Monday, 19 November 2012

I think I have Post Office Rage...

I am totally convinced that every Post Office should carry a government health warning.
I can honestly say that I cannot remember a time when I walked into the Post Office and there wasn’t a queue. It doesn’t seem to matter which day you go, or what time of the day, it’s always busy. In fact at my Post Office there is a queue forming even before the doors have opened in the morning. It is distressing.
The queue often snakes its way around the barriers and out the door. There is a handy chair to sit on half way round, for those for whom the wait has become intolerable. But I never use it, as sprightly old ladies seem to manage without the need to collapse into the seat, and so I feel slightly embarrassed at not ‘manning up’ to the task.
Today was no different. Why do I always stand behind the ‘E bay’ woman who has about 20 parcels to send, all shapes and sizes...what the hell is she selling I wonder ...No, no please don’t ask for a proof of postage for every single gods, I will be here all day.

Then the clerk asks if she wants to top up her phone or apply for a Post Office credit card or change her life/home/car insurance...I have the overwhelming desire to shout: “Just take the parcels and let her go - I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes and am losing the will to live.” But I don’t of course.  I inwardly mutter and sigh loudly because that always makes me feel better. I catch the eye of the person next to me, we raise eyebrows and nod knowingly, a shared sense of frustration.

And to those people clutching their road tax papers I want to say give up your place and DO IT ON LINE. The computer instantly knows if you have an MOT certificate, insurance and the like, as soon as you tap in your car registration details; surely a simple verification process but which seems to take the human clerk FOR EVER.

I gaze down the line and notice a distracted mum trying to stop a bored three year old playing with the goods for sale, displayed at handy toddler height just to make the whole experience as uncomfortable and distressing as possible, for the toddler, the mother and, it transpires, for me. Thank you Mr Post Office.
And then a young man walks in and heads straight to the currency window. I know it’s allowed, but I am infuriated as it means that the two open windows are now reduced to one.  I watch him suspiciously, in case it’s a ruse just to muscle in. I narrow my eyes and cock my head straining to catch what he is saying. The rest of the queue has sensed this potential interloper and is on high alert, and a collective silence descends.  He’s buying dollars. “You off on your holidays?” the clerk asks. He laughs, “No not really. I’m going back to Afghanistan, to complete my tour. I’m in the Army”
At the mention of the word Afghanistan, people crane their necks to look at this young man and as he turns away from the window, clutching his dollars, an elderly man pats him on the back and offers his hand.  The young lad looks surprised but smiles as they shake hands and then the queue breaks out into a spontaneous round of applause. The soldier turns a deep shade of pink and half raises his hand in a slightly awkward acknowledgement. I whisper,” Keep safe” under my breath as he leaves the Post Office building.
And all of a sudden I am transported back to last year when my youngest son, Ash, was in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 14 and the Post Office became almost a second home as every few days I sent out a shoebox full of goodies to him. A shoebox that was a kiss from home, filled with love and sweets and goodies and hope. A shoebox that would somehow, in my mind, protect him and keep him safe.
On 31st August 2011 I wrote in my diary:

“It is a red-letter day.

Today I am packing the final box.
This very last shoe box will be winging its way to Ash, Out There. I decide to go to Marks and Spencer and buy all the naughty but nice biscuits and sweets, all of those really lovely bits and bobs that sit on the shelves and call to you when you are waiting to pay. Today these special treats have been chosen, chosen to go into the final box. My next stop is Clarks shoe shop, which has supplied me with empty shoe boxes since March. I ask an assistant if I can select the box myself as it is the final box. She smiles and takes me to the shelves with the boxes. I ponder for a moment – the box has to be just right – and then I spot it, it is perfect. I reach up and take it from the shelf and I start to smile. Every box has been special, but this one is the king of the boxes. This one is the last of its kind.

I walk home, place the box on the kitchen table, carefully arrange the scissors, sticky tape, marker pen and brown paper next to it, and then empty out the contents of the M&S bag. The scene is set. I begin filling the shoe box, treating every item that goes in with the reverence it deserves, placing it exactly in the correct position. By the time I have finished, King Box is crammed full of goodies. I pop a note to Ash into the top of the box and then stand back to admire my work. This box is a masterpiece; in fact I will go as far as to say that it is my finest box to date! I close the lid and wrap the box with the final sheet of brown paper and sticky tape it up.

That’s it. All done. Box number 49, King Box, reporting for duty. The very last box in a long line of boxes, standing to attention, primed and ready to go.
I address this box as I have addressed boxes forty-eight times before. I know the address by heart, but I always go to the fridge door where the post-it note with his address sits under the Help for Heroes door magnet. I take down the post-it note, a little moth-eaten and grubby now, and put it next to the parcel, copying the words exactly, as I always do. It is my routine and I will not change it because he is safe and changing my routine might change that. I know this thought is ridiculous, but it helps me cope. This time, though, I write a note on the outside of the box:
This is Box 49, my final box. I want to thank every single person who handles Box 49 on its journey to Afghan. Thank you for everything you do. Whether civilian or military, your efforts count. Keep safe. A mum x
I put the box under my arm and head to the post office.

As the final box is taken from me, I smile. I actually want to wave at it as the clerk throws it into the big grey sack behind her, but I resist this urge as I know it will make me look like an absolute lunatic. So I wave at it inside my head and smile as I turn and walk out of the door.”

My Ash came back from Afghanistan, safe and well. For that I will be eternally grateful - I’m sure the shoeboxes helped!
I would like to dedicate this blog to Ian, Gill and all at OPERATIONSHOEBOX who do a fantastic job of keeping soldiers spirits high! Keep up the good work!

Cathy x

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