Ash Wednesday finds me on the high street of a town that’s new to me, searching for a Post Office in which I can post an important parcel.
I’m up against the clock, because I’ve left my husband and daughter parked in a restricted zone where the parking ticket for our camper van, in which we’ve come away for half term, is about to run out. I march purposefully through the pedestrian precinct, scanning the shop fronts on either side of me for the familiar red oval logo.
After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I’ve passed endless charity shops and poundstores, two pawnbrokers, a halal butcher and a surprising number of greengrocers displaying neat, open baskets of exotic fruit and vegetables, the kind that characterise Asian and Caribbean cookery. I’ve given a wide berth to ‘Jackpots’, a tacky arcade of slot machines offering prizes of up to £500, according to big signs in the window. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Tetbury, we might as well be in a different country. No cosy tearooms, antique shops or bookstores are to be seen. There’ll be no rich pickings in this high street’s charity shops.
A Lost Soul
With a glance at my watch, I give up trying to find the Post Office on my own. I am not my husband: I will ask someone for directions. But spotting a helpful looking person is no easier.
Everyone I encounter is pale, downcast, jaded and sad. Their clothes are cheap, dark and drab, with one exception – a podgy fellow in his twenties sports a black hoodie to the front of which are stitched brightly coloured, giant metallic dollar signs. From the rest of his ensemble, I infer that these indicate his aspirations rather than his bank balance. If I accost any of these passers-by, they look as if they might burst into tears.
Then at last, like buses, two friendly faces crop up at once. There on a street corner are two smartly dressed young men, standing quietly looking about them as if at a loose end. They are quick to make eye contact with me and flash me a smile. Emboldened, I approach them.
“Excuse me, can you please point me in the direction of the nearest Post Office?” I plead.
Their smiles broaden.
“No problem,” says one, “it’s right there.
He points to the other side of the street. The Post Office, based within a shabby convenience store, is exactly opposite where I am standing. I’ve been too preoccupied with people-watching to spot it. About to mumble an embarrassed apology for my stupidity, I cast my eyes downward. They alight on the young men’s lapels, where I spot badges identifying them as members of a church known for sending young missionaries out into foreign parts. I do not envy them their task in this dismal town. It’s my turn to flash a smile.
“Thank you so much!” I beam. “You’ve been very helpful.”
I think they will need all the encouragement they can get if they are to make it through their duties today. If I can’t summon up the resolve to ask the locals for directions, how hard must it be to talk to them about saving their souls?
But as I join the queue in the Post Office, I castigate myself for my arrogance. Though armed only with smart suits and old-fashioned haircuts, these pleasant young men are bolstered by a much greater force than my smile: their unshakeable belief in their god. Though I don’t share their faith, I hugely admire what they are doing. I am suddenly moved to pay tribute, and so, my own mission accomplished, as I march back to the car where my husband will be impatiently drumming the steering wheel, I determine to show some resolution of my own: I decide to give up alcohol for Lent.
This article was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2013.
If you liked this article, you might like these others about post offices:
The Power of the Postage Stamp – about my daughter’s new hobby
Who Will Buy? – a memoir about the change in our village shops and services
4 thoughts on “On A Mission To Post A Parcel”
I loved this post, Debbie … but then I can identify with it as I am a Brit.
We seem to have a lot in common. I live in Cornwall (and we have recently had to sell our beloved Hymer camper van, Herman) but I adore Tetbury (who wouldn’t), and I grew up in an era of little shops and ‘proper’ Post Offices.
However, being a very lapsed Buddhist/atheist I won’t be joining you in giving up alcohol for Lent … although I do admire your motives for such a sacrifice 🙂
Hello Angela, how nice to meet you here! Yes, we do seem to have a lot in common – and I love Cornwall too! Actually, I’m an atheist too – which makes it all the more remarkable that I was moved to give up something for Lent – and more explicable that I must confessed I have lapsed a few times since! But overall cutting down, so those very helpful chaps did save me in some respect, if not quite in the way they might have hoped! 😉