniversary appreciation award. I demurred and said no to the public presentation ... and it was a good thing I did because when I opened the envelope this crappy card was all they sent me. I was underwhelmed to say the least, but we saw the funny side and lots of people pitched in to talk about the random pens and badges that they had been given over the years to mark significant milestones. It came with a letter to the manager suggesting that they might want to give consideration to how to "bring the celebration to life" and how there is a "recognition toolkit" with "hints, tips and easy ideas" to help show me just how much my contribution to the company is valued. So zero is pretty much the amount that my contribution is appreciated. I think I might be revisiting my plan to write about the other ways in which Royal Mail gives zero f***s for everything except profit.

Stay safe. Be kind. Be Positive, Be Brilliant, Be Part Of It 😝.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Y is for York

This is a York. Royal Mail probably has thousands of them. My job seems consists mainly of pushing them back and forth to the cage (we still refer to it as the cage, even though since an office renovation it no longer has wire mesh walls). In the morning dozens are delivered to our office holding letters and parcels. Two or three arrive full of specials. First job is to remove them from the york and scan them into the building. Then I push the empty yorks out. When the specials are sorted I wheel in some more yorks containing the local collect parcels and the missorted parcels. Later I wheel in a couple of empty yorks ready to prepare the redelivery items. Drivers come back with items collected from post offices and we stack these on more yorks. During the day people come into the Customer Service Point and drop off packages for return. We collect these in yorks; when they are full they are wheeled out ready to be transported to the mail centre. As the posties return from delivery in the early afternoon they put their undelivered packets in empty yorks, and these are wheeled in to the cage to be booked in to the SPS system. More collections come in late afternoon. More yorks are wheeled in and out of the cage. After the collection driver leaves I tidy up the random empty yorks and stack them on the stage. They are pretty useful bits of kit. Older ones are steel and quite heavy but newer ones are aluminium. Like shopping trollies you occasionally get a temperamental one with wheels that won't go in a straight line. The base of the york lifts so they can stack inside each other when not being used. And I like the way that things in Royal Mail are designed to fit together: the yorks are sized so that four stacks of boxes fit them exactly and then 15 yorks fit exactly in the back of a lorry. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Keep your yorks in a row.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Lost Hands, Lost Husbands, Lost Poems

Ok, this has sat around for weeks and weeks unfinished so I am going to give in and just do yet another half-arsed job.

I had high hopes of 'The Fourth Hand' by John Irving after 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' and while I enjoyed it I was not as invested in Patrick as I was with Owen. It is just weird. He loses his hand in a bizarre accident, and manages for ages without, and then this woman practically insists that he have her dead husband's hand. He becomes obsessed with her. It all gets more weird. But somehow he becomes a slightly better person because of it. Having said that I am going to give you this surreal quote, concerning Zajac (Patrick's transplant surgeon), his son Rudy, and their neurotic dog Medea, because who doesn't love a good game of 'dog turd lacrosse':

"Picking up a dog turd with a lacrosse stick, especially on the run, is a lot harder than picking up a lacrosse ball. (Dog turds come in varying sizes and are, on occasion, entangled with grass, or they have been stepped on.) Nevertheless, Rudy had been well coached. And Medea's determination, her powerful lunges against the leash, gave the boy precisely what was needed in the process of mastering any sport - especially 'dog turd lacrosse,' as both father and son called it. Medea provided Rudy with competition.
Any amateur can cradle a dog turd in a lacrosse stick, but try doing it under the pressure of a shit-eating dog; in any sport, pressure is as fundamental a teacher as a good coach. Besides, Medea outweighed Rudy by a good ten pounds and could easily knock the boy down.
'Keep your back to her - attaboy!' Zajac would yell. 'Cradle, cradle - keep cradling! Always know where the river is!'
The river was their goal - the historic Charles. Rudy had two good shots, which his father had taught him. There was the standard over-the-shoulder shot (either a long lob or a fairly flat trajectory) and there was the sidearm shot, which was low to the water and best for skipping the dog turds, which Rudy preferred. The risk with the sidearm shot was that the lacrosse stick passed low to the ground; Medea could block a sidearm shot and eat it in a hurry." (p.68-9)

