Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 11.

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On the way home I stopped off in Ilford and bought myself a new suit from Next. Expensive, but it fitted well and looked the bollocks. Once home I quickly packed an overnight bag, kissed the wife and headed off to Rugby.

Gary had given me the address on a small scrap of paper. “Coton House, Rugby. Come off at Junction 1 of the M6 and it’s on your right hand side. It’s signposted!”

Not much to go on, but after travelling for the best part of two hours I found it easily.

Coton House was impressive. A Grade 11 listed Country Manor House with hundreds of acres of grounds. The Post Office had purchased it back in 1970 and it was used as their Management Training College.

I parked the Chevette in one of the large car parks within the grounds, it looked out of place among the BMW’s and Mercedes. I gathered up my things and walked into the building. There was a small reception area and a smiling middle aged woman greeted me.

“Hello Sir, what’s the name?”

I wasn’t used to being called Sir. I liked it.

I gave her my name and said I was from London Sales. She ran her finger down a piece of paper and found me.

“Ahh  yes. Here we are. You’re in Room 17 on the first floor. Have you been to Coton House before?”

“No. It’s my first time.”

“No problem Sir. Dinner is served in the restaurant just along the corridor in the restaurant from 7.00pm – 9.00pm. The small bar in the lounge opens at 5.00pm but the main bar in the games room doesn’t open until 7.00pm.”

She’d said the magic words. “Bar and Games Room” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

I thanked her and made my way up two flights of stairs and found my room.  It was small but cosy, just a desk, a table and chair, a single bed and an en-suite toilet and shower. It was 5.30 so I thought it was about time I went and found the lounge and more importantly…the bar.

The main lounge was enormous. Full of large armchairs, leather sofas and coffee tables. There were about twenty or thirty well dressed people sitting around drinking coffee and chatting. I spotted the bar, walked up and ordered a pint. Of course it was subsidised and cost next to nothing.

Garry had said there would be about a dozen of us on the course, I was assuming we’d all be around the same age so started looking for people of my own age who were on their own. I spotted a guy about twenty five sitting on a sofa with a cup of coffee. He looked out of place so I approached him.

“Hi mate. Sorry to bother you but are you here for the PSA course?”

He looked relieved.

“Yeh, came up early this afternoon. This place is amazing!”

The ice was broken and we started talking. He was from Croydon and new to the job and like me had no idea what to expect. It turned out we were the only two that had come up the night before. Everyone else was coming up in the morning.

We had a couple of pints then headed to the restaurant for dinner. It was like a five star hotel. We were escorted to a table and given a menu. This was no carvery, no self service, no buffet…this was silver service. A young waitress handed us a menu and we both played it safe by ordering the steak. Twenty minutes later our food arrived and we were tucking into our steak and chips, washed down with a good bottle of red. We had to pay for the wine but once again it was subsidised. We were just two young lads from London enjoying the high life.

After dinner we headed for the games room. It was an additional building built in the grounds of the manor house. There was a long bar, a pool table, a dart board and table tennis.

At 10.30 we were both a bit wobbly. Time for bed. Big day tomorrow.

I slept well and was up and back in the restaurant at 7.30. This time it was buffet. I had everything. Eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and something called hash browns. I’d never heard of them before, but boy did they hit the spot.

My new mate Steve came down at 8.00am. He looked a bit worse for wear. But a good breakfast soon sorted him out. Our course was to start at 9.00am prompt.

The lovely receptionist told us that our course was in Room D. On the ground floor. I had on my new suit, blue shirt and yellow silk tie. Yep, I looked like a Sales Rep.

There were only eight of us on the course. Six guys and two girls. The ages ranged from twenty three to thirty five. Our trainer was a bulldog of a man called Graham. He was short, stocky and seemed to have no neck whatsoever. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in the front row of the England Rugby team. But he was a gentle giant.

We started by standing up one at a time and introducing ourselves. When my turn came I simply said. “My names Joe. I’m a Butcher from East London who’s somehow found himself working for the Post Office, staying in a luxury hotel and learning how to sell parcels.”

The entire room laughed and I felt instantly at ease.

Graham was a brilliant tutor. He told us what was expected of us and how it was down to US to transform the old style Sales Force. We were the future. At the end of the day we were visited by the smartest man I’d ever seen. He looked like a film star. His navy blue double breasted suit was immaculate and was obviously made to measure. He was over six feet tall, jet black hair with a small black manicured moustache. He oozed confidence and charm. His voice was deep and warm.

“Good afternoon everyone. My name is John Fowler and I’m head of Sales and Marketing training here at Coton House. Some of you in this room will go on to become Sales Reps and even Sales Managers so you might be seeing a lot of me in the future. I’ve been recruited to transform this business, modernise it and take it forward into the twentieth century. Some people won’t want to be part of it and they’ll fall by the wayside. But for those of you who do want to be a part of it, I can promise you one thing. You’re in for the ride of your life!”

