Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Post Office

Counter Service Intelligence

I had two encounters that amused me today, but you’ll need some background for the first one.

Prior to Christmas, I was employed by the Royal Mail via Manpower via the Work Programme. That sounds a bit messy, and it was. The job was meant to last until March, but lasted just fifteen days. There’s plenty more I plan to say about that in due course. Manpower’s staff and conduct were abysmal, so I made a formal complaint. This went to a grievance hearing, at their invitation, and the letter of outcome that arrived last week was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Feeling that they just don’t care, I wrote a letter to head office appealing the decision, but keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek. That letter will undoubtedly appear here once they have had the chance to respond – my wee sister read it and cried laughing. Today, though, I went to the Post Office to mail it.

The counter clerk, a wee Glesga Woman, took it from me, and asked if there was anything of value in it – vouchers, cheques, etc. I said no, only satire.

“What’s satire?” she asked, “Is that a flag?”

“No, that’s The Saltire.”

“So what’s satire then?”

“Sarcasm,” I said, explaining briefly the content of the letter and reason for sending it. She was happy to have learned a new word, and said she felt bad having to charge me to post it. I said that was fine, just so long as they don’t lose it…


From there, I went to The Co on the corner of Gordon Street and Union Street to pay a bill. They have the electronic voice thing that beckons you forth, and I was directed to Cashier Number Seven Please. Glancing up at the numbered LED displays above each till, it was obvious that they only go up to six. I took my chances, and went for the last till. When I mentioned the anomaly, the girl said “I know, I don’t know why that is.”

I asked if it was a joke, so they could stand and laugh at anyone stood scratching their head while trying to work out why they’d been called to the seventh till in a line of six. She laughed and said “Aye, that’s it.”

That was my entertainment for the day, not least because they both happened within minutes of each other. Sometimes I’m easy pleased.

Passports and the Royal Mail

I need to renew my passport this year. In a deliberately symbolic gesture, I planned to sign the form at the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay, as 2011 became 2012. The pen slipped, I went outside the tiny box provided for my signature, and invalidated the whole form. I kind of hope that wasn’t symbolic.

The second form arrived, and I finally got round to sending it away this week, having located a person to take the necessary photographs – I don’t trust those booth machines, I don’t trust myself to use those machines correctly, and you only get one shot at it for your money. I like having someone check I haven’t blinked at the crucial moment before I pay for them. Also, I firmly believe in giving my business to people and not to machines where possible, to keep folk in jobs. You’ll almost never see me use a supermarket self-service checkout for this reason. Also, because I’m a pretty genial fellow most of the time, and often like to engage in a little friendly and good-humoured chat with whoever has had to spend their whole day passing things over an incessantly-beeping scanner. God knows, when I did that job it was little witty exchanges that brightened up the day. Like the time I was supervising on a busy and under-staffed Sunday in a branch of now-defunct catalogue shop chain, and a short middle-aged man approached the Customer Service Desk to which I was tied. “Just a wee query,” he said, immediately adding “not me!”

That’s what I love about Glasgow – life’s always been hard, so most folk have a smile and a wee joke at the ready. Even the harassed shop worker or bank teller, disillusioned with their lot and silently enraged by the relentless stream of idiotic customers, will generally offer a tired smile or witty retort if you show them a little appreciation. In my local supermarket, they insist on asking if you want a hand with your packing. I always decline, but sometimes invite them to help carry it if they like. At Christmas, I got served by the woman whose hair reminds me of Karen Dunbar’s shopkeeper in “Chewin’ The Fat.” She asked, as usual, if I wanted a hand with my packing. “No thanks,” I said, “but you can help pay for it if you want.”
“Aye, I didn’t offer that,” she said.
“God loves a tryer,” I offered. As I spoke it, I didn’t have to decide then if it is spelled “tryer” or “trier.”
“I can barely afford to pay for my own,” she said. I think she probably meant it. These are tough times for us all. I just figure the world could use a wee bit more social interaction, and the sharing of smiles with strangers, rather than see us heading for the self-service till before going home to chat alone to people online, resorting to typing “lol” instead of actually enjoying laughter together.

Anyway, I took my passport form and photos to the nearest Post Office. I got called forward before I’d put two of them into the envelope and sealed it. “We’ve got a check-and-send service,” the girl behind the glass said hopefully, trying to “up-sell.” I told her it was okay, I’d read the instructions and trusted myself. She looked at me dubiously. I didn’t bother to tell her just how many times I read and re-read the instructions in the past two months. Even when I am absolutely convinced that I’ve done it correctly, I still have that quiet nagging doubt that I think affects us all. But, every time I read it it said the same thing, so I have hope. Well, had.

“Do you want to send it special delivery?” she asked. I told her I didn’t, I trusted the Royal Mail to get it there – since that is their job, by law. She looked sceptical to the extent that I asked how much more expensive it would be, compared to just sending it first class. There was about five pounds in it, and although this doesn’t sound like much, it is when you are skint and have just forked out eighty quid for the passport and seven for new photos that are so awful you’re only prepared to show them long enough, and to those necessary, to get out of the country. I declined.

Her attitude knocked me off my stride though, and now I’m worried – given my recent experience with the missing phone – that my old passport will go missing in the post too. I hope not, but I wish instead that I could confidently say “of course it won’t.” It just seems indicative of further failings in the service industry, that you used to post things first or second class and be able to predict – with reasonable accuracy – when they would arrive. Now you’re lucky if they arrive at all. The rational part of me wants to say she was just trying to bump an extra fiver from me, and that the level of service should be as expected and is governed by law even without it being tracked. Hell, my phone was tracked and it went missing. I can tell it’s going to prey on my mind until the new one arrives though, or doesn’t, as the case may be.

So thanks, bad-mood Post Office clerk, I had some good chat right before with the guy over the road who took my picture, even though he came across as surly for most of it, and you successfully killed my buzz. I’d refer to you as Little Miss Dismal, except that would suggest there was an element of cuteness to you, which was sorely lacking.