'On Canaan's Side' by Sebastian Barry, despite it's rather 'Cathering Cookson' cover style was well up to his usual standard. I have read several over the last decade, my most loved being 'A Long Long Way' back in 2012. I love the connections between the books; this one features Lilly who is the younger sister of Willie Dunne, and when she talked about the death of her brother it bought back for me how I felt reading the other book. Lilly falls for an old comrade of her brother's, but political circumstances contrive to force them to flee to America. She lives her life there, fearful and unwilling to contact her family. She loses two husbands but finds herself unexpectedly with a grandson, who's loss punctuates the book as the story goes back and forth between memories and mourning. Barry just manages to make his characters so strong and you care so much about their trials. Again in this book, minor characters also come through as important supporting parts.
 
"I can actually see some of these old matters. I am here at my table, but I am also combing my hair in the little room I shared with Cassie Blake, away away there in Cleveland. I am using her beloved rat-tail comb. She liked Sweet Georgia Brown hair pomade, and I can smell it as I sit here, sixty years later. And with the smell is conjured lovely Cassie, her backside up in the air as she dug about in her battered trunk for some elusive bit of clothing.
When I was a young child my father gave me a necklace of my mother's. The first thing a child does with a grown-up necklace is burst the thread. The little cultured pearls poured out on the floor, and made a dash for the gaps between the floorboards. He was able to rescue only a half-dozen, and threaded them back forlornly on the necklace.
The others must still be there, a queer memorial to me and my mother, in the darkness.
A long bit of string and six chastened-looking pearls. Maybe my life is a bit like that." (p.95)

Carol Shields is another author I have read and loved (Unless from 2013 and Larry's Party from 2009) and 'Mary Swann' was an immediate pickup in the charity shop. I was very confused by the last part of the book, but actually it turned out ok. The first four parts tell the story of Mary Swann, obscure poet, from the point of view of four people involved in her 'discovery'. So you get engaged in each of those people, and their connection to Mary and each other. The upcoming 'symposium' is discussed throughout, this is where the book is headed, but other things gradually emerge: are people using her to make their own reputation, who actually wrote the poems, are there more poems to be revealed, and why are all the copies of the original collection disappearing? Then the final part reads as a film script, something I have not encountered in a novel before. It was weird to begin with, but then I liked it, because I was visualising the scenes as they were being described, which was an interesting effect. The American edition is entitled 'Swann:  A Mystery', which gives more hint to the structure of the book. Questions are not answered, but the denouement was still satisfying. I also really liked the (imaginary) poems, several of which are included. I give you this, because the book is (partly) about poetry:

"It always seemed something of a miracle to him that poetry did occasionally speak. Even when it didn't he felt himself grow reverent before the quaint magnitude of the poet's intent. When he thought of the revolution of plants, the emergence of species, the balance of mathematics, he could not see that any of these was more amazing than the impertinent human wish to reach into the sea of common language and extract from it the rich dark beautiful words that could be arranged in such a way that the unsayable might be said. Poetry was the prism that refracted all of life. It was Jimroy's belief that the best and worst not human experiences were frozen inside these wondrous little toys called poems. He had been in love with them all his life, and when he looked back to his childhood, something he seldom did, he saw that his early years, those passed before the discovery of poetry, had drifted by empty of meaning. " (p.86)

I have three from the library to be getting on with, though am half way through 'Go Set A Watchman'.

Stay safe. Be kind. Get to bed early.

Friday, 25 November 2022

VW is for Very Wasteful

There are lots of wasteful behaviours that I think many companies engage in. Leaving lights on in empty building, shops that heat the street by keeping their doors open, but here at Royal Mail we have large TVs in each office that run all day with nobody watching. The previous one had an off button, but when I do my mid-morning tour of the office turning out the lights I can't find the way to turn this one off. While I know that turning off the lights won't save the planet I do think everyone needs to be paying more attention to thoughtless waste.

On Buy Nothing Day I cleaned the bathroom, made some flapjack and watched crappy Christmas films.
Stay safe. Be kind. Buy nothing.

