Weighty Matters

If you live in the US and don’t get a Christmas card from me this year, it won’t be because I don’t cherish your friendship (even if it is merely a Facebook occasionally-click-on-your-Like-button type of friendship); it will be because the Royal Mail won’t sell me any postage. Allow me to explain:

I went to the post office yesterday. The reason I went to the post office yesterday and not Saturday is because the government shut down about 95% of the local post offices. Granted, they didn’t shut the one in our town center down, but they shut down every other branch in the county, so anyone who needs to mail anything has to travel to our post office on Saturday morning to do it. (Soon, we are going to have a single, national post office located in Leeds where everyone in Britain will have to go to get their mail. This is one of the main reasons Scotland wants independence; they don’t want to go to Leeds, they would rather go to Edinburgh. But I digress.)


Proposed sorting office in Leeds.

For the time being, however, we are blessed with a regional postal center here in Horsham and slackers like me with a part time (and soon to be no) job can avoid the hassle of getting up at 5 AM to join the queue in hopes of being served by noon, and simply go on a weekday when the crowds have thinned out somewhat.

And so, armed with the knowledge that I needed World-Wide postage stamps, I joined the queue and started making my calculations. This is something I do to pass the time: try to calculate which clerk is going to serve me, and adjust my expectations accordingly. There were four windows open: one was staffed by a blonde woman who I know to be competent, knowledgeable and courteous. Next to her was a matronly woman I had never been served by but who, nonetheless, radiated confidence and appeared efficient. I gave her a 7 out of 10 and put her down as my second choice. On the other side of the blonde was the Money Lady, who is supposed to wait on postal customers when no one is at her window exchanging Euros for Australian Outbacks (or whatever they call their money). She was free now, but was busy arranging bills into neat stacks.

At the far end was a young bloke whose dress and demeanor screamed, “Temporary Help;” I gave him a “1” and prayed for favorable odds.

\”Don\’t make me think!\”

The Temp was waiting on an elderly woman when I joined the queue. The blonde and the matron finished their transactions and called up two more people. The Money Lady started filing her nails.

The Temp was pointing at a document, explaining something to the elderly woman who was nodding her head and clearly not understanding a word he said. Two more customers went to the blonde and the matron. The Money Lady was reading War and Peace.

The Temp slid some documents to the woman, who smiled and began rooting through her cavernous handbag for her purse. Two more customers left the queue. The Money Lady was working on a cross-stitch of The Last Supper.

The woman found her purse and began counting out her money—slowly and deliberately—in pennies. Two more people left the queue. The Money Lady was updating her Facebook status.

Transaction complete, the woman was thanking (and thanking and thanking) the Temp. Two more people left the queue. The Money Lady was taking up oil painting.

The woman finally stepped away from the Temp’s window; it was my turn. The Money Lady was signing up for a correspondence course in home laser surgery. I had no choice; I went to the Temp.

“I need world-wide stamps,” I told him.

He stared at me. “What kind?”

“Um, the kind for sending letters. To the US.”

“It depends on the weight.”

Handy, if you know how much a gram weighs.

“They are for standard letters, a sheet of paper in an envelope, how much would that be?”

“Depends on the weight.”

“They all weight the same and they are all just average Christmas cards.”

“Depends on the weight.”

“But they aren’t anything special; they are the same as any other card you get, how much do they cost to mail?”

“Depends on the weight.”

“I’ve never had this much trouble buying stamps before,” I told him. “I just say it’s for a standard letter and they give me stamps.”

“I can sell you some stamps, but if they are the wrong kind, you won’t be able to use them.”

“Then what would be the right kind?”

“Depends on the weight.”

And so, I left, without my stamps. We now have a pile of Christmas cards that my wife has signed, addressed and assembled but we have no way of mailing them. I suppose I could take them all down to the Temp and make him weight each and every one individually, but I suspect he might enjoy that. The only thing I can do is wait for my next day off, go back to the post office, join the queue and hope I end up with the Blonde or the Matron. Or that the Money Lady has finished her correspondence course.