Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 7.

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Head Office was a daunting place when you were a lowly Postal Officer. Everyone was an Executive Grade C, B, A, or even higher. Then there were the real superstars..the SB’s.  Salary Bands!

Once you’d progressed through the entire ranks of PEC, PEB and PEA, you went on to a “Salary Band” these were a mystery to most people. You never knew what these people earned but you knew it was a SERIOUS amount of money. They were either dedicated career people who had spent their entire working life for the Post office ( 40 years or more) or super intelligent people who had been head hunted by the Post Office for a specific function.

Mark Brown met me at reception. He was an attractive looking man in his early fifties.  Very smartly dressed with well groomed silver hair. He looked every part an Executive.

“Hello mate. Sorry about the arm. Heard some good things about you. Let me introduce you to some people.”

For the next thirty minutes Mark went round the office taking his time to introduce me to all the senior important people.

“This is Joe, he works on the Counter at Romford. Busted his arm but still wants to work, so he’s been assigned to me.”

Everyone said hello and welcomed me to Head Office. This was going well.

After the introductions he took me to his office.

“You’ve come at a really good time Joe. Got a lot of leg work to do so I’m really grateful for your input.”

From under his desk he pulled out two zip up satchels. One red and one green.

“Over the next few weeks, you and me have to give these out to every business customer in our area. All they have to do is put all their first class mail in the Red Satchel and their second class in the Green one. Simple.”

I nodded. It looked easy.

“Okay. That seems straight forward. When do we start?”

“Tomorrow. Let me have your address and I’ll pick you up at 8.30am. We’ll start on the outskirts of town and gradually work our way in. I’ve got a list of all business addresses that have a Franking Machine and post mail every day. We should be able to do 50 per day, that’s twenty five each, roughly twelve in the morning and twelve in the afternoon. That’s a 1000 in a month. Two months and we’ve cracked it!”

I was about to leave when two very smartly dressed men walked into the office. John stood up as though these guys were very important. I thought it best to stand up as well.

“Sorry to interrupt John but I understand you’ll be delivering the satchels in the area?”

John shook both their hands.

“Yep. Me and Joe, we start in the morning.”

John pointed at me when he mentioned my name.

Now both men were looking at me and smiling. They were both in their thirties, immaculately dressed. Sharp suits, silk ties, highly polished shoes. One of them spoke.

“What happened to your arm Joe?”

I explained about falling over a wall outside a pub. They both found it amusing. They pulled up a couple of chairs and we all sat down. The same guy spoke again.

“Look we’d like you to do us a favour. You’ll be visiting every business address in the area over the next couple of months. That’s a great opportunity for us to get to know what’s going on. A lot of our Parcel business is being poached by a new company that’s just come into the UK. A firm called TNT. They’re offering silly rates and all kind of promises on delivery times. We need to know who’s using them so we can send our Reps in to try to get the business back. So while you’re out there see if you can find out whose using them and let us know. We’d really appreciate it.”

John and I agreed and the two guys stood up and left. Once they were out of the office I couldn’t help but ask John a question.

“Who were those guys?”

John smiled.

“Those guys were from London. They’re heading up the new Sales Force.  Both PEA’s.”

I was stunned. These two guys were the highest ranking Executives and yet were only in their thirties. Again I had to ask the question.

“But how? How have they got to PEA so quickly? That would usually take fifteen or twenty years at least!”

John laughed.

“Two reasons. They’re in London and they’re in Sales. The usual rules do not apply to those guys.”

That was it. I was hooked. That’s what I wanted. My mission was now to work for the new Sales Team and I had a plan on how to get there.

The next morning John picked me up at 8.30 and we were out delivering the satchels at 9.00am. I’d put on my only suit, with white shirt and blue tie. Even with one arm it was easy. I just walked into an office and said I was from the Post office and could I speak to the person in charge of their mail. For some it was just the girl on reception, other larger businesses it was a full post room with a number of staff. I spoke about how important it was for the mail to be segregated and gave them two of each colour. At the end of the conversation I would casually ask the question.

“Oh, by the way, do you ever use TNT?”

If they said no, that was it, I just left. But if they said yes, I’d ask a few more questions.

“Are they any good? I hear their rates are cheap?”

I’d try to get as much information as possible, then when I was outside I’d write it all down beside the name of the company.

John and I had a great time delivering the satchels. We stopped for lunch every day at a pub and had a pint or two and we always finished around 4.00pm. At the end of the first week I had a folder full of information for the Sales guys. I gave it to John.

“Bloody hell mate. This’ll be gold dust for the Sales Team. You after a job?”

He laughed when he said it but then realised that I was serious.

“You are, aren’t you? I tell you what, you’d make a great Sales Rep. Leave it to me. I’ll start the ball rolling.”

True to his word John did his bit. He sent all the information off to the Sales Team in London with a glowing report about me. Two weeks later I got what I was waiting for. I met John in his office and he closed the door.

“Great news. Those Sales guys are coming in here tomorrow. They want to thank you personally for all the information you’ve given them about TNT. Think of it as a bit of a job interview.”

Twenty four hours later I was in Johns office dressed in my only suit and with my shoes polished to the highest standard.

 

 

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Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 6.

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1983 came and I suddenly realised I’d been here for three years. That was about two and a half years longer than I’d ever imagined. But it was a steady job and the pay wasn’t bad. I discovered that there were ways of making the time pass much quicker.

I volunteered for everything.

They wanted a First Aid Officer at Romford. I was first in the queue. A weeks training at a local office meant a week away from the Counter. As it was a training course we got a Travel and Subsistence allowance, so my fares were paid back and forwards to the course and I got a daily lunch allowance.

They wanted people to go on a Philatelic Course. Yep, I volunteered. That was two weeks in Edinburgh at the Philatelic Bureau. I learnt a lot about Stamps, but also a lot about Whisky and how to drink large quantities of it, all of course paid for by my Employer.

I did a lot of running back then and joined the Post Office running club. I represented them at Cross Country. Whenever an event came up I was given the day off so that I could attend.