After that short, motivational speech, he left the room.

I drove home pumped up and ready to go. Stan and Bill were in for a rude awakening…

 

 

 

 

 

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Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 10.

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Gary explained that my “training” would be just the first week then I’d be expected to start making appointments for Stan and Bill.

The good news was that all the effort I’d put in gaining information on TNT in the Romford area hadn’t been touched. So already I had a shed load of leads to follow up.

My training in week one was simple. Monday in the office with Gary. Tuesday out for the day with Stan. Wednesday out for the day with Bill. Thursday and Friday would be at POMC (Post Office Management College) in Rugby. It all sounded like good fun, apart from the two days with Stan and Bill who obviously hated my guts!

At the end of day one I left for home at 4.00pm.

Stan Webber lived not far from me in Romford. He agreed to pick me up at 9.30am. He actually got to me at 10.30. I’d been waiting outside for over an hour.

“Didn’t know your phone number so couldn’t let you know about the change in time.”

These were the first words he said. No apology for being an hour late. I’ve got a short fuse, but thought it best to say nothing at the moment. It was only day two in my new job.

His car looked like a bomb site. There were bits of paper everywhere. His jacket was on the floor crumpled into a ball behind his seat. He sat there shuffling papers. Then he spoke.

“Okay. Got it! We’ve got to see someone at 11.30 in Whitechapel. Plenty of time. We’ll stop off at a local cafe I know and get some breakfast.”

With that he put his foot on the accelerator and off we went. At 10.55 we were eating bacon sandwiches and drinking coffee at a cafe in Bethnal Green. I thought I’d better ask about the upcoming appointment.

“So, Stan, who we seeing at 11.30?”

Bill spoke with his mouth full of bacon and bread. Small pieces of which sprayed straight at me.

“Some marketing company. They want to do a mail shot in East London to advertise their business. Simple work, we’ll be out of there in twenty minutes!”

Now the Post Office had a service called HDS (Household Delivery Service). It was leaflet distribution by Postmen. Whilst they were delivering the mail they would also post a leaflet through your door at the same time. The client could be specific, he could have them delivered to businesses or residential addresses and he could specify what postcodes he wanted them delivered in.  It was good targeted marketing.

I thought it would be an interesting call with lots of potential for other business.

We arrived at the company ten minutes late. Bill had insisted on having apple pie for afters and an extra coffee.

There was a lovely looking girl on their reception desk. Bill was abrupt and went straight for the jugular.

“We’re from the Post Office. We’re expected. Where’s the Postroom?”

The poor girl looked all flustered.

“Along the corridor. Mister Walters is in charge.”

Twenty minutes later we were back in the car. I couldn’t believe the speed of the man. But I could see the problem. He had only concentrated on that one service. He hadn’t asked who they used for their parcel distribution, he hadn’t asked if they had any International parcels in fact he hadn’t asked ANYTHING about their business. He’d just taken their order.

It was now 12.15 and we were off to the local sorting office in Whitechapel. Stan knew everyone there. This was obviously where he was at home. He spent an hour talking to his old mates and then another hour explaining to them about the new HDS deal he’d just done. By the time we’d got out of there it was almost 3.00pm.

“Time for home. We’ve done well today.” was all Stan could say. And he really meant it.

Sure enough at 3.45 he was dropping me off outside my house in Romford. I’d been out for just five hours and in that time I’d seen one customer and had a good breakfast. But that was it.

The next day with Bill wasn’t much better. We managed to see two customers, one who just wanted to talk about a new franking machine (nothing to do with us), and another that had a problem with his regular Post delivery (once again, not our job). We had a pub lunch then Bill dropped me off at 2.30pm.

I couldn’t believe that people on their grade and salary could literally do nothing all day and get paid. But I was no grass. When Gary asked me the next morning how my two days had gone, I lied.

“Yeh all good. Stan got a really good HDS job and unfortunately Bill had to get involved in some Customer Service work, but he still got some information out of it.”

Gary could tell I wasn’t telling him the whole story.

“Okay, I understand you don’t want to tell tales, but you can obviously see that they’re not Sales people.”

I just nodded.

Then he gave me the good news.

There’s a pool car downstairs with your name on it. There’s a one day course for new PSA’s tomorrow at our Management College in Rugby and you’re down for it. Go home, get some clothes and get up there for around 5.00pm. Go up this afternoon and stay the night so you’re fresh for the morning. Everything is booked, dinner tonight, room and breakfast in the morning. There’s only about ten of you on the course and it’ll give you a bit of an insight into what’s expected. See you Monday.”

He handed me a set of car keys. The fob had the registration number of the car I was going to drive. I quickly found it. A Vauxhall Chevette in of course Post Office Red!

