Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Last Post

Have you noticed lately that all the Little Chef restaurants are closed? Yes, that remnant of the fifties, with their picture menus and powdered omelettes have finally gone out of business. What was once an institution, now confined to the scrap-heap of things no longer required in a modern society, along with rickets and Terry Wogan.
 Quite rightly so.
So why is it that when I want to send a Christmas card overseas I have to enter that dinosaur cave that is the local Post Office?
Impatiently I have to stand in a queue that extends down to the by-pass behind ancient old ladies whose sole purpose for their visit is to have a gossip about bygone days and how shit everything is today.
And why is there such a queue?  Because postmaster or mistress, usually called Ron or Sheila, are themselves as ancient as the very traditions they are trying to uphold. When my turn eventually comes, sometime after dark, Ron eyes me suspiciously from over his half moon glasses because I want a stamp for France. You can see in his eyes that he still hasn’t forgiven the French for not paying him back after his part in the Normandy landings. Moving slower that a rush-hour traffic jam, he opens a large ledger to look up the price of a stamp and then eventually retrieves one from another ledger, blowing off the dust and coughing uncontrollably in the process.
Meanwhile, in the next booth, Sheila is having a long conversation with Mrs Edwards from number 26 about the price of vet’s bills for her Tibby, as the queue waits patiently for their turn to unload their own problems to this librarian-cum-agony aunt.
On busy days there are other staff too, but with the collective intelligence of a teapot, such is the miniscule pay that is on offer. No matter. As long as they all wear cheap Santa hats and incessantly chat with the customers about bugger-all.
How come this archaic institution is still in business I ask myself repeatedly under my breath?
Because the government pours money into it, that’s why.
But wouldn’t that money be better spent on gritting the roads in winter so that hundreds of people don’t needlessly die in traffic accidents on black-ice, or ten thousand folks per winter’s day get admitted to hospital with broken hips after slipping on icy pavements on the way to post a letter? Perhaps the savings could be reallocated to those hospitals so they can afford to employ humans instead of rude bastards with all the social skills of a hungry aligator?
Because I fail to understand what the Post Office can possibly offer that requires it to stay - apart from being a chat-room for octogenarians?
Want to post a letter? Why can’t I just insert it in a slot and get a machine to stamp it for me, for which I can pay with coins? Posting a parcel could be exactly the same. Surely some clever bearded designer can devise a cupboard that I can put my parcel into, close the door, let it weigh it and automatically stamp it. When it advises me the price, I can pay with a credit card. That’s how I get my petrol, isn’t it? And my shopping in Tescos.
Years ago a smiley man called Albert would fill my car up for me, while whistling a happy tune. Now he has been replaced by an automatic machine that will speak to me in a dozen languages while I do it myself.
The postal-machine wouldn’t need to be in a special building either - just stick them in the supermarket. Then old ladies could do their gossiping there instead. Or in the tea-rooms or soup kitchens, or the hair-dressers.
So what else does the PO offer?
Old people get their pension and the unemployed cash-in their gyro? Well use a cash machine like everyone else. Let the government pay it directly into their bank and then draw it out as you need it.
Don’t have a bank account? Well open one.
Don’t want one? Well go without.
Tax a car, How antiquated is that? Do it online and print off a slip to say you have done and stick it on your windscreen.
Don’t know how to go online? Well learn. If you can’t work a PC or Cash machine, maybe, just maybe, you’re too old or too stupid to drive a car at all?
Same with all the other forms that you can fill in and pay for with cash at that bullet-proof window while Ron’s grey face keeps one eye on the door for armed robbers. It is all so totally unnecessary.
There is NOTHING that is offered in a post office that couldn’t be done online anymore.
Oh. Here’s one I forgot.
Collecting your child benefit payment! I find it astonishing that this is still being handed out. Years ago a payment was introduced to encourage young mothers to have more children to help swell the population after the war.
But now the population is swelling faster than a heated pot noodle, until we will all soon be forced to live in bus-shelters. And still they keep churning them out.
In a smart thinking world, people who have kids and can’t afford them should be fined not rewarded. And if they can’t pay the fine, put them in jail.
Or better still, send them off to live in some eastern European country which is now empty because all its inhabitants have moved to Britain so they can stand in a queue to collect their gyro and child benefits!

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