We were even given a half day off to give blood!

One day we were told that a new machine was being installed at the Office. It would revolutionise the way people sent information to each other. I was asked if I’d like to be the person who “looked after” this new invention. Of course I agreed instantly. The service was called Intelpost. The machine arrived and was installed in a large office at the end of the counters. It was enormous. Over six feet in height and about three feet wide with a telephone attached. It made a continuous loud buzzing noise.  This is how it worked…

People would bring documents or letters into the Office and hand them to me. All I needed was the address they had to be sent to. The cost was based on how many pages and where in the country they were going to. I worked out the price and charged the customer.

I then looked at the list of other main offices that also had an Intelpost Machine. There were about 30 around the country. If, for example, the documents had to go to a Leicester postcode, I would slowly feed the documents into the Intelpost Machine, each page would take around five or six minutes to load. Once all the pages were loaded, I dialled the number of the Leicester Intelpost Machine. As if by magic, a copy of those same documents would slowly start to appear out of the Leicester machine. Once received, the Leicester office would put the documents into an envelope and arrange for a Postman to deliver them to the addressee straightaway.

Yes…it was the first ever FAX MACHINE!

But in late 1983 a freak accident outside of work was to change my career path for many years to come.

Me and the missus had been invited to a function at a nearby school hall. It was to raise funds for a local charity. There was going to be a DJ and food. All we had to do was pay a sum at the door and turn up with our own booze. It was within walking distance and there was a pub on the way where I could pick up the drinks.

I came out of the pub with my arms full of cans of beer and a bottle of wine. What I hadn’t noticed was the small brick wall that surrounded the pub. I tripped over it and took a nasty fall. Of course my main concern was for the beers!

Luckily nothing was broken (or so I thought). I dusted myself off and off we went to the party. It was a good night, we drank and danced till midnight. We were home and in bed by twelve thirty.

At about 3am I woke up with a desperate need to urinate. But something was wrong. I couldn’t move my right arm. I couldn’t feel my hand or my fingers. I pulled back the covers and saw that my right hand and wrist was three times the size it should be.  Having broken my left wrist twice before playing Rugby, I knew there and then it was a break. I slowly pulled myself up from the bed and somehow managed to put on a shirt, trousers and shoes using just one hand. I woke my wife up and told her that I was getting a cab to take me to the local A&E.

Five hours later I was back indoors with my right arm in plaster from just below the knuckles up to the elbow. I’d broken my wrist in three places. My arm was held up high in a sling.

I was told it would take six to eight weeks to heal.  I phoned my boss on Monday morning and told him the news.

“Okay. See you in about eight weeks then!”

The Post Office were great in those situations. Pay wasn’t a problem, apart from missing out on the overtime, everything would be the same. But after a week I was going stir crazy. So the next Monday I reported for work as usual. I sat down with my boss.

“Look, I know I can’t work on the Counter, but there must be SOMETHING I can do?”

He laughed at me.

“Let me make a couple of phone calls and see what I can do.”

I went and had a cup of tea and waited. It wasn’t long before he came to see me.

“Okay. Go to Head Office and report to Mark Brown. He’s the area Customer Services Rep. You can help him out for the next few weeks.”

So off I went to Head Office wondering what the hell a Customer Services Rep was.

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 5.

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I didn’t say a word, just followed the two men into the office. The other Clerks stood there in silence as they watched me walk the long distance between the main office entrance and the door that led to the counters. You’d have thought I was one of the Great Train robbers!

Once behind the counter I was escorted into the Managers office where the main safe was. Just the four of us. Me, the two POID men and the Office Manager. We stood there in silence waiting for the safe to reach the time when it would open. At exactly 8.45 we heard the familiar “click”. The taller one of the POID men opened the safe door.

“Joe could you go into the safe and bring out your till please?”

I did as I was told and retrieved the till.

“Put it on the desk please.”

Once again I did as I was told.

Now it was the smaller mans turn to speak.

“Are there any cheques in your till left for yesterday?”

I casually replied.

“Yes, just the one.”

“Can you get it please?”

I reached into the till and got the cheque. I handed it to the smaller man. He looked at it.

“£2500? That’s a big cheque. What was it for?”

There was no point in trying to cover anything up, they already knew the truth that was obvious. I was beginning to think this whole thing was a set up. A test by head office to try to catch me out for some reason. I very calmly told the truth.

“John Davis from Head Office asked me to cash him a cheque. And as he’s an Executive “B” grade I assumed he had the authority. So I gave him the cash.”

The tall one spoke.

“You do know that’s against procedure?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Is it? I thought I was supposed to comply with an instruction from someone of his grade.”

“Did he say why he wanted the cash?”

“Yes he said that he had builders at his house and he needed to pay them. He said his Bank wouldn’t give him the cash because they wanted two days notice.”

They both looked at each other and nodded as though I’d just confirmed something. The door opened and in came Dave Barrett, one of my mates who worked beside me on the counter.  He was accompanied by another man in a dark suit, obviously POID. He had a cheque in his hand. He looked over at the other two. They nodded. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.  Now there were six of us in the office. The taller POID man took charge.

“Okay you two take a seat.”

Dave and I did as we were told. He continued.

“You two have been taken for a right couple of mugs. You do know that don’t you?”

I thought it was about time I spoke up. I wasn’t keen on being called a mug.

“In what way?”

Mr POID wasn’t best pleased with my remark.

“Because…you’ve both cashed a cheque without authority. Totally against procedure. You’ve given away the Post office’s money!”

I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

“We often cash cheques for people from Head Office. From the Postmaster right down to other Counter Clerks. The problem here as far as I can see is just the amount. But it’s still the same transaction.”

I was being smart. I knew that, and so did they. But it was something they couldn’t argue with.

Mr POID thought for a moment before he carried on. When he did his tone changed.

