Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Post Office Queues

Post offices in England are funny old places. Some weeks ago I trooped to our local PO and queued for 25 minutes to renew my car tax. Those 25 minutes were very instructive and very frustrating.

With little to do except stand sheep-like observing my fellow man, I started chatting to a vicar who was just behind me in he queue. Don't get me wrong - I have no objection to speaking to the clergy; it's just that I don't often get the chance. We chatted and waited. We waited and chatted.

I discovered one of the problems. Our local post office is manned by some of the nosy-est old biddies in the county. They have turned the post office into Gossip Central. They probably call it customer care. Bovine faeces. I have no real objection to a little customer relations exercise, but why should we all wait while they discuss Ethel's hernia? I'm not joking. They should be friendly and chatty – but they should also have some regard for the length of the queue. They don't. After all, they're there all day. So, regardless of the number of customers waiting; they yak.

Having commiserated with the vicar for 10 minutes or so, I ran out of things to say and was forced to read the signs advertising the services available at the post office. Desperate stuff. It occurred to me that the modern post office is an adequate replacement for almost every other village amenity - except maybe the pub. There is almost nothing you cannot achieve at the post office. Need stamps - got 'um. Deposit money in your bank – no problem. Insure your home or car – can do. The list is extensive and exhausting. Exhausting for the poor buggers waiting in the queue! Can you imagine how long it takes for someone to make extensive enquiries about pet insurance? The post office has been hi-jacked by the bean-counters. It's a nightmare.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the queue – only to discover that I had left my insurance documents at home. Those old biddies know me. Doesn't matter, no insurance docs – no tax disc.

Double bugger! Went home and got the insurance certificate. Went back to post office. Re-joined the queue – at the back of course.

Now, you'll like this bit.

In the UK you need a fishing license to fish. To fish in this context means “course” fishing. Sport fishing. Not ploughing through the North Sea scraping up all the cod and haddock you can but standing by a river freezing your butt off dangling odd things in the water. (More about fishing later – it's post offices today). Just as I made it back to the front of the queue two lads decided to buy four fishing licenses – day licenses – they must have been visiting Norfolk and felt the urgent need to fish. There's no accounting for some folks! You have never seen such a palaver in your life! Honest. I can't even begin to estimate how long it took. It was extensive.

The cost of these licenses? I think it was two pounds fifty each. For the massive sum of ten pounds I'm waiting forever to tax my car. And, if you take away the cost of administering the fishing license system, printing the damn licenses, employing the staff to sell them, the cost in wasted time by workers with real jobs waiting in the queue behind someone buying one, and the cost of employing people to patrol the rivers to check that people have a fishing license; you could probably afford to grow the fish in fish farms and deliver them to people who have this all-encompassing need to possess one.

This is bureaucracy gone mad. In England that's saying something.

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