Goodbye Postman Pat

This is re-blogged from my other blog, as I believe that it deserves a bigger audience.

There has been a lot of publicity surrounding the intention to sell off Royal Mail, which will eventually lead to it being replaced by private delivery companies, and individual couriers on franchises. Of course, I do not support this sell-off, in any way, but sense it is somehow inevitable, given current political apathy in the mainstream.

Since the days of penny stamps, and deliveries three times a day, society has changed greatly. Long ago, even before the advent of the Internet, e mail, and text messaging, communication by post was already in decline. People used the telephone more, and lost the desire, and in many cases the talent, to write letters as a form of contact with friends, family, companies, or suppliers. The rise of the prepared CV reduced the need to elaborate in job applications, and with the eventual dominance of the computerised recruitment process, written testimonials, and detailed job histories, virtually ceased to exist. As for the concept of writing to maiden aunts, or second cousins twice removed; it just faded away.

In modern Britain, if you are not on Facebook, do not have a Twitter ‘handle’, or you are unable to receive text messages or e mails, you might as well just curl up and die. Most youngsters would not have a clue how to even start a letter, and have probably not even owned a stamp. The only paper in most houses is in a computer printer, and the only pen is probably an old biro, bookmarking a favourite page in the Argos catalogue, or next to the takeaway menu from Domino’s Pizza. Stamps now cost 60p for first class delivery; that is twelve whole shillings in the currency that I still work by. Take a parcel to the Post Office, and you will be staggered by the cost of postage. Of course, when people write less letters, then it is simple economics that the price of stamps will increase. This might also apply to parcels, were it not for ebay. Never have so many parcels been sent, yet the price has continued to rise steadily.

There has been a lot said about how uneconomical the Post Office is, and how it loses money, and has no future. Ask yourself, if this is true, then why do so many companies want to jump on the bandwagon to be part of this economic disaster? If all these ‘facts’ were really accurate, then we would all be seeing the end of an archaic system, that could not survive in the 21st century. The real truth, is that it is very profitable indeed, especially in the big cities. Delivery of the forests of junk mail and flyers, as well as the aforementioned tidal wave of parcels, makes good money, and that is why the privateers want to get their hands on it. But only on some of it.

Outside of the large urban conurbations, it is expensive to run the Post Office as we know it, providing the mail, and all the affiliated services we have become used to. Attempts to compete with the mainstream banks, and to sell everything from Domestic Gas, to Pet Insurance, have been misguided, and driven by desperation; or by managers who fail to understand what they are supposed to be providing. The whole point of the Postal Service has been lost, in the scrabble for profit, and the statistics of viability. It is a social service, a provider of more than mass communication, especially, though not exclusively, in the rural areas of this country, and for the isolated and elderly. It must be funded with this as the primary purpose, and the accompanying losses must be accepted, as the cost of providing a lifeline to many.

Even when I lived in Central London, I had the same postman for years. He was nothing like the puppet figure of children’s television, Postman Pat. He did his rounds on large estates, having to wheel around a large trolley, which he had to return and refill at least once each shift. He had to contend with a clientele that spoke many languages, entryphone buzzers, and a transient population, constantly moving around. He did this well, and was usually cheerful in his work. If he had a parcel, or something to be signed for, and I was out, he knew what could be trusted with neighbours, or secreted under a doormat, and he had an eye for something better collected in person, from the office. He remembered who had moved away, and he was careful with fragile items, or things in envelopes marked ‘do not bend’. He was a professional, good at his job, which he took seriously, and regarded as a career, and something he would do for life.

In rural Norfolk, we see the reality of the puppet show. A regular postman, travelling in a small van, who knows his customers personally, and arranges where to leave bulky items, or not to open a gate that lets the dog out to wander. He keeps an eye out for the elderly, and is the first to realise if they are not around, or things just don’t seem right. You see him in the village post office, or driving around the local market town, and you feel that he is part of the community, not just someone pushing letters through your door. It is these people who make the price of a stamp seem reasonable, at least to me. I can sit and write a letter to a friend in Somerset, at midday. Post it in the nearby box, where it will be collected at teatime. The next day, she will be able to read my news over her lunch. Even in 2013, I think that is still worth a great deal. Civilised communication, carefully handled by professionals, delivered secure, and unmolested, hundreds of miles away, the following day. Not bad, even for 60p. I would miss it, if it went. (Or I should say, I will miss it, when it goes) But then, I am still a writer of letters, and that, according to ‘reliable’ surveys, puts me firmly in a minority in this country. Actually, I do accept this to be true.