“Look you two, you’ve both got cheques in your till for £2500 both from the same person. You’re not alone. There are another four Clerks in local offices just like you being spoken to at this very moment also with cheques in their tills for the same amounts, also from the same person. That person was arrested last night. He’s still in custody. He used the same story with each of you. My job is to make sure there is no criminal intent on your behalf. I don’t think there was, I think you’ve just been naive. But…you will be disciplined because you’ve gone against procedure. But that’s not my job, that’s down to Personnel. So as far as I’m concerned you should get back to work. This office has been closed for too long now and you’ve got customers to serve.”

With that all three of them just left the office. Leaving me, Dave and the Office Manager relieved that the whole thing, for now, was over.

I turned and looked at Dave.

“When did you cash his cheque?”

Dave was visibly shaking.

“Four days ago. He’s been ringing me everyday telling me to hold on to it just for another day. I’ve not slept for four nights I’ve been so worried.”

We gathered up our tills and went on the counter. The office opened and we carried on as normal.

Two days later I was in front of the Personnel Manager. I’d asked my Union Rep to come with me. He was great. I didn’t say much, he did all the talking. Our defence was that he was a PEB (Postal Executive “B” Grade) and as such I was just doing as instructed by a senior member of staff.

I was given a written warning and it would stay on my record for six months. I was also told that instead of being eligible for promotion after four years that would now be extended to at least four years and six months.

It turned out that John Davis had a massive gambling habit and he’d had a long losing streak. He was “borrowing” money from the Post Office hoping he could win it back but instead it just got worse. He was never prosecuted, I think the Post office just didn’t want the bad publicity, he was just sacked.

I was angry with John Davis. He’d taken the piss out of me and because of him I would have to stay on the bloody counter longer than most others.

Five years later I walked into a Furniture Store in Barking. I was looking for some bedroom cabinets. It was a big store with lots of Sales Staff waiting to pounce. I was approached by one of them. I instantly recognised him.  It was John Davis. He recognised me. He turned and ran through the store and disappeared out of the back door. I went back two or three times to see if I could have a word with him. Apparently he never returned to that job.

 

Eleven-Plus and Me.

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A short break from Post office Days. It’ll be back on Monday!

Seeing the GCSE results on the TV today reminded me of an exam I took in 1969. It was the Eleven- plus.

I was a bright kid at eight and nine and when I was ten I remember my teacher telling my proud parents at an “open” evening that he fully expected me to pass the Eleven plus. I’d come “Top of the class” two years running and now I was approaching my final year at Junior School.

I didn’t know what to expect in the eleven plus exam and to be honest neither did my parents. Their schooling had been severely interrupted by the inconvenience of war and evacuation.

The teachers didn’t seem to know much about the eleven plus either, mainly because no child had ever passed it at my school.

Mum decided to encourage my academic career and bought a full set of Encyclopaedias at a local jumble sale. It took her five trips from the local church hall to get them home. There were 12 volumes and they weighed a ton. They were a few years out of date (1948) but that didn’t matter, they were full of useful knowledge. Mum said I should flick through them and read things that I was interested in. I didn’t need much encouragement, I loved reading and quickly found stuff of interest.

Yes, the way forward it seemed was to read the Encyclopaedias.

I had six months until the exam. Every night I would choose a volume and flick through it and read large chunks about “things”.

A few “things” really interested me and I was sure they would come up in such an important exam as the Eleven plus.

The first thing was an Albatross. I quickly learnt that there were 22 species of Albatross, the biggest being the Wandering Albatross with a wing span of an incredible twelve feet. That’s the size of two bedroom doors apparently…amazing stuff. Then there’s the Sooty Albatross, not as big as the Wandering but still a big bird. Yep, I could name all twenty two and give you their wingspan. How clever was I?

Another “thing” that caught my eye was a man called Napoleon. I’d never heard of him before but soon learnt all about the French Revolution, his Famous battles, when and where he was born and where he eventually died. Someone as important as Napoleon would surely be in the Eleven-plus.

Then there was British Cattle. Wow, there were a lot of those. I read mainly about The Aberdeen Angus. It can weigh over a ton and is either Black or Red in colour. And…it’s from Scotland!

Armed with all this extraordinary information I went in to sit the exam supremely confident.

Mr Wilson gave out the papers. I couldn’t wait to have a look at the questions and get started. I was sure no one else in that room would have the knowledge that I had.

He blew a whistle. This meant that we could turn over our papers and begin.

I remember the first question vividly. It asked what were the four points of the compass. I knew the answer of course. North, South, East and West but what one was at the top or bottom or left or right I hadn’t a clue. I flicked through to find the questions about Albatross’s, or Napoleon or British Cattle. To my absolute astonishment there wasn’t any! Not one…

I failed my Eleven-Plus, along with everyone else in my class.

Can’t think why…

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 4.

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Wednesday came and Sue balanced her till in about 30 minutes. It seemed so easy. She had everything organised, everything written down. She had “running totals” on all her stock so if she sold something like Postal Orders or Premium Bonds she just deducted one off her total. She simply added up her stock, counted all her cash and that was the sum of her till. She then added up the totals of all her dockets ( the money she’d paid out) . Those two figures together went into column one. Column two was made up of the stock she started the week with plus any money she’d received from Edna. The two column totals should be the same ( balance). She was out by twenty eight pence!

But Sue was an experienced Clerk. Been on the Counter for four years and was super good at her job. Others in the office weren’t as smart. One guy was out by six hundred quid, another was out by over a thousand!

The rules of the office were simple. If you balanced your till quickly you helped the others out. No one went home until the entire office had balanced. They’d made silly mistakes and misscounted certain items. We were all out of the office by 6.45 and in the pub by 6.50 ( my idea).

The week went quickly and apart from the formidable and rather rude Edna I enjoyed my week with Sue. The following Monday I was back with my pals in London to continue the training. Two weeks with Kevin and then two weeks back at Elm Park with Sue. That’s how it went for the next two months. The final week was in London. On the last day Kevin announced that we’d all passed. He then had a special announcement. He would tell each of us what office we’d been assigned to.

I waited patiently hoping to get a position at the big office in Romford. But no…I got Edna!

