The Red Menace
When it comes to the urban environment, there is no sorrier sight than the pillar box at the bottom of our road. It looks like something from a war zone, and any hope that it might have a plate telling you the times of the collections is bound to be disappointed. The pathetic figure this pillar box cuts does not inspire confidence: every time I post something in it I have serious doubts about whether it will reach its destination.
When the Post Office was first privatised, it made huge profits, and the share issue was considered to be hugely undervalued. Well now its profits seem to be plummeting, and I can’t help wondering if the shabby condition of its most visible assets – which, let’s face it, are the conduit of its core business – has something to do with it.
Things are little better if you actually go to a Post Office – that is, if you can find one. One of the largest ones near me has become a bank, while the Post Office counters that it displaced have squeezed into a small area of the first floor of a nearby W.H Smith (handy for those with mobility problems, no?). It’s almost literally a hole and corner operation.
I had become inured to the state of my local sub-post office, which I try to avoid as much as possible, though it’s hard to at Christmas, but I could tell that visiting Australian friends were not impressed with it: ‘It’s dirty,’ they said, and they were right. Visit almost any small and even not-so-small post office and you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a discount outlet for obsolete stationery and cleaning items. And where do they all get their pegboard panelling from?
As ever, the country that invented the postal service has now been beaten at its own game, whichever model you look at. Germany’s privatised service, Deutsche Post, is wildly successful, with many international undertakings; La Poste in France has managed to maintain government support while increasing its involvement in the lucrative parcel delivery service – something that our post office is failing to do. Deutsche Post and La Poste share a commitment to strong branding, and this is reflected in their postboxes and signage.
But all is perhaps not lost. As I queued to retrieve a parcel I saw a Postbox Appearance Card. Because ‘The poor appearance of a postbox not only impacts on the surrounding area, but also on us’, the card encouraged me to ‘TELL US ABOUT IT! If we don’t know we can’t fix it.’ Suppressing the thought that it’s more than a little weird that their own staff, who presumably visit the postbox once a day to collect mail, don’t tell them about it, I’m filling in the card with great optimism, and taking them up on the opportunity to email them a picture of the offending postbox (the one adorning this blog).
Watch this space – if my postbox receives a makeover, I’ll let you know, complete with before and after pictures.