Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Red Van and the White

Photo of antique post office sign
Ironically, my house was at one point the village post office. I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.

My column from the March 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News considers the courier vs the postman

Having lived in the village for nearly 30 years, I tend to forget how bewildering city-dwellers find it that so many houses round here don’t have door numbers. Urban courier drivers’ hearts must sink when Hawkesbury Upton crops up on their route for the day.

Knowing a house’s postcode isn’t as helpful as one might think, as each code covers an average of 15 properties. When you’re a delivery driver working against the clock, 15 is a lot of houses to check to find the right one. No wonder our parcels so often end up being left at the wrong place.

Word seems to have got out amongst couriers that I work from home, because lately I’ve had a spate of puzzled delivery drivers knocking on my door during the day to ask for directions to a house of one name or another. Although even I may not know every house name, if they tell me the person’s name I can usually point them in the right direction.

But sometimes even that’s not enough to satisfy them. One poor courier was almost in tears of disappointment and disbelief when I refused to accept the gas boiler he’d been trying to deliver to a number of houses, none of them correct.

This is why these days when ordering something on line, I choose standard Post Office delivery, because I know we can trust our village posties to get it right. Although they might have trouble fitting a gas boiler through my letterbox.

Postscript After reading this post in his copy of the Hawkesbury Parish News, heroic villager Terry Truebody emailed me to say he has created a Hawkesbury Upton A-Z, which he’s recently updated to include the newest houses in the village. Very generously, he’s willing to share it with anyone who might find it helpful. so I’m including a link to a download of it here. Thank you, Terry – couriers and villagers will all be very grateful to you.

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

Like to read more of my columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News?

Here’s a collection from 2010-2015, available in paperback and as an ebook.

The second volume will be out at the end of 2020.

 

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Who Needs Email Anyway?

A post in praise of, er, post!

Photo of antique post office sign
Found in my back garden when I moved in to my house, an old post office, and now given pride of place on my kitchen wall

As I tackle my triple-figure inbox this morning, I’m feeling distinctly nostalgic for the old-fashioned letter. Emails, eh? Who really needs or wants them? Not me, that’s for sure. Continue reading “Who Needs Email Anyway?”

Posted in Personal life, Travel

On A Mission To Post A Parcel

Village post office in Hawkesbury Upton, Gloucestershire
Hawkesbury Sweet Hawkesbury Post Office (photo: Wikipedia)

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.

Modern British Post Office logo
It must be a sign!

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?

Mission Accomplished

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.

Mysterious ways…

Can’t see the wood for the trees… (image: Wikipedia)

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

Posted in Writing

The Power of the Postage Stamp

English: Early Victorian Postboxes, Bath Posta...
Victorian post boxes at Bath Postal Museum (Image via Wikipedia)

The mid-January cold snap finds us in search of an indoor venue for a family day out and we alight on the Bath Postal Museum. This tiny gem, tucked beneath the city’s central Post Office, is packed with hands-on exhibits to nurture my daughter’s brand-new hobby: stamp-collecting.

Living as we do in an old Post Office, we’re naturally interested in the history of the postal service, now at risk of redundancy in our modern internet age. Surely it’s only hope is the rise of online shopping. Though an ardent emailer, I still get excited when a “proper” letter arrives in the post, handwritten and bearing a decorative stamp – a miniature work of art in its tiny perforated frame. To me, every stamp album is an art gallery for The Borrowers. An international stamp collection smacks of adventure, each small square of paper having travelled from far and wide before finding a home in your album.

Both collectors of whales and penguins on stam...
Image via WikipediaPhilately is a great geography lesson and politically I find it very pleasing that the least powerful countries often produce the most stunning stamps.

The Postal Museum reveals that Laura is in good company. Celebrity stamp collectors have included King George V (his own profile must have featured on most of his collection, in those heady days of the British Empire), Franklin D Roosevelt, and, to our complete astonishment, Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen.

The man behind the museum shop’s counter proudly regales us with the highlights of his own collecting career, including buying a stamp for £20 that he later sold for £600. He offers Laura lots of advice before realising that the conversation has been rather one way. Then he gives her an opportunity to speak.

“How long have you been collecting?” he asks.

She answers truthfully: “Since yesterday.”

It’s a conversation killer, but I realise there is one redeeming feature: we ordered her stamp collecting kit online from Stanley Gibbons and it arrived, very fittingly, by post.

Long live the stamp (and our village post office!)

This post was originally written for the February issue of Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Personal life

Up the Garden Path

garden plants and furniture locally sourcedMy resolve to tidy my small front garden before the autumn turns into a bigger job than I planned. By the time I’ve pruned the trees, pulled up the weeds, and rescued the periwinkle from the ivy, I’m gazing at a surprisingly large empty space. Next step: to refill it. Next stop: the garden centre.

Three days in a row, I pop into the one in Nailsworth, emerging each time with an armful of pots. One by one, I plant my purchases, choosing each site carefully, as if placing the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But by the end of day three, there are still some spaces. I resign myself to a fourth shopping trip. This could prove to be an expensive week.

But before I set off next morning, I must stop at Hawkesbury Upton Post Office to buy a stamp. On my way up the path I spot a tray of plants for sale. There’s a pansy in just the shade of purple I want to match my periwinkle. I check the price: just 20p. The garden centre till receipts flash up in my memory. Their prices were ten times higher. I rummage around in the tray in search of further bargains. I find a lovely sage for 35p: perfect for my colour scheme. Dropping some coins in the honesty box, I wonder why I bothered with the garden centre when this humble little tray was just yards from my door. It’s an added bonus that these plants were raised in the village – it means they will thrive in my garden too.

It makes me wonder whether I can source the other item on my garden shopping list so close to home and at a comparable price. I’m after a bench. I know I won’t get much change from £200 at the garden centre. Then I remember a little while ago I drove past some home-made garden seats for sale outside a house in Horton. Before I can be tempted to hit the garden centre, I nip down the hill and discover I can secure two lovely chairs for just £20 a throw.

So no more lining the pockets of garden retailers and chain stores for me: I’m going to be shopping much closer to home in future. Globalisation – who needs it? Give me villagisation any day.

 (This post was written for Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2011 issue – now on sale in the Hawkesbury Village Shop and Hawkesbury Upton Post Office!)