Edna would be my boss until the end of the year. That was six months away. But, the plus side was I’d be working alongside Sue.

I won’t bore you with the next year or so, I’ll skip forward to 1982.

I thought I’d only be doing this work for a few months and here I was two years later handing out Pensions, Stamps and Postal Orders. But the Meat Industry was still in decline and so I was going to have to stay here for a while longer.

I was working at the Romford Office. This had fifteen counter positions. It was a BIG, BUSY office.

At that time every job in the Post office had a grade. I was an “O” Grade.  The “O” stood for Postal Officer. The next Grade up was “E”. This stood for Postal Executive. You had to wait a minimum of four years before you were eligible for an Executive Grade. The lowest of the Exec Grades was a “C”. Once again you had to do at least four years at “C” Grade before you moved up to a “B”. I tell you this information for a reason…

In 1982 I was serving on the Counter at Romford when I spotted a familiar face in the queue. He was waiving at me and pointing to the end of the counter. His name was John and he worked at  Head Office just up the road. This was a senior man in the organisation. He held an Executive Grade “B” rank which means that he was at least eight years senior to me and quite a few pay grades as well. He would be the equivalent of my boss’s boss.

I didn’t know him well but always chatted to him whenever I was in Head Office. I put up my closed sign and wandered down to the end of the counter to see what he wanted. I assumed he was in a rush and  didn’t want to wait in the long queue.

“Hiya John. What can I do for you?”

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cheque book.

“Can you cash a cheque for me mate? Save me a bit of time?”

Now this wasn’t quite standard procedure but it was something that most of us did from time to time.

“Yeh, no problem John.”

I watched as he wrote the cheque. He handed it to me. I looked at it, expecting it to be for twenty or thirty pounds, maybe fifty at the most. It was for two and a half grand!

I looked at him puzzled. But he seemed casual about the whole thing, like it was normal.

“It’s okay mate. There’s no problem. I’ve got the builders at my house doing an extension. I’ve got to pay them two and a half grand this afternoon to make sure they finish the job on time. I’ve been to my bank and they say I should have bloody ordered it forty eight hours in advance. So no joy with them. So if you could just cash it for me that would be great.”

Anyone else I would have told to fuck right off. But this was a well respected high ranking Post Office official, who perhaps sometime in the future could also do me a favour with promotion. Cashing the cheque wasn’t a problem. I had plenty of money in my till, I could simply give him the cash and I would have a cheque for the same amount so my till would balance. If anyone asked I could just say that someone bought two thousand five hundred pounds worth of National Saving Certificates.

I took a chance and agreed.

“Okay John, just give me a couple of minutes and I’ll get the cash.”

He looked releived.

“Thanks mate. You’re a lifesaver.”

I went to the till, got the money, returned to the end of the counter and gave it to John.

He shook my hand and left.

At the end of the day ALL cheques in your till had to be listed, added up and entered onto your “Balance sheet”. You then gave the cheques to your boss who sent them away for banking.

An hour after John had left with the cash my boss called me into his office.

“ Phone call for you. Head office!”

He handed me the phone. It was John.

“Hi mate. Do me a favour? Don’t hand that cheque in tonight? Just hold onto it for a couple of days.”

Before I could ask why, he hung up.

I had no choice but to go along with it. I handed over all the other cheques that night but not Johns. It was still in my till when I went home that night. I knew I’d made a mistake in cashing it. I didn’t have to wait long to find out if I was right.

When I turned up for work the next morning. The was a sign on the office door.

“Closed for Internal Audit.”

I rang the bell and the office door was opened by two stern looking men in suits.

“Good morning Joe. We’re from POID ( Post Office Investigation Department), can you come with us please.”

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 3

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As the first week rolled on I became friends with most of the others on the course. Their ages varied from nineteen to forty five. Some had come straight from University and were looking for a career in the Post Office, they’d been told this was the best place to start. I was gobsmacked. I’d left school with one CSE in woodwork and here I was sitting a course along with two University graduates. It just didn’t make any sense.

They’d come from all parts of London, I was the only one from the Romford area.

We settled into a routine. Coffee, work, coffee, work, lunch, work, coffee, pub. Yep we finished at 4.12 and then made our way to a local pub. Back then pubs closed at 2.30 and didn’t open up again until after 5.00. But we managed to find a local backstreet pub that was more than willing to let a dozen of us in at 4.30. Beer was only 35p per pint in 1980, so a few of the lads had no lunch and spent their £3.48 daily allowance on beer!

We learnt about the main transactions we would encounter on a daily basis. We gave out money for Pensions, Family Allowance and Unemployment Giros. We took in money from Car Tax, Telephone Bills and Savings Accounts. We also did obscure things like issued Bus Passes and even Passports!  Oh yeh we also sold stamps, hundreds of the little fuckers.

We’d learn from Kevin about a certain transaction and how it should happen and then we played shops and did it behind a mock up counter. One of us would be the Postal Officer and another one would be the customer. It was like being back at play school.

It just seemed too easy. There had to be something we were missing.

After two weeks training with Kevin we were each assigned to a main Post Office in our area for “Practical “experience. I was told to report to the Post Office in Elm Park near Hornchurch.

I arrived Monday morning not really sure what “Practical “experience meant. I rang the bell at 8.30. The door was opened by a formidable looking large woman in her early sixties.

“We’re not open yet!”

Before I could say another word she shut the door. I rang again. She opened the door again. Her face full of rage.

“Are you deaf? We don’t open until nine o’clock!”

Before she could slam the door in my face for the second time I put my hands up in front of me as though I was somehow surrendering.

“I’m here for training!”

She just stood there and looked at me for a good ten seconds, then opened up the door wide and ushered me in. She shut and locked the door behind me.

“You’re early. No one gets here at 8.30, well, apart from me. Make yourself a cup of tea in the kitchen out the back and I’ll get one of the Counter Clerks to sort you out when they get in.”

That was it. No apology for slamming the door on me, no welcome to Elm Park, no introductions whatsoever…nothing.

I did as I was told and made tea in the kitchen. Ten minutes later I heard the door bell ring, then voices. I was aware of someone standing behind me.

“Hiya, I’m Sue. I’ll be training you this week. I say training, you’ll just be sitting next to me and watching for the first couple of days, but by the end of the week I’ll have you serving the bastards. Sorry that’s what we call the general public…bastards.”

She was petite, mid twenties, curly permed blonde hair and big, big glasses. And an infectious laugh. I instantly liked her.

“I’m Joe. Done two weeks training at Featherstone Street so I’m a bit green I’m afraid. Be gentle with me!”

We both laughed and drank our tea. During the next ten minutes three other staff arrived. It wasn’t a big office with just five counter positions. And the big woman in charge was called Edna…it seemed appropriate.

At exactly 8.45 the large walk in safe in Edna’s office clicked open. It was set the night before on a time lock. One by one the staff went into the safe and took out their tills containing all of their stock and cash that they’d placed in the safe the night before after closing. I sat on a stool next to Sue and watched as she prepared her area. The one thing I kept noticing was the large amount of cash she had in her drawer. Maybe three or four grand. I asked the obvious question.

“Why have you got so much cash?”

She laughed.

“You’ll soon find out when we open the doors.”

At exactly 9.00am Edna opened the front door. Within seconds the place was full of people, mainly young woman, some with kids and some without.

For the next two hours all Sue did was hand out money. The woman gave her a book, she stamped a page and tore it out and put it in her till. Then she handed them the amount of money that it said on the page. These pages were called dockets.  I quickly realised that Monday’s were Family Allowance days.

We went for coffee at 11.00am for fifteen minutes. At 11.15 we were both back on our stools and Sue was handing out money once again. Lunch came round quickly at 12.45. Sue put up her “Closed” sign on the screen in front of her.

I looked at her and said one word.

“Pub?”

You’d have thought I’d just said a swear word. She looked horrified.

“No. I usually go to the kitchen and have a cup of tea and eat a sandwich.”

I wasn’t going to give in.

“Come on, the Elm Park Hotel is just across the road. My treat…I’ve got three pounds forty eight pence to spend!”

This time she laughed. She instantly knew I was talking about my daily lunch training allowance.

“Okay, but we mustn’t let Edna see us. She takes a dim view of people drinking lunchtimes.”

We casually walked out of the office and across the road into the pub. It was a typical boozer. Nothing fancy, just basic wooden tables and chairs, a pool table and a massive bar.

Sue insisted on having just a coke. I, of course, had a beer.

I wanted to find out EXACTLY what this job was like. What were the pros and cons, what were the angles, what were the good bits, basically what could I get away with.

Before I could ask a question, Sue asked me one.

“So, what did you think of your first morning?”

I smiled.

“Busy, very busy. I didn’t realise there was so much money involve.”

Sue laughed.

“That’s nothing, you wait until Thursday. That’s Pension day. Some weeks I’ve done twenty thousand pounds in Pension dockets alone.”

That took me by surprise.

“Really? That’s a lot of cash. Isn’t it hard to keep track of it all? I mean people make mistakes, errors, what if you come up short?”

Sue’s face became serious.

EVERYTHING is written down, EVERYTHING is accounted for, every penny. Every Wednesday you have to “Balance” your till. That means that YOU are responsible for every transaction that you do. In simple terms the stock you start with plus any money you’re given from Edna during the week, MUST equal the stock you’re left with minus the money you’ve given out, and you must have a docket for every penny of it. Your till MUST balance every Wednesday!”

The next question was obvious.

“What if it doesn’t balance?”

Sue shook her head.

“You’re allowed to be 50p either under or over.”

I grinned.

“No, I mean what if you’re a lot out. I mean hundreds or more?”

Sue’s eyes opened wide. For a moment she looked frightened.

“You’ll get a visit from some scary people.”

Now I was intrigued.

“Who?”

Sue said the words very quietly as if she thought she might be overheard.

“The POID. Post Office Investigation Department. They have the same powers as the Police. They’ll go through your till with a fine tooth comb. They’ll check every transaction. They can interrogate you for hours. They’re not nice people.”

My mind was racing.

“Fuck me they’ve got their own Police Force!”

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 2.

 

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And so the journey began.

I arrived half an hour early for the course. I had no idea what to expect. But I convinced myself this was only temporary, just until the meat trade picked up and then I’d be back down Smithfield and earning shed loads of money once again.

But for now I was going to learn how to play shops! I mean, really, how hard could it be?

Sixteen of us turned up for the course. We were introduced to “Kevin”, he was our tutor. He told us the house rules.

“You must be here for 08.42, we have a quick coffee and then start promptly at 09.00. We work through till 12.30 and then have an hour for lunch. At 1.30 we start the second session and go through till we finish at 4.12. Oh and of course we have two COMFORT breaks during the day. One at 11.00 and one at 3.00.”

This was all Chinese to me. I’d never worked to “times” before. In the Butchers shop I started at 7.00am and only stopped when we got a bit quiet for a quick cup of tea or a ham sandwich. It was the same at Smithfield, we started in the early hours of the morning and kept going till we finished. There were no “lunch hours” or set times for a cup of tea, you just grabbed a cup when you could. It seemed to me that half the day was taken up with cups of coffee and lunch breaks. I didn’t care of course, I was being paid so what the hell.

We were sitting at desks that were laid out in the shape of a horseshoe. Kevin opened a large box and gave each of us a book. It was twice the thickness of an old Argos catalogue. Massive!

It was red in colour and had the words “The Complete Guide to Post Office Services.” Written in gold lettering.

Kevin continued.

“This book will become your bible. By the end of your thirteen weeks training you’ll be able to sell all eleven hundred services that we provide.”

There was a stunned silence. Most people were worried about the huge amount of products. Me? I was still wondering what the fuck a comfort break was and what the hell did 4.12 mean?

The morning continued with Kevin telling us just how important the Postal Officers role was and how over the next thirteen weeks we would all learn the skills necessary to carry out this essential service. I almost laughed out loud.

At 12.28 Kevin told us all to go for lunch. The Regional Post Office headquarters (RHQ) was just around the corner in Old Street. If we showed our new ID passes we could use all the facilities there which included a subsidised restaurant. It just kept getting better!

Remember, this is 1980. We weren’t so “PC” back then, so as we queued up for our food I noticed small bottles of wine and cans of beer on the shelves. Not only were we going to get lunch but we could get beer and wine to go with it as well. And, all a ridiculously low price.  If this was what “normal” people did, why had I been doing all that skulduggery for years with Roy?

During lunch I started chatting to a guy called Mark. He was in a similar situation to me. He’d been made redundant from a local paint factory and had been persuaded by his Uncle to try his luck with the Post Office.

After we’d finished our hearty lunch washed down with two cans of beer each we decided to have a wander around the building.  A crowd of middle aged men in suits were laughing and joking and were walking towards a room at the end of a long corridor. We followed. We entered all together. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was a bar!

Not only that, it was a fucking big bar. People were drinking and smoking, laughing and chatting. Just like a normal pub. We weren’t sure if we should be in there or not but went up to the bar anyway and ordered two pints of lager. We were served and it cost next to nothing. This was my kind of place. Then I heard two of the guys say something about a game of snooker as they walked out. Surely not. Not snooker tables as well. There were. Four full sized ones and only two of them being used. We had a game and then left for part two of the day. Slightly pissed.

Luckily the afternoon was all about listening and not doing. At one point I looked over at Mark and saw he had his eyes shut. I gave him a nudge.

At four o’clock we were all given an A4 piece of paper. At the top in big bold letters were the words Subsistence and Allowance Form.  Kevin held his up above his head.

“As this is a training course the Post office will pay for your train fares each day, just keep your tickets and attached them to this form. Hand them in to me at the end of the week. Oh and you each have a lunch allowance of £3.48 per day so that will be reimbursed at the same time.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. They were going to PAY me to get to and from work and pay for my subsided lunch as well. Surely there were no more surprises. But there was…

Kevin looked up at the clock on the wall and proclaimed that day one was over. It was EXACTLY twelve minutes past four!

 

 

Butcher Boy 2. Post Office Days.

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In 1980 I was made redundant. My job had been as an Assistant Sales Manager for a wholesale meat company in Smithfield market.

It was a fancy title for something much simpler. In reality I was a glorified “checker.” I checked thing in and I checked things out. With my dodgy background this was the perfect job. Lots of large pieces of meat left the depot without me “checking” them out. This meant that certain people were getting a lot of cheap meat.  All they had to do was meet me in the local pub on Fridays and pay me for my poor checking skills. I made a lot of money. But nothing lasts forever and for the first time in my young life I was out of work. I’d recently got married and we’d bought a house. Bills had to be paid.

Smithfield was changing and jobs were becoming scarce so getting another job in the Market was no longer an option.  I could have gone back to being a Butcher in a shop, but the pay wasn’t great and with the Supermarkets beginning to take over I had a feeling that the job might be short lived.

It was time to take a break from the trade that I loved. But what to do?

I had a good mate that was a Postman. He said that the basic wage wasn’t fantastic but there was always plenty of overtime and it was easy work. I liked the idea of working for the Post office, not for the job itself, but because I was confident there must be a way of “acquiring” loads of parcels. It would be like Christmas every day. Never knowing what was inside them till you opened them up. It seemed perfect for somebody with my particular skill set.

I was living in Romford in Essex and there was a local sorting office close by. I called them and asked what I needed to do to become a Postman. I was told they were in the middle of a recruitment campaign and that I should report to the sorting office the next morning to sit a test and attend an interview.

I turned up the next day dressed in the only suit I possessed and eager to get on with it.

I entered a room with desks and chairs neatly arranged and took a seat at one of them.

To my surprise the test was the easiest thing I’d ever done in my short life. Basic maths and an “observation” test. Every paper had to be completed in a certain time. The guy in charge had a stopwatch. He told us when to start and when to put down our pens. The observation test was so simple I actually started to laugh when I saw it. For example there were three pictures of a pushbike. One was slightly different to the other two. You had to put a line through the one that was different. One of the pushbikes had no handlebars the other two did. That’s how simple it was.

There were a dozen of us taking the test. We had to wait until the papers were marked and if we passed we would be called in for an interview. NINE people were told to leave. I could only assume they were complete morons.

My name was called and I was escorted into a room where three people sat at a large desk. This was the “interview panel.” All this for a job as a Postman.

There were two men and a woman. All in their late forties. The two men sat either side of the woman. All three smiled as I walked in. The man on the left of the three spoke first.

“Good morning. Please take a seat.”

I didn’t. I thrust out my hand over the desk and waited for him to shake it. He looked rather taken back. But he put his hand out and we shook hands. I then did the same to the other two. The woman had a cheeky smile on her face. I wondered if she had a feather in her knickers. I sat down and took a long look at all three of them.

“Nice to meet you all.”

The man on the left of the smiley woman spoke first.

“You did exceptionally well in the test. So tell me, why do you want to be a Postman?”

Was he fucking serious? Anyone with half a brain should have done well in the test and secondly IT’S A POSTMAN, not a rocket scientist! But, I played along and looked sincere.

“I got married recently and have a mortgage to pay so that’s the first reason. But also because I feel that working for the Post Office is providing a crucial service for the public. It’s important that people get their mail as quickly as possible. Oh, and I’m used to getting up very early.”

Jackpot. They all smiled and nodded their heads.

The other man spoke.

“That’s the kind of commitment we’re looking for. Now I’ve read through your application form and can see that you’ve had a lot of experience dealing with the public.”

I nodded.

“Yes, pretty much since I was fourteen.”

Now it was the woman’s turn.

“Look, can I be honest with you? With your experience I think you’d be more suited to the admin side of the business. How do you fancy sitting the test for the Counter Clerks position?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. But acted casually.