 

 

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 9.

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I said goodbye to my mates on the Counter at Romford as soon as I got written confirmation that the PSA job was mine. They all thought I was mad taking a job in London that I knew nothing about.

I never said a word about the promised promotion in just three months time.

I reported to the Sales Office in Old Street, London, on a wet Monday morning. I was assigned to the East London team. A young, fresh faced lad with blond hair greeted me.

“Hi Joe. Welcome to the East London Sales team. My name’s Gary, I’m the Sales Manager.”

I couldn’t believe it. He looked my age and yet was a PEB grade. How could that happen? In Romford he’d have to be in his forties to get to that position.

He took me to his office and we both sat down.

“You’re the only PSA we have. Another one was due to start today but for some reason has now decided to stay where she is. Oh well, these things happen. It’s a new role so we have to make it up as we go along. Your priority is to make appointments for the Sales Reps. Although we’re called the East London team we also cover the Ilford and Romford Postcodes. All the information you gathered over the past few weeks has come to me. So a big thank you for that. You’ll be looking after two Sales Reps. Stan and Bill. Their old timers. Both in their fifties and to be honest they won’t welcome you with open arms. Up until now they’ve made their own appointments and come and gone as they’ve pleased. They’re not really the sort of people we want in the new Sales Force. They’ve got no drive, no ambition, and no energy. I call them the dynamic duo!”

He laughed as he said the last few words as though it was some kind of “in” joke.

I also laughed but had to ask the obvious question.

“So why are they here? Why are they part of the team?”

Garry shrugged his shoulders.

“Unions. They’re very powerful in London. We’re not allowed to recruit from outside the business, so we’ve had to recruit from within. These guys applied for the job and because they were the same grade they got it. Unfortunately that’s how it works at the moment. They’ve come up through the ranks of operations. Postmen, then Postman Higher Grade (PHG), then after years in the sorting office they got their PEC grade. The only reason they applied for the job is because it comes with a company car! Not because they want to be Salesmen. But…times are changing and things are being sorted out at the highest level. “

He emphasises the words “at the moment” and “times are changing”.

Two questions were on my mind, firstly how did he get his job at such a young age and secondly what type of company car did they get?  But another question had to be asked first.

“But I’d have thought they’d be pleased to have someone making appointments for them. Surely it makes their job easier?”

Gary smiled.

“It’s all very political. We want them to do five Sales calls per day. At the moment they only do three. They say they don’t have time to do five because they have to make their own appointments and complete certain paperwork after they’ve visited a customer. We all know that’s complete bollocks and they’re probably indoors or in the pub by midday. But we have to play the game.  So we said okay, we understand, let’s get you an assistant to make those calls for you and do the paperwork afterwards. Then you WILL have time to do five Sales calls! So we created the role of the PSA.”

Now I realised why I was there. I was just a pawn in a giant game of chess. But it didn’t matter, all I had to do was get on with it and wait out my three months till it was my time for promotion. Gary stood up and walked to the door of his office.

“So, ready to meet the dynamic duo?”

“Yep, let’s go for it!”

We walked along a narrow corridor and into a small office. There were four desks, sitting at two of them were two men that looked nothing like the Sales guys I’d seen already. Both overweight, both in badly fitting and crumpled suits, shirts that looked like they’d never seen an iron and ties that were fashionable back in the sixties. They were both tucking into what looked like egg and bacon sandwiches.

Gary did the introductions.

“This is Joe. He’s your PSA. He’s here to help you both with your appointments.”

Their reaction was underwhelming. They ignored me and both looked at Gary. Stan put down his sandwich and wiped away a large dollop of egg yolk from his tie.

“So I suppose you’ll be wanting us to make more calls then?”

Gary wasn’t phased.

“Not immediately Stan. Joes got some training to do but yes in a couple of weeks time I’ll expect a bit more from you guys. After all, this was all your idea wasn’t it? To help you with all your paperwork and help you get out of the office more.”

There was silence. I did my usual and stepped up. I walked over to Stan and thrust out my hand for him to shake.

“Hi Stan. Looking forward to working with you.”

He reluctantly shook it but never looked me in the eye. I did the same to Bill. He seemed a bit more welcoming.

“And you Joe.”

They both put some papers into their briefcases and were out of the office in minutes.  Gary looked at me.

“Sorry about that Joe. As I say they‘re not what we’re looking for. Lets grab a coffee and I’ll let you know about the training plan.”

There was a large pot of coffee on a desk in the main office. Gary poured out two mugs.

“This will always be your first job of the day. As soon as you get in, make sure the coffee goes on. Get whatever you need, coffee, filters, milk, tea or biscuits, it doesn’t matter, I’ll give you the money out of petty cash. This office can’t function without coffee.”

It seemed wherever I went I always ended up making the tea or coffee!

 

Butcher Boy2. Post Office Days 8.

