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.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

E is for Empty Space


Royal Mail are making grand claims about their 'Steps to Zero' and efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of packets, but they are doing little to address overpackaging that endemic across many companies. Tiny items are regularly packed into unnecessarily large boxes adding to transportation costs and thus carbon footprint. I regularly suggest to customers that they complain when they collect a huge box that is mostly empty space, but have no idea of anyone ever does. 
This was my experience buying a camera a decade ago, and the situation has not improved.
Worst offenders are Adidas and Rebok, who send pairs of trainers in a box large enough for a small child to hide in, though Amazon and The Hut Group are also awful:
Challenge companies if you receive things that are over packaged, don't just shrug and recycle.

Stay safe. Be kind. Buy less stuff.

Monday 10 October 2022

D is for Dogs

1,673 dog attacks were reported on postmen and postwomen last year. It's a fairly steady figure over time I believe. I have been bitten, hard enough to leave a mark, three times in my career to date. In the worst case scenario deliveries can be suspended to an address with an aggressive dog and the customer obliged to call and collect their mail. Quite a high proportion happen on the doorstep, where people open the door without first securing their animal. During the summer months people often leave their doors open giving their dogs free access to the garden. We are advised not to enter a garden is there is any concern an animal might be loose. I am suspicious of the people who announce that their dog is lovely and not to be concerned; it is best to be cautious of all dogs and never assume they are friendly. 
Just keep them under control, it's not hard.

But look, apricot tree seedlings, nuts planted mere weeks ago, from fruit that we ate earlier in the summer:

Stay safe. Be kind. Plant a tree.

Saturday 8 October 2022

C is for Christmas

I started working for Royal Mail a week before Christmas. This meant that what I was told would be a 1.30pm finish was actually a 4pm finish. It is kind of mind boggling how a business can magically absorb a 100% increase in it's workload over a very short period of time, and yet somehow, most of the time, we manage to get the cards and pressies (not to mention the chocolate advent calendars) where they are supposed to be. I like this time of year because, despite the workload, there is a nice atmosphere in the office and a sense that we are integral to enjoyment of the season. And I've been working hard on the home-made paper chains to decorate the office. As you may be aware we are currently experiencing an industrial dispute. This is likely to be ongoing, up to, but not including, (because we don't want to lose the support of the general public) the Christmas period. So the advice, as always, is to get organised and buy your pressies early. Don't leave things to the last minute. 
And while we're on the subject, Christmas wrapping paper is not suitable for sending items through the post. It's another thing I have mentioned before. It's not robust enough and will arrive in tatters. We may very well return to the subject of packaging later in the A to Z.

C is also for Chronic Understaffing, which appears to be the (deliberate?) policy of senior management. 10% of roles in our office are currently vacant and there is a moratorium on recruitment while we are in dispute (extending the moratorium that was in place over the summer). One aspect of the dispute is the sickness cover and the claim by management that sickness rates are very high. Their response to this 'situation' is to put staff under further stress by overworking everyone. I fail to see the logic. But then I am just a lowly postie. 
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Plan ahead.

Thursday 6 October 2022

A quickie for National Poetry Day

Dunk pointed out this morning that it is National Poetry Day (I would have missed it, being at work for 11 hours), so with my cup of tea I reach over to the poetry shelf and pick out 'Blue Coffee - Poems 1985-1996' by Adrian Mitchell and chose this little contribution to their theme of 'environment':

Another Attempt at a Nature Poem, But Don't Worry, Ted.

The vixen springs
The sparrow sings
The mole grins in his trap
The eagle swings
Her brazen wings
The bunny has a crap

Stay safe. Be kind. Read a poem.

Monday 3 October 2022

B is for Blue Bin

To blue bin or not to blue bin, that is the question?
I was once reprimanded for leaving a package in a blue bin. The customer had gone away, and their neighbour very helpfully put their bins out for them. I promised the manager I would never do it again. Then he left so I felt my promise to be discharged. Some customers come in and complain ... why did the postman just not leave it in the blue bin, then I wouldn't have to come and pick it up. They complain even harder if they requested it was left and then it was not left. Some customers come in with the words 'packet left in blue bin' on their P739 card, which they have not bothered to read (don't get me started). And then some people come in and complain that they did not want their packet left. We can't win. The blue bin is considered safe by quite a high proportion of posties. I have always felt it is a matter of judgement where you might leave a package safely for a customer, some people will never leave one anywhere. Use of a 'safe place', even one specified on the package, is at the discretion of the postie, as they are responsible for the delivery. So, the message is, if you want your package left somewhere safe, leave a note on your front door; while your regular guy may know your habits and preferences, they may be sick or on leave.
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Get a flu jab.

Saturday 1 October 2022

A is for Address

Lets start with the basics. Know the correct address for the person you are sending to. Make your handwriting neat, and use a pen that stands out from the colour of the envelope. If you put a half-assed address it will get a half-assed delivery. Remember that councils are very unimaginative and will reuse road names, sometimes multiple times across a city ... this is why postcodes are important. Here is a random postcode search on the Royal Mail postcode finder:
Similarly, in the countryside, cottage names will be equally unimaginative and repetitive, so include the village name. (When I worked in Morton every village had a Beech cottage, Cotswold Cottage, Church Cottage; Oddinton has three cottages just called The Cottage.) If your recipient lives in a flat, don't forget the flat number as well as the house number ...  a flat number without the house number will also be unlikely to arrive. (Sometimes you can get away with this if it is a student residence block that has a reception that holds all the mail, but ...)

Use the postcode. Please. (Pretty please.) They are an amazing invention. If a letter or packet has the correct postcode the chances are that I can get it to the right place if for some reason the rest of the address is defaced or missing. They do have their limits however. Some places get one all to themselves, but sometimes 100 houses or more may share the same one, so do not assume they can be used to track down the house of your auntie Gladys who you haven't written to since she was in hospital three years ago.
Put a return address on the back (everywhere else in the world seems to put it in the top corner, but here in the UK we use the back). Everything you put in the postal system needs a return address. I mean everything!
(Images here from the Royal Mail 'How to address your letter' page.)
(Disclaimer: this A to Z is not official Royal Mail advice, except by coincidence.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Send someone a real letter.