My understanding of what a post office can and cannot do has been broadened significantly since I arrived in the UK. At home, it’s a place where people are generally quite cross with you for reasons that are unclear, where you can maybe buy a stamp, and maybe also a couple of other things but generally it’s always felt like a bit of a make work project. I mean, they won’t even bring the letters to your door anymore. The Mom has to trundle out in the dead of winter to wrestle her little pigeon hole box open. Which frequently freezes, so if you do send her something in the post you have to email in advance and warn her so she can go and stand by the box for when the Postie comes and beg to have the box opened. This does not always work but The Mom is always game to try.
MY eyes were first opened to the idea that the post would come on a Saturday. The sheer decadence of it! On a Saturday! I’m certain I thought it was a fluke the first time, but by now I’ve sort of become accustomed to it.
When I first lived down in Falmouth, the post would come TWICE A DAY. I’m not even kidding you. Twice a day. And I suppose it’s because of this ridiculous level of service that almost everything offical here transpires through the post. If you need a specialist appointment at the hospital, they write to you. Everybody writes to you. It’s a constant barrage of letters the UK. Innundated with post we are.
But my local post office here in Bristol is truly a thing to behold. I was flabbergasted.
I’d gone in on a Saturday in early December to post The Mom a birthday card – which I of course alerted her to well in advance. I was dreading this entire day because I also had to go and pick up some things in the shopping district which was full of a weird German Christmas Market that serves terrible Chinese food and wursts, amongst other completely unrelated items. I have a deep-seated and serious loathing of this Christmas Market thing, mostly because it causes crowds to happen, slowly moving crowds with no sense of purpose. Which I cannot abide.
But anyhow, I started the day at the post office imagining that it would be the most arduous of chores. The local outlet near my office had been featuring a queue out the front door since the end of November and I feared the worst.
I was taken aback when I arrived.
The greeter was at the door. Several queues were forming in an orderly fashion. No one was screaming.
To my right was the queue for passports – in the UK you can have your passport pre-checked at the Post Office for a small fee. If it’s not up to snuff they’ll take your money and you have to start again, but still, easier to do that nearer to home then the passport people. There was also, handily, a photo booth where you could take approved passport photos, the application forms themselves, and someone to lend a hand to help you fill the thing in.
There was another queue in the middle, for people who required the services of a human to do whatever they needed to do which could be chosen from a wide range of options which almost made me delerious thinking of what a productive day I could have in the Post Office, if I got myself properly organised. This line required you to take a number, like at the deli. They had theatre-style seating for you whilst you wait to do any of the following: banking (the Post Office is also a bank, of course), change money to a number of useful currencies, send money abroad, pick up your government check, pay a bill, do some posting, and probably other things that the average British person would think eminently sensible.
The third queue to my left was one for a self-service postal machine. I was wary, but the middle queue was long and people looked to have involved questions. I took a chance. I have bad luck with these machines at my local terrible Tesco, but I thought the novelty of it might be inspiring. Was it ever!
I popped my letter on the scale, and pressed the relevant buttons, inserted my coins, and out spat a stamp, my receipt. I helped myself to a handy Air Mail sticker and popped the letter in the handy red box on my way out the door.
I was stunned, which is why I had to regale The Mom with my trip. I am not certain what she thought of all this, besides wondering if perhaps I’d started drinking earlier in the day that day. But I told her when next she comes back to Bristol that we’ll go. I believe she would be quite impressed.