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It wasn’t the same two Sales guys that stepped into John’s office that morning at 11.30am.  I recognised one of them from before but the other guy was much shorter and had a beard. He was also smartly dressed but his hair was slightly longer and I was guessing he was in his mid forties. I greeted them both with my usual firm handshake.

The familiar Sales guy did the introductions.

“Hi Joe, my name is David and I’m the Regional Sales Manager for London and the South East. This is Ray. He’s our Director of Sales.”

Yep he used the word “Director”. Fuck me I was sitting opposite one of the Directors of the Post Office. I tried to act as casually as possible.

“Nice to meet you both. Thanks for coming over.”

The conversation started with them asking about my arm and how much longer would it be in plaster. Ray asked about my days as a Butcher. I told him about leaving school, then Butchery College, everything really apart from the stolen goods, the firearms, the police investigation, the lorry hi-jackings and my boss Roy being the biggest Supergrass the country had ever see. I thought it best to leave those bits out!

The small talk lasted for about ten minutes, then Ray obviously decided it was time to talk business.

“You’re doing a really great job with the TNT information. So keep it coming. You’ve done more in two weeks than most of my Reps have done in a year!”

I smiled and thanked him. Then he said the words I’d been hoping to hear.

“Want to come and work with us Joe. Fancy being one of our London Reps?”

I acted as if it was a surprise.

“Wow, that would be great but it’s an Executive Grade job. I’m not eligible for promotion for at least another two years otherwise I’d jump at the chance.”

I must have said something funny because they both laughed. Ray sat back in his chair and continued the conversation.

“That wouldn’t be a problem. Trust me. But you need to transfer to London first so that you report directly to David. In a few weeks time we’ll be advertising for PSA’s. That’s a Postal Sales Assistant. We need people like you to make appointments for our Sales Reps. You call up businesses in a certain area and ask them questions, just like you’ve been doing these last few weeks. Find out who they use and how often. Then make an appointment for a Rep to pay them a visit. Okay?”

I nodded. He was right, it was exactly what I’d been doing while I was out with John.

“Yeh, that sounds easy enough.”

Ray seemed pleased with my response.

“Good. The PSA grade is the same as a Postal Officer so you’ll just be applying for a job of the same grade but in the London region. If you apply for it, I’ll make sure you get the job. If you do that job for 3 months, you’ll get a good feel for how the Sales Team work and get to understand the role of the Sales Rep. After three months, I’ll make sure you get a Reps job and an Executive grade. What do you think? Deal?”

He stuck out his hand. I shook it firmly.

“Deal.”

They both stood up and I thought they were leaving but Ray had other ideas.

“Okay, so show me the best pub in this town. We’re taking you and John for lunch!”

Fuck me. This couldn’t get any better. I’d be working with guys that liked a beer.

The four of us headed off to The Golden Lion. A traditional boozer that did great pub grub. Ray looked at the wine menu and ordered two bottles of red.

“This is on us. Have what you like. It’s our way of saying thank you for the work you’ve put in over the last few weeks.”

He looked at his colleague and smiled.

“Dave, you’re paying for this by the way. Stick it down on your expenses form and I’ll sign it off.”

The both laughed heartily.

During lunch Ray and Dave spoke about the Parcel Business They both seemed passionate about it. I couldn’t understand how people could get so enthusiastic about boxes! Dave was in full flow.

“You’ve got TNT nicking all our best Parcel business, DHL taking all our International work and there’s even talk of Federal Express coming over next year and having a go at both. If we’re not careful they’ll be nothing left and we’ll all be out of work.”

I thought I’d better chip in with something.

“But we’ve still got the letter business. No one can touch that surely?”

Ray shook his head.

“No one wants it Joe. We lose money on that part of the business, always have. Think about it. It costs just 16p to get a letter all the way from Cornwall to Scotland. Can you imagine what the REAL cost of that is? Parcels are where the money is that’s why we don’t want others coming in and taking it away. It won’t be long before we have to split the business into different sections. It won’t be the Post Office anymore. It’ll be Parcels, Letters and International. And, even those will be separated into more sections. It’s the way it HAS to change otherwise it won’t survive.”

It would be another three years before Ray’s words came true.

I carried on delivering the satchels and gaining more information for the Sales team for the next few weeks. Then, just as Ray said it would, a notice went up advertising for a new position in London. The role was PSA. I immediately applied and was given an interview date for the following week.

I arrived at Old Street in London for the interview. There were two familiar faces sitting opposite me taking the interview. It was Dave and Ray.

Surprise, surprise, I got the job. My start date was in three weeks. Perfect timing because the plaster on my arm was coming off a week before. I was saying goodbye to working on the counter and to be honest I wasn’t going to miss it. It was time for a new chapter in my young life to begin…

 

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.

 

 

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!”