Why I use the Post Office as little as possible-

-is because of experiences like the one I had today. We had two small parcels and two large letters to post, so went into our local office. Inevitably there was a queue; well it was 4 o’clock.

20171017_200245There were two Post Office staff and one for the attached franchise. In between serving birthday cards and the like from the far side of the store, the latter called the next Post Office customers over to her till; that is, customers who didn’t need more complex services. Clear? No, neither were the customers. It had the makings of one of those very English arguments about queues. Then one of the Post Office staff disappeared; the other went behind the scenes for a moment. It was now our turn.

Posting items?” we were asked when the lady came back. “You could use the self-service till.” So we did.

Now I’m reasonably technologically confident, and Post Office self-service tills are, I am sure, not beyond me; but they are not designed for ease of use. Already out of patience, after navigating our way through confusing options and actions and quailing at the thought of having to do it four times we gave up. (Come to think of it now, the till seemed also to have been abandoned by the previous customer.)

We looked at the queue, now even longer. We walked out.

Yes, we could have come at another time of day. But there was another lady there who had come in two hours earlier, only to find the queue out of the door.

So we will wait until we see the people our birthday parcels were intended for. We will post the letters- oh, some time. The result is that the Post Office have lost £6 or £7 of our custom, not that it will concern them. Worse than that, they have lost our goodwill. This is not the first time we have received poor customer service; we often feel that the counter staff are brusque, and there seems to be little attempt to make customers feel they are important.

In the future, we will endeavour not to send parcels; we will send tokens or use Amazon. Yes, I know. But Amazon are CONVENIENT. We will take presents to people rather than post them. We will certainly send more e-mails at Christmas.

I’m not going to bother to complain to the Post Office,as they have never replied to my one previous complaint. (See A Capital Omission .)

I am sorry this comes across as a Grumpy Older Person whinge. I do try to make this blog positive, so my two suggestions are:

staff your offices adequately

give all your staff customer service training

Oh, our bank has just closed its local branch. They suggested we use the Post Office to pay in cheques.


The Independent Republic Of….. Me? You? Us?

Big news this week has been the independence ballot in Catalonia. This part of Spain is apparently the size of Belgium and there is a strong urge for self-determination. The Spanish government says the vote is illegal and told police to seize ballot boxes. Awful violence ensued. (Catalonia is apparently an economic powerhouse for Spain.)

I find the regional variations of Spain interesting and evocative. I know a little about the Basque desire for their own country, now less intense and much less violent. The Basque territories do extend into southern France, which is an added complication. Books like George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ have added to the mystique. In my own experience, Mrs O’s Andalusian/ Spanish gypsy accent, acquired in her childhood, was mocked in more Madridean areas. She points out that Catalonia was treated apallingly under the Franco regime.

Despite this, it’s not my place to give an opinion on the Catalonian issue, apart of course to condemn violence of any sort. However it does have many connections with other self-determination issues, some of them closer to home. What about Scotland? What about Wales, Northern Island? What about Cornwall and Cambridge?

Cambridge? There was an intriguing little development just after the Brexit vote, in which some people in Cambridge thought they should become independent so they could stay in Europe. More widely discussed in the country as a whole was the contentious issue that although there was a majority of the vote for Brexit, this was not a majority of the electorate.

The independence movement of Cambridge might enjoyably view that wonderful film, ‘Passport to Pimlico’, which gives a great fictional account of how the Pimlico area of London declares independence. That bid failed; but apparently 30 new nations have come into existence since 1990, such as Montenegro and South Sudan. Even more fascinating is the existence of ‘micronations’, small areas claiming sovereignty but not recognised by any other nation or organisation such as the U.N. (See Micronations on Wikipedia.) Examples of these are The Republic of Molossia,  The Kingdom of EnenKio, and The Kingdom of Haye On Wye. Really. Sealand, based on a fort in the North Sea, is often called a micronation but still claims to be a sovereign state with de facto recognition by the UK and Germany.


It should be pointed out that lots of these micronations are either tongue in cheek, reactions to a particular issue, or financial operations. There are also historical enclaves. I’m intrigued by the idea that some groups declare themselves a nation across the internet, without geographical commonalities.

(The series of books starting with ‘Europe in Autumn’, by Dave Hutchinson, takes as its setting a Europe which has fragmented into small states, sometimes cities, and one which is a railway line. Recommended.)

All this begs several questions. What gives people the right to self-determination? What sort of democratic process makes the decision to leave a super-national grouping, such as the EEC, acceptable? What constitutes a legitimate majority of an area or group to attempt independence? A simple majority of voters? A majority of those eligible to vote? If there is a clear majority, what will the outcome be?

The final, huge question is of course: What is a nation?

There are no easy answers to these questions, as the people of Catalonia are finding out.

(Flags of micronations declared as free to use or share in image search.)

[Although I have said I don’t feel it’s my place to express an opinion on Catalonia, can anybody please expain why the Spanish government didn’t let the Catalan referendum go ahead and then ignore it or stall any action because their courts had said it was illegal?]

Danger in the Suburbs

I am very relieved to be able to show you these lovely photos of a hazardous area near the Oblique mansion which has recently been made safe for young and old.

These areas border a historic pathway which is now a footpath.

There are still fungi, stag beetles, butterflies, owls and other wildlife in the area, but over years it has been gradually tidied and urbanised. We have protested more than once, but to little effect.

The semi-wild edging to the footpath has very recently once again been strimmed or cut right back. When I say cut right back, I mean hacked, as you can see.

I did my little bit. I wrote to the Borough Council. It appears I had no idea about the hazards involved in suburban England. The hacking was apparently done because- gasp- an elderly resident had allegedly slipped and fallen into the scrub, and parents walking their children to school had asked for it to be cut back.

As you can imagine, I was relieved that our council had dealt with this danger in the suburbs. In fact, I have decided to help them out and go out weekly with my shears to keep the dangerous shrub at bay. In fact…. no I haven’t. I’m lying. I think this explanation is hard to understand and unjustified.

I can understand why it might be sensible to trim the edges of the wild area and make sure it doesn’t cause a hazard by encroaching on the tarmac area; but the complete obliteration of it seems pointless. If the scrub along here was such a danger, why hasn’t the scrub all over the borough been cut back and all the paths completely paved? We walk in the area daily and there are very many footpaths and pavements where vegetation is far closer to the tarmac areas. Almost all gardens have growth bordering the pavement, some of it spikey. Carried to its logical conclusion, there would be no vegetation at all next to pavements and footpaths.

Surely there can be some better, more sympathetic way of managing it? We are by no means experts, but some healthy neglect (while making sure the vegetation does not handicap pedestrians) would seem suitable.

I’ve written again, making these points. I’ve written to the local wildlife trust. I’ve even written this blog. I haven’t got much optimism about it.

Am I being hopelessly idealistic? Is this relentless obliteration of wild or semi-wild areas inevitable? What else can I do?

Answers, please.

(I have no idea why the font size suddenly changes in this post. One of life’s mysteries.)

Jumpers for Goalposts

I have slowly come to realise that I enjoy professional sport less and less. I could rant about why at length, but here is a small selection of reasons.

Football The obscene wages; “professional” fouls, lack of local roots (in some cases) and lack of regard for fans (in some cases) as typified by shirt and ticket prices.

Rugby The enormous injury toll on players as they all become huge and hugely muscled, and are even (in some cases) coached to cause injuries. I am told that some teenage players are being encouraged to take steroids to bulk up.

Tennis The obscene wages and the increasing lack of subtlety as power takes over.

Cycling Drug use (in some cases).

Cricket I think I had better write about this separately, because this was my great love and now I find I have fallen out of love with it, at least as it is now played.

Obscene wages seem to be a theme here. Yes, I do mean obscene, given that we still have people living on the streets. (See my blog £367, 640). Drug abuse is another problem underlying a lot of sport. I also hate the way professional sport seems disconnected from the grass roots, and how children are hothoused rather than just having fun. Children’s sports and amateur sport increasingly copy the excesses of the adult professionals. There are a host of reasons for all this happening, but what are my answers? I haven’t got any. Instead I present to you….

Jumpers for goalposts. That is, I know, a very loaded cliché. However, I do hanker after a return to sport played just for fun, so as light relief I offer you these alternatives to professional sports, to reclaim the lost territory of the real amateur:

BadmintonGarden badminton I am not entirely joking when I say that badminton is better outdoors. It adds an element of judgement that is lacking, especially at the top level, involving judging the wind and the terrain, as well as avoiding the offerings of next door’s cat. It’s also very easy to set up and relatively cheap. Unless you trample on your Mum’s precious flowers.

CricketRough cricket There are of course many variations of this, but it’s disappearing fast. I remember painted wickets on the school wall. A tennis ball was used, of course- but it still hurt if it hit you in the face if you hadn’t been paying attention. In the summer we’d have epic Test matches on our local field; a true rough sport rule for us was that you could only hit the ball on the on side, as the field was too small. Beach cricket of course is an honourable tradition, the terrain levelling skill differences. The picture, which was tagged as copyright free, is of cricket on the Bramble Bank at low tide. True rough cricket.

Table- top table tennis As a teenager, we played intense table tennis tournaments on a large sheet of hardboard in a friend’s barn. To my huge pleasure I found that my Mum and Dad used to play on their dining room table using books for the net and the bats, at least initially. A return to this type of improvisation is long overdue. (I’m delighted to see tables being set up in city centres in the summer.)

Football tennis ball squash In the playground at school we had a corrugated iron fence. We used to play a version of squash against it. As long as you could kick the ball against the appropriate panel of the fence you were still in the point. The killer move was to get the ball going down the sleep slope and into the outside boys’ toilets. It should have honed our skills to high standards….. but it didn’t, and that’s not the point of true amateur sport. It was just fun.

Rough football Oh dear, this is turning into reminiscences; our cub scout goