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.