“Okay, that sounds good. But what exactly does that entail?”

He smile widened. It became a big warm cuddly and slightly flirtatious smile. Maybe it wasn’t a feather after all. Maybe it was something much more exotic.

“There are a number of sides to our business. There’s the Post and then there’s the Counters. You know when you go into a main Post office to buy stamps or pay a bill or get your car taxed?”

Again I nodded.

“Well the person that serves you is called a Counter Clerk or a Postal Officer to give them their proper title. I think you’d be perfect for that job.”

I asked the first question that came into my head.

“Is it more money?”

“Yes, quite a bit more.”

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

The decision was an easy one. Although there would be no parcels involved, these guys dealt with money and lots of it. This seemed too good to be true.

I seemed to have said something extremely funny because the woman roared with laughter. Whatever WAS in her knickers was obviously working its magic.

“It’s not quite that simple. You have to sit another test. But, judging by how well you’ve done in this one, you should fly through.”

“Great, when can I sit the test?”

“This afternoon. We’re holding them at two o’clock.”

I left and said I’d return at two. It was now midday. I had two hours to kill. There was only one place to go. The pub.

I had three or four pints and then went back to sit the “Counter Clerk” test. This time there was a room full of people, maybe twenty five or thirty. We each sat at a desk and were given test papers. They were more difficult than the Postman’s “exam”, but still just basic maths and English. I finished and waited. Within thirty minutes more than half the class were let go. They’d failed. This left about a dozen of us.

My name was called and I went in for the interview. The same three people sat there looking at me. All smiling. The woman with the secret appliance spoke.

“Welcome back. You passed.”

I sat down.

“Thanks. What happens now?”

“We’ll get you on a training course as soon as possible. Unfortunately the London one is full but there’s one in Edinburgh that starts in two weeks. You okay to travel to Edinburgh?  We pay for your travel and lodgings of course. It’s Monday to Friday so you’re home for the weekends.”

Wow, a holiday in Scotland as well. It felt like I’d won a prize in a raffle.

“Sure. How long’s the course?”

“Thirteen weeks.”

I was silent for a moment. Did she just say thirteen weeks?

“Sorry. Thirteen weeks?”

“Yes, but not all in one go. You do a couple of weeks at a time then we send you out to a Post office for some practical experience for a while. So all in all you’ll only do about six weeks at the college.”

“Okay, great.”

I left and went home to tell my wife the good news and the bad news. Good news was I got the job. Bad news, I had to go to Edinburgh for six weeks!”

But fate was on my side. Three days later I got a telegram. It said that due to illness a position on the London course had become available and I had to report to Featherstone Street in London the next day.

Great news. But all I kept thinking was “How on earth does it take thirteen weeks training just to learn how to sell stamps?”

Boy, was I in for a big surprise…

 

Drinks and Nibbles

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“It’s nearly eight o’clock love. They’ll be here in a minute!”

John shouted up the stairs to his wife Sarah. She’d been getting ready for over an hour. He heard her reply as he walked back into the kitchen. It was abrupt with a hint of sarcasm.

“Well ONE of us has to make an effort.”

He ignored it, opened up a bottle of red wine and poured himself a large glass. He downed it in one. He wasn’t looking forward to the evening. Two strangers he didn’t know coming over for drinks and nibbles. Sarah’s idea of course, she thought it would be a good idea to get to know the new neighbours at number forty seven.  They’d moved in a week ago and, according to Sarah, looked to be “up market” people, not like the “riff raff” that seemed to be all around them. He poured himself another glass of Chateauneuf Du Pape and let out a long sigh.

He heard a cough behind him. Obviously Sarah trying to get his attention. He turned to face her. His first thought was to laugh, but years of training had taught him that was a bad idea. Instead he smiled and nodded his head in approval.

She was wearing the green ball gown that he’d bought her for the Masonic Evening last year.

“Well? Don’t just stand there with that silly grin of yours. How do I look?”

He continued to smile. He looked her up and down, trying hard not to stare at the green patent four inch heels, the yards of taffeta and lace, the gold charm bracelet, the pearl neck choker and the green sapphire butterfly clip in her hair. She looked like something out of a nineteen seventies horror movie.

“Lovely. Simply lovely.”

He moved forward to give her a peck on the cheek.

“Don’t touch me. I’ve spent ages on this make up. I don’t want anything smudged.”

He backed away. His eyes were beginning to stream from the excessive amount of perfume that was offending his nostrils.

“Glass of wine, love?”

She dismissed him as though he’d said something stupid.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve just put my lippy on!”

He poured himself another and noticed the disapproving look on her face.

“Don’t you go getting drunk John Reynolds. I’m warning you. Not tonight. Not in front of our new neighbours. Old Mrs Grant at number thirty six says they’ve got a Mercedes and that she’s seen HIM driving it dressed in a suit and tie. My guess is that he’s something big in the City. Maybe the CEO of a multinational company or something. And, if he’s a Mister Big then I expect his wife to be young and glamorous.”

Again he sighed.

“So you haven’t actually met them yet?”

She was fiddling with one of the twenty six charms on her bracelet that had got caught on a piece of lace on her sleeve.

“No need. Mrs Grant said they were nice people and that’s good enough for me. I just popped a card through their door saying John and Sarah at number fifty two would be delighted to invite you for drinks and nibbles at eight o’clock on Saturday night. Now then, have you got the drinks organised?”

He felt like screaming but just answered in his usual manner.

“Yes dear. White wine in the fridge, red wine on the table. We’ve got Gin, Vodka, Scotch, Rum, and just about every mixer under the sun.”

She turned at looked at him as though he’d just committed a major sin.

“Baileys? Tell me you haven’t forgotten the Baileys? Up market people like Baileys John. Surely even you know that?”

The thought of grabbing her firmly by the neck quickly passed. Once again he smiled.

“Of course not dear. We’ve got plenty of Baileys.”

She opened up the fridge door and took out a number of plates and bowls.

“Good. I’ve got Guacamole, Hummus, Courgette Yogurt and Spicy Bean dips. Various crackers, Spinach and Feta Mini Rolls, Bruscheta, and a bowl of Toasted Chick peas. Oh and I’ve got stuffed dates, sweet and savoury. That should show them the kind of people that we are.”

They were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Claire De Lune in D Major.

Sarah took control.

“Right, you go into the front room and act naturally. I’ll welcome them in.”

John did as he was told and scurried off into the front room. He waited. He heard voices from the hallway. The door opened.

A short man with bright ginger hair appeared first. He was wearing a blue T-Shirt that looked like most of his dinner had just been scraped off it, grey jogging bottoms and a pair of black Crocs, no socks. The woman behind him wasn’t dressed quite as smart. Same T-Shirt but with flip flops and leggings.

The man thrust out his hand for John to shake. A vice like grip almost broke his knuckles.

“We have got the right night haven’t we mate? I was just saying to your lovely wife that it looks like she’s just come from a wedding. Should have given me a shout. I do a bit of chauffeuring for the local mini cab company from time to time. Well, you can’t live just on dole money these days. I’d have given you lift at a reasonable rate. Now where’s the beers? We’re both gasping!”

John smiled.

“That’s very kind of you. Now, you two take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I’ll get the drinks.”

He walked passed Sarah who was just standing there mouth open and a glazed look on her face. He whispered to her.

“I’ll pop down the off licence and get some beer, crisps and peanuts. When I get back you can go upstairs and change.”

 

 

Dad was ” Old School.”

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Dad was “Old School.”

You know what I mean by that? Well, he was a man of his time. Born in the thirties, just a kid during the war, a teenager in the late forties, National Service and then marriage in the fifties.

Always lived in a “council” house. From the day he was born till the day he died. Owning your own home was for rich people.

He went to work and Mum stayed home and looked after the kids. Those were his rules.

On Fridays he would take out his pay packet and give her the weekly housekeeping money. The little that was left was his to spend on petrol for the car and a weekly flutter on the horses. Saturday mornings he would spread the Sporting Life across the kitchen table and pick out his fancies. At midday he’d sit down to watch “Grandstand” on the BBC and he wouldn’t move until after five.

He didn’t drink. Said he didn’t like the taste and that it gave him headaches. Just as well, because he couldn’t afford it.

He liked order, routine, didn’t like to try anything that was different. Things like Pizza, Curry and Pasta were all “foreign” food to him and he would turn his nose up if they were ever mentioned. A meat and two veg man was Dad and every day dinner had to be on the table at six.

Mum ran the house, that was her job. She cooked and cleaned and paid the bills and made sure that us kids were washed and dressed. Dad was out of the house at seven and back by five thirty. He’d wash his face and hands at the sink and then sit down at the table ready for his dinner. No one was allowed to speak during dinner and god forbid if we put our elbows on the table!

He wasn’t great at socialising. Wasn’t keen on getting to know the neighbours. Didn’t like people knowing his business.  If Mum had a neighbour in during the day for a cup of tea, they had to be gone by the time Dad got home. If anyone knocked on our door in the evening they would feel his wrath, unless of course it was family. Not many “door to door” salesmen came to our house. We weren’t allowed to have friends round to play. He wasn’t comfortable having strangers in the house.

Us kids were in bed by seven thirty. A kiss goodnight for mum and a handshake for dad. We never made a fuss and we NEVER came back downstairs until it was time to get up in the morning.

At around eight thirty he’d be partial to a bit of supper. He’d look at Mum and say “Bit of cheese on toast?” She’d be up in an instant and into the kitchen to make his suggestion a reality. Every meal was washed down with a cup of tea.

At ten o’clock he’s go to the sink and have a shave and a “wash down”. He’d put Brylcreem on his hair and comb it into a side parting and quiff. I asked him one day when I was much older why he made a fuss of his hair before he went to bed. His answer? “You never know who you’ll meet in your dreams.”

That was my Dad in the fifties and sixties. Hard, firm, strict, regimented and maybe, just maybe one awkward bastard.

But time changes a man.

As the seventies progressed and us kids grew into teenagers he softened. Yes he was still strict and not someone you wanted to cross, but there was a warmth and compassion in him that I’d not seen before. He had time for us, played games with us, played practical jokes on us, made us laugh constantly. He was most definitely the head of the household, but just like a mature Lion, instead of stamping his authority on us, he was now more concerned with protecting and loving his pride.

By the end of the seventies, us kids had both got married and moved away. For the first time in their lives Mum and Dad were on their own. I think he found it harder than Mum.

On the surface they were fine, but I knew there were tensions. He was often “In one of his moods” as Mum would say and she’d be walking on eggshells. The slightest thing would set him into a rage that would last for days and even weeks.

But everything changed again in the early eighties. Grandchildren came along.

This once hard, stone faced man suddenly became a child. He adored these new arrivals. He sang them songs, made up stories, performed magic tricks, got on the floor and played games with them. In fact he did all the things that he never did with us when we were their age.

That was when my Dad became the man that everyone remembers. The generous, kind, happy, delightful man that all the neighbours got to know. The popular man at work that EVERYONE knew and loved. The man on the estate that people went to if they wanted to ask a favour or borrow a tool, or need help repairing their car or advice on just about anything. The larger than life polite man that all the shop keepers knew and respected.

He was a complex character. I was well into my thirties when I found out from Mum that he’d suffered from “Nerves” back in the sixties. That’s what they called it back them. In fact he suffered from Anxiety attacks where he struggled to catch his breath and was scared to leave the house. He also had depression from time to time and the doctors gave him tablets called Roche 10 to control it. These completely wiped him out and he would walk around like a zombie for days. After one particular episode where he saw the clock on the wall start spinning around like a Catherine Wheel, he decided to throw them away and deal with the problem like a man ( his words).

He would just “pull himself together.”

Yep he was “Old School.”

He died in 2004. The funeral was massive. In two days time he would have been eighty six.