Of course, there are other stories. Lost letters, stolen postal orders, birthday cards torn open, in case they contain cash; parcels smashed in transit, or casually thrown over gates and fences. They are probably true too, but in the grand scheme of things, given the huge volume of daily post, they are very much the exception. Companies, Utility providers, Banks, and other agencies, are already preparing us for the demise of the post. We have to ‘apply online’, ‘manage accounts online’ and even go online to make a complaint, or to contact customer services. ‘Paperless billing’ is no longer dressed up as saving the environment. They are more honest about it now. It saves money, so we get a small discount to use the Internet. Once this is the only way, those discounts will undoubtedly disappear. Almost five and a half million households in the UK do not have access to the Internet, whether by choice, or from lack of funds, or because of poor signals. That is approximately seven million people who are not able to ‘take advantage’ of doing all these things online. ( Figures correct in 2012) What is the future for them, without a postal service, and companies refusing to use one anyway? Nobody knows, because nobody cares.

Do you think that courier firms, like TNT and DHL will provide a daily postal service to rural communities? I don’t. Do you believe that their postal operatives will be the same ones every day, and have a good knowledge of their customer base, and area? I don’t. Do you also believe that prices for posting single items will be controlled, and that there will not be a raft of increases? I don’t. The Royal Mail is as good as dead. We just have to arrange the funeral. ‘Bye Pat.

13 thoughts on “Goodbye Postman Pat

  1. Great post Pete. As someone who is not on FB or twitter and who has the most basic of phones, I miss receiving letters. Until my ex- mother-in-law’s death a few years ago, I regularly received and sent those flimsy blue airmail letters. Now I make a point of sending birthday cards and postcards to my grandchildren at least. They love getting the postcards.

    We have a regular postie here, who knows everyone and has time for a chat, and the postman who delivers my wine by Royal Mail is happy to carry the box into the kitchen for me. The chap who delivers by TNT just drops it by the door and rings the bell, then walks away!

    Goodbye Pat indeed 😦
    Jude xx

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    1. Thanks Jude. Interestingly (to me at least) this has been one of my most read posts, though on my other (political) blog, rather than here. I hope that I managed to express the genuine pain that I feel, about the loss of what is to me, a priceless institution. Regards as always, Pete. x

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  2. Some years ago we too had a regular postman who did the same round for years and knew everyone by name. He was a great guy who would help anyone. Now we hear horror stories of unreliable postmen stealing mail etc. Slowly but surely all our once reliable public services are being swallowed up by corporate sharks whose only bottom line is profit. The heart is going out of our society.

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  3. There is nothing quite like a handwritten letter containing the smooth and elegant expression of simple pleasantries or complex ideas. I bewail the death of letter writing. It is a dying art, sacrificed on the altar of modernity. In spite of Facebook, Twitter, dating sites and a million ways to connect online—we have never been more disconnected or isolated from each other. I’m sorry for being out of touch, Pete. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. But yours is the only blog I always come back to. Hugs, me

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    1. I have recently returned to a ‘proper’ fountain pen, and invested in vellum paper and envelopes. It simply makes me feel better.
      I was aware of your absence, and hoped it was nothing worrying. Thanks for always being around my blog. As you know, your participation, as well as your own writings, are major factors in me continuing this blog. Looking forward to more soon, when your life is less complicated.
      Regards to you as always, Pete. X

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  4. dear Pete,
    what a great post! You are right, it needs a bigger audience.
    Thank you for your “funeral speech” 😉
    Greetings from the North Norfolk coast where I know my friendly postman and he knows me – actually he even speaks some German!
    Have a happy weekend
    Klausbernd

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    1. Thank you Klausbernd, or perhaps I should say, ‘Vielen Dank’. Your comment is much appreciated, as I know you are not far from me, so also appreciate the local postmen (and women) and the extra efforts they make. Regards as always, Pete.

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  5. The United States Postal Service is under threat here.and I’m against it for pretty much the same reasons you’re against the sale of the Royal Mail. I was once a prolific letter writer but the price of stamps plus everyone using e-mail makes that a thing of the past except in a few cases. I have one friend I write to regularly. He has no concept of e-mail and lives (blissfully) in the past, still reliant on the USPS for his connections to others.

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    1. It is sad indeed Gretchen. I write about fifty letters a year, even to people who never reply by letter. The strange thing is, that they love to get them, and always comment how nice it is, to have a ‘real’ letter to read, but it doesn’t inspire them to respond in kind. Regards from a rainy England. Pete.

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