Monday, 21 November 2022

U is for Unfathomable

In conjunction with the Post Office we run a service called 'Local Collect' where you can send your package to a local post office to pick up. This can be quite handy if your local Customer Service Point is not close by (and depending on your local office the Post Office might also be open longer hours). When you go online to book a redelivery the system will offer you a Local Collect option and tell you which post office is the nearest to you. Unfathomably sometimes people chose to send their parcel to somewhere further away. This might have logic for them if it is near their work for example, but when the students in Mayfair Court send their parcels to Withington Post Office it leaves me bemused, as they literally walk past our door to get there. So we follow these automated instructions and just agree that people are weird. At least once a day someone will come in looking for a parcel they have sent for Local Collect.
Oh well.
(Disclaimer: this a to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Use your local Post Office.

Thursday, 17 November 2022

T is for Telling the Customer Off

This is a P6586 sticker. I refer to it as the Telling the Customer Off sticker, and it's my favourite. I relish sticking them on people's parcels and letters. This is because I go to quite a bit of effort to make sure things get where they are meant to be, and sometimes people thwart me in my labours by not really knowing the address of the person they are sending to. Bad postcodes cause things to be misrouted entirely. For example, the town of Bellshill in North Lanarkshire; it's postcode is ML4, which, when written lazily looks just like M14. Every day I send on parcels for Bellshill. I hope the people there appreciate my efforts. Missing house or flat numbers cause me to go searching our SPS system to discover where a person might live. Students who continue to use the postcode of their hall of residence even though they have moved into a house share. All these people will get a P6586 sticker. Don't be stickered, check the postcode when you send stuff this Christmas.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Get a better sticker.

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

S is for Sorry

This is a P6543 card (everything has a number in Royal Mail), more accurately called the apology card. I do still have a couple in my pocket even though I rarely go out delivering letters any more. It's easier than you think to put the wrong thing through someone's letterbox. The most common reason in my experience is being interrupted on the street: someone comes up and asks you something, and then you turn to go, walk up to the next house and deliver the next letters, only to realise they did not have any letters and they were for the house next door. It can be quite hard to admit you have done something wrong (the childhood fear of punishment lingers well into adulthood) but over time I have become more relaxed about knocking and apologising and asking for letters back, and mostly people are perfectly nice about it. The card is there so apologise on your behalf if there is no one home. I worry I have almost gone too far the other way and happily admit to customers (regularly during the pandemic) that no their mail did not go out today, or that I have no idea where their parcel might be ... I can't lie to save my life so find myself unable to spout fake excuses (I told one customer the notice about technical issues causing the early closing was a lie and we just did not have enough staff). The Amazon driver dropped a packet on our doorstep last week for Cowesby Street (without stopping to wait for an answer) so I just walked round and delivered it. Acknowledging mistakes in myself makes me much more forgiving of others, and when you do so you are less fearful of errors, because mostly they are not the end of the world.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Cut yourself some slack.

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

R is for Redirection

'If you don't redirect your mail, anyone could be reading it'. It might seem like quite a lot of money to mainly get your Boden catalogue but it is surprising how many people don't bother to redirect their mail. Random people you don't know could have access to all sorts of information about you if you leave your post at an old address ... your bank statements for example. Walks in our office can have anything from four or five to 40+ redirections. They are a physical thing (as I tried to explain to a customer once), a plastic wallet containing the instruction, with the old and new addresses, and stickers with the new address on. Each day the sorted mail is checked for each redirection and letters for the specified people are stickered and sent on. The parcel scanning system will also flash an alert on tracked parcels for any address that has an active redirection. I know you have a lot to think about when you're moving, but in effect this can save you trouble as it gives you extra time to inform all the people who need to know that you are in a new place. 
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Protect your identity.

Monday, 14 November 2022

Back to Work

  I went back to work today. Having pottered about for my entire week off, and waited in twice for my barrel delivery, I finally got the only job I had planned done this afternoon. My plum tree is now three years old and it was time to give him a bit more room to grow. I had to move everything round to make some room in the yard and charge up the drill to make drainage holes, and move the other plants that were sharing his planter.
The tomato seedlings that have been all over the place this summer are still determined to take over:
Plum tree in his new home, with a new selection of bulbs for some springtime delights:
I did manage to spend a delightful day with my adorable bubs on Saturday:
Stay safe. Be kind. Plant a tree, autumn is the best time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

The Great Outdoors

So I went with Julie and Al over to the Bridgewater RHS garden last week (having succumbed to an advert in the Gardener's World and joined the RHS). It is a lovely place and being close enough to bike to I hope that it being free to get in means I will go regularly and see it in all the seasons and watch the garden develop over time. It was still very colourful despite the onset of autumn and the sun shone.
The Chinese Streamside Garden has come on quite a bit since the spring.
I had been feeling very grumpy and some time in the out-of-doors was just what I needed.
We pottered gently for an hour not worrying about 'seeing everything', but did spot this magnificent bracket fungus:
Back at home Tish bought some random yarn to make baby socks so we have been doing outfits for our sprogs. Matt and Harshi are due the first week of December and Jacob and Kerri the week after. I have started a toddler sized poncho as well. Getting excited to welcome our new family member.
Stay safe. Be kind. Fingers crossed for safe deliveries.

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Q is for Queue

I looked out of the front window one day a few weeks ago and thought that there was some kind of roadside vigil happening ... only to realise that the queue at the bus stop was so long it was passing across the front of the office. Everyone was standing a 'safe distance' apart. It feels like covid has permanently changed our queuing behaviour, everybody leaves a gap now when they queue, it's the new normal. Apart from when we were only open two hours a day, for most of the pandemic we rarely had a queue. People were home. The number of parcels we stored at the office plummeted. The number of people calling to collect plummeted. Things seem to have finally gone back to normal. Bear in mind that the three people in front of you in the queue will want; 1. the Post Office 2. to complain about a parcel that is showing on the tracking as delivered but they haven't had and 3. to ask about their letter from the Home Office via Google Translate. If we have someone with a complicated query sometimes I can ask a colleague to take over and serve the rest of the customers, but given our current staffing crisis please bear in mind that I am doing three people's work and when I go off to find the manager they may have popped out to Macdonalds. I am always working as fast as I possibly can. Please refer to my 'Read the Card' post to ensure you do not stand in the queue unnecessarily. 
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy your week off.

Monday, 7 November 2022

P is for Packaging

In advance of Christmas posting the issue of packaging is the main one. Look at the item you wish to send. If it is in any way fragile pack it in a box, padded with lots of cushioning, either crumpled up newspaper, bubble wrap or nice starch based packing peanuts. Do not pack tiny things in big boxes.  If the box you have is too large just cut it down to fit better. Jiffy bags are the best way to send smaller item, and they can be reused multiple times. If the item has any sharp edges wrap them to prevent them poking out. Choose a size that fits your item snugly so that it does not slide around inside and tear the packaging. 'Do not bend' envelopes are strictly only for flat things. If the item is soft and squishy do not wrap it in brown paper; the paper will tear when the item is picked up or put through the sorting machine; use a plastic posting bag. It's fine to improvise; a tough carrier bag folded over works well, but bin liners are mostly too flimsy. Do not use Christmas wrapping paper to send things through the post, it is not robust enough and will simply disintegrate. As far as I am aware there is not currently any rationing of sellotape. Use plenty. Make sure there are no loose corners that can tear open. Ideally write the address directly on the package with permanent marker. If you do use a separate label, again cover all edges with sellotape/parcel tape to ensure it cannot be torn off accidentally. 
It is part of my job to repair damaged packages ... well sometimes people just hand things through the hatch because they don't want to deal with it, and we do try and get your items there in one piece, but appropriate packaging is the responsibility of the sender.

(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Time to pot up your plum tree.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

O is for OMG read the card

Another post sparked by an encounter with a customer this week. A young man came in and slid his Hermes card across the counter. I picked it up and pointed out that it was a Hermes card. I then pointed to the writing in the corner that said his package had been left in the electricity meter cupboard. Object lesson in reading the card. I made light of it and smiled and he took it with good humour. Some people get very irritated when you point out to them that they did not read the card. 
Our P739 cards inform the customer which office they should call at, how to collect their package, how to arrange a redelivery, and importantly that their parcel will be available to collect the next working day. While we do book in packets throughout the day, and they are mostly back at the office by mid afternoon, please bear in mind that you may choose to stand in a queue only to be told your packet is not available.
(P.S. If your card indicates to collect at an office other than your usual/local one please ignore this instruction. Sometimes delivery staff work at other locations and use whatever P739 they have in their pocket. This can be very unhelpful, but thankfully relatively rare.)  
I could not find an image of a Parceforce card. They are often not very helpful as the driver puts the postcode of the post office where they have left the package. Fine for me, because I know the postcodes of all the local offices, but most people don't. 
Just so you know ... Royal Mail Customer Service Points only hold Royal Mail parcels. We do not hold for DPD or Hermes or Parceforce. 
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Read the card.

Saturday, 29 October 2022

N is for Nine O'clock Special Delivery

Among the services that Royal Mail offers the 9am Special Delivery is the most expensive, and the least used (we might get 2 or 3 per day) ... and the most commonly returned to the office as 'no answer'. This is because the 9am Special Delivery item does not go out to be delivered at 9am. The guarantee is that it will be delivered by 9am, which in practice means that someone will make a special journey to the intended address some time between about 7.30am and 8.30am. This works fine for The Christie as they have reception open all the time, but for most businesses, where I assume the sender is wanting it to arrive at the start of the day, more often than not, it arrives before anyone is at the office. This wastes everyone's time and money (and don't get me started on the carbon footprint of 9am specials!) If it arrives back in the office before the walk holder has left then I will try and send it out again but mostly it just means that this very important item spends the day languishing in the cage.  
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Take some paracetamol for that vaccination arm ache.

Friday, 28 October 2022

M is for Mail Centre

I was prompted to write this by an encounter with a customer on Wednesday who called in wanting to stop the package she had posted the previous day at the post office. She didn't like the answer I gave her and so called customer service, who told her to come back and ask again. It was something of a waste of everybody's time. I confess I don't know in detail how the mail centre functions but I know stuff goes in one end and comes out the other and goes on to its intended destination. While the vast majority of mail and parcels probably now come direct from businesses we still collect from post boxes and post offices every day and dispatch everything at the end of the day to the mail centre. It seemed impossible to find a picture of a mail centre that was busy and full of yorks, this one  looks half empty. The times I passed through Manchester mail centre when I was doing covid kit collections it was always busy and crowded. 
So this is roughly what happens when you post a letter:
A postman comes and empties the box and brings it back to their delivery office.
It is loaded with the letters from all the other boxes onto a york (big metal trolley things).
At the end of the day a lorry arrives from the mail centre and takes it away.
They are fed through a machine that reads the postcode and they are separated and dispatched to the mail centre that is appropriate for its destination.
A bigger lorry takes it to the next mail centre.
Letters are fed into sorting machines that sort them to the appropriate delivery office and walk.
Yet another machine sorts the letters (well some of them) into the right order to be delivered.
They are loaded into boxes, put back on a york and dispatched to the appropriate delivery office.
At the delivery office the posties sort the mail into their walk frames. We can't just take the box of walk-sorted mail out because only about half of the mail is sorted this way so it must still be prepped for delivery.
Then the postie bundles the letters and smaller packets up and puts them in delivery bags ready for delivery.
Once something is in the system the only place it is going is the address on the front.
So no, you can't get your packet back. I hope that clears that up.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Get your covid booster.

Monday, 24 October 2022

Buddha in the Attic

'The Buddha in the Attic' by Julie Otsuka was linguistically interesting, being written in third person plural; we and us are the pronouns used by the narrator as if the whole group of women are sitting together telling the story of what happened to them. A group of young women are travelling from Japan to America as picture brides, marriages arranged at a distance for migrant workers who have settled in the US. It is not one story but many, many stories, many different experiences related alongside each other, so there are not 'characters' as such, sometimes the women, their husbands or children are named, but sometimes all we have is the litany of their lives. They travel together and discuss their expectations. They arrive and find these expectations are mostly disappointed, but they got on with life regardless. They work, they have children, time passes. 
The whole book was a delight because it read like a prose poem, and you felt connected to the whole community of women, even though you don't know them individually, you see this huge spectrum of experiences. I liked them because I admired their fortitude, their ability to make the best of what life gave them and strive to be happy. It was a hard life that they found when they arrived but they were equal to it. They count their blessings. This is just a small part of the 'Babies' chapter, which continues in this vein for several pages:

"We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 133 degree hear. We gave birth beside wood-stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest night of the year. We gave birth on windy islands in the Delta, six months after we arrived, and the babies were tiny, and translucent, and after three days they died. We gave birth nine months after we arrived to perfect babies with full heads of black hair. We gave birth in dusty vineyard camps in Elk Grove and Florin. We gave birth on remote farms in the Imperial Valley with the help of only our husbands, who had learned from The Housewife's Companion what to do. First you bring the pan water to a boil ... We gave birth in Rialto by the light of a kerosene lantern on top of an old silk quilt we had brought over with us in our trunk from Japan. It still had my mother's smell. We gave birth like Makiyo, in a barn out in Maxwell, while lying on a thick bed of straw. I wanted to be near the animals. We gave birth alone, in an apple orchard in Sebastopol, after searching for firewood one unusually warm autumn morning high up in the hills. I cut her navel string with my knife and carried her home in my arms." (p.55)

Someone recommended reading in one sitting and I think that would have been nice too. I liked the fact that it was a portrait of Japanese culture, and how it both changed and didn't change by being in America, and also gave you an insight into what being an immigrant it like. Here they try to teach their children:

"We told them stories about tongue-cut sparrows and grateful cranes and baby doves that always remembered to let their parents perch on the higher branch. We tired to teach them manners. Never point with your chopsticks. Never suck your chopsticks. Never take the last piece of food from a plate. We praised them when they were kind to others but told them not to expect to be rewarded for their good deeds. We scolded them whenever they tried to talk back. We taught them never to accept a handout. We taught them never to brag. We taught them everything we knew. A fortune begins with a penny. It is better to suffer ill than to do ill. You must give back whatever your receive. Don't be loud like the Americans. Stay away from the Chinese. They don't like us. Watch out for the Koreans. They hate us. Be careful around the Filipinos. They're worse than the Koreans. Never marry an Okinawan. They're not real Japanese." (p.68-9)

When the war arrived the eyes of America were very abruptly turned on their Japanese community and many of them are interned for the duration, a policy that has since been repudiated, but the effect it had on the people was profound. First the men begin to disappear, causing fear and uncertainty, until eventually whole communities are shipped off. The book ends at this point, as the women who had worked so hard at being accepted are gradually forgotten by their friends, neighbours and employers, with no story of how they returned and reestablished their lives.

" 'When I'm gone,' our husbands said to us. We said to them, 'If.' They said, 'Remember to tip the iceman,' and 'Always greet the customers by name when they come through the door.' They told us where to find the children's birth certificates, and when to ask Pete at the garage to rotate the wheels on the truck. 'If you run out of money,' they said to us, 'sell the tractor.' 'Sell the greenhouse.' 'Sell off the merchandise in the store.' They reminded us to watch our posture - shoulders back - and not let the children slip up on their chores. They said, 'Stay in touch with Mr Haur at the Berry Growers Association. He is a useful person to know and may be able to help you.' They said, 'Believe nothing you hear about me.' And, 'Trust no one.' And, 'Don't tell the neighbours a thing.' They said, 'Don't worry about the mice in the ceiling. I'll take care of them when I come home.' They reminded us to carry our alien identification cards with us whenever we left the house and avoid all public discussion of the war. If asked, however, to give our opinion, we were to denounce the attack loudly, in a no-nonsense tone of voice. 'Do not apologise,' they said to us. 'Speak only English.' 'Suppress the urge to bow.' " (p.92-3)

That final sentence felt heartbreaking. 'Suppress the urge to bow.' It is saying, don't be Japanese, be something else, be what they want you to be, deny yourself. 
From her website there are some links to discussion about her first novel 'When the Emperor Was Divine', which concerns the internment of the Japanese community by the American government during WW2. A particular school district board seemed to find that there was a need to 'balance' the story she tells with the 'other side'. Surely such a story, when studied in school, would necessarily lead to a wide ranging discussion about the issues it raises and the long term impact of what happened during the war . Telling stories is an important part of understanding history.

Stay safe. Be kind. Read true stories.

Sunday, 23 October 2022

L is for Large Letter

I have already written about surcharges relating to fake stamps but the next most common cause of a surcharge is using an A4 envelope and sticking a standard stamp on it. A standard letter size, above, like your bank statement or council tax bill arrives in, takes a standard stamp. Anything larger than this needs a large letter stamp. If you put anything in the envelope with your letter or birthday card it will need a large letter stamp. Birthday cards with badges on will need a large letter stamp. The thickness limit on a standard letter is 5mm, this is not very much. Just because you are using a small envelope does not mean it is a standard letter. 
The revenue protection people do their jobs pretty enthusiastically.
£1.50 is the standard fee for underpaid letters.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Don't get yellow stickered.

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

I is for ID

When you call at the Customer Service Point to collect your parcel please bring some form of ID, to confirm that the package is yours. If you are collecting for someone else, please bring their ID. We are quite flexible; a driving licence or bank card is easiest but a passport or work id is fine, as are bus passes. If the package has no name on it you will need ID that includes your address, either a driving licence or a household bill. Royal Mail is a bit behind the times and does not mention digital forms of ID but I regularly accept digital bank cards or student ID. While you are supposed to bring your P739 card I rarely make a fuss about people who have lost or forgotten it, but you will not get your package if you do not have ID.
 
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Collect your package promptly.

Monday, 17 October 2022

H is for Human Being

Machines do lots of stuff these days. They can sort letters really fast. They can even sort parcels pretty good too. But you know what, most of the work is still done by human beings. Human beings open the postbox and collect your letters. Human beings drive them to the mail centre. There they get shunted between machines, by human beings. Then human beings drive them to the delivery office where human beings sort them ready for delivery, bundle them up and then human beings walk to your front door and put it through the letter box. A human being inputs the parcels into the PDA, stacks them in the back of a van and then drives from house to house. If you are not home a human being inputs your package into the cataloging system and shelves it. If you book a redelivery for your package a human being takes it from the shelf and labels it up for the next day, updates the computer system and puts it out for delivery. If you call and collect your package a human being greets you warmly and fetches it. Unlike the magic of the internet that happens almost instantaneously, these things all take time.
Royal Mail is now threatening to sack lots of these human beings who do this work, as if by magic the remaining human beings can do more work in their shift than they are already doing.
I'll just leave you to dwell on that.

Stay safe. Be kind. Workers of the world unite (you have nothing to lose but your chains).


The Rabbit Hutch

'The Rabbit Hutch' by Tess Gunty. I have come to the conclusion that I have now read so many books that almost everything I read reminds me of something else I have read. The Rabbit Hutch reminded me of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, because it begins with Blandine dying, with the rest of the book leading up to that death. However, unlike Chronicle, I felt a huge sense of tension as I read; it was if she was suspended on that moment of dying while I was reading. The book follows Blandine, her flat mates and some of the other residents of the Rabbit Hutch, but also Elsie, a child actor now dead old lady, and her son Moses. They are not necessarily lives that are interlinked by anything other than proximity. Blandine is a young woman searching for meaning, aren't we all, and seems to have found it in ancient mystics and ecoterrorism. Set in the city of Vacca Vale, who's car industry has died to leave a decaying infrastructure and terminal community decline, and in a housing complex that leaves its occupants dehumanised and vulnerable. But there is very little self-pity in any of the characters, they have all found a way to cope. I was surprisingly not depressed by their tale, it felt very fly-on-the-wall observational, not asking you to be part of it. The characters were all interesting people and their stories crossed over in unexpected ways. 
Here Moses, who has all kinds of issues, and an incident from his childhood, which made my heart break:

"Marianne yanked her hands free from his grasp, flipped him off, then marched to the kitchen. Moses felt sorry for her, although even at twelve he knew that he could not trust feelings inspired by the beautiful. He felt tears dancing and scrambled to construct a blockade.
'Elsie, you must do something,' said Sabine. 'Look, your child is hurt. We have hurt your child.'
'My child?' said Elsie. She turned and looked at Moses for the first time, her face closed up like a shop after hours. 'I've never seen this boy before.'" (p.162-3)

And here Joan, another Rabbit Hutch resident, has been chatting to local homeless woman, thoughts referring back to an earlier assertion that she had plastic plants and 'aspired' to own live ones one day:

"First the girl at the laundromat, now Penny. Joan managed a sort of genetic predisposition towards invisibility for forty years, and then, within the span of two days, two strangers solicited her autobiography without apparent reason. It's moments like these when Joan fears she is the subject in some elaborate, federally funded psychology experiment. Abruptly, Joan understands why so many celebrities develop addictions. She feels like a demanding and ill-fated houseplant, one that needs light in every season but will die in direct sun, one whose soil requires daily water but will drown if it receives too much, one that takes a fertiliser only sold at a store that's open three hours a day, one that thrives in neither dry nor humid climates, one that's prone to every pest and disease. What kind of attention would make Joan feel at home? Who would ever work that hard to administer it? She will never own live houseplants." (p.239)

I had to race through it as it is on a waiting list for other people and was returned to the library this morning. I wish my brain had the attention span to spend more time on my reviews. I wish I was thinking harder about my reading. At least I am still reading. I only keep reviewing in the hope that motivation will return at some point. I picked up 'The Book of Form and Emptiness' by Ruth Ozeki (who I have read and loved) that is also on a short loan. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Keep going anyway.

Saturday, 15 October 2022

G is for Gates

If you choose to live behind gates, there are going to be issues. Any entrance that needs a fob or a code is sometimes going to result in packages with 'address inaccessible' written on. Agency or non-regular staff will not know your code. Sometimes you will just get a P739 card with your regular post, because we have stopped sending packets out repeatedly as this is a waste of everybody's time. 
If your gate is open, I will leave it open, since you probably don't care. If it's shut then I will shut it.
People who make formal complaints about their gate probably need to be grateful they have so few problems in their life that it matters.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. You can't keep the world out with a locked gate.

Thursday, 13 October 2022

Autumn Colour 2022

I think I probably did a similar post last year but these little things perked me up as I stepped into the yard this afternoon. The acer has dropped nearly all its leave in the pond but the red is still beautiful. 
The mystery bulb that I potted in the spring has produced a steady stream of soft yellow flowers for months:
The plum tree is fading, I don't remember it being so pretty last year:
The red hot pokers were late again, but we have had lots of blooms:
The sedum brightens up the corner where everything else is dying back:
A solitary cosmos is blooming in the ladder planter:
And the wallflowers that mum sent have flowered continually, bring a splash of colour to every season:
Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy a moment of autumn sunshine.

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

F is for Fake Stamps and Flowers

If your letter does not arrive one of the most likely causes is fake postage stamps. This is quite an issue these days. Royal Mail has a very helpful page on the subject of how to spot fakes, but the main message should be price ... if you are paying less than 95p for your first class stamps then they are most probably fake. If someone offered you a £5 note for £4 you would be suspicious, and the same should be true of stamps. Some are so obvious as to be laughable, with poor colour and bad printing but most are quite convincing to the casual glance. Genuine stamps have the words 'Royal Mail' in wavy lines printed in the background of the queen's image. Some fakes have this background printing but if you look closely it may be backwards, have poor printing or be in straight lines. 'They' have apparently already managed to fake the new barcoded stamps (that were supposed to prevent fraud), though I have not come across any yet. I had one customer who had bought her book of stamps from a local corner shop so be cautious if you buy them anywhere other than the post office. People online claiming to buy stamps in bulk cheaper are lying, you can only get cheaper postage if you have a business account (and this is metered post not using stamps). The sorting machines are pretty clever and can spot fakes and filter them out of the system to be processed by Revenue Protection. Underpaid items will be surcharged and delayed by at least a week.
Flowers by post seems like a lovely idea (not a fan myself, I like my flowers still attached to the plant) but, if you send someone flowers as a gift, tell them! Every week we return dead flowers that nobody has collected. Often the recipient is not expecting anything and does not pay attention to their P739 card. Sometimes people call in a week later, by which time the flowers are pretty shrivelled and unappealing. These nice flat boxes are designed to 'go through the letter box' ... but only certain kinds of letter boxes. Just give them a call and ask if the flowers arrived, or check your tracking number to see if they have been delivered. It feels like such a waste that so often nobody gets to enjoy them.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Stop and smell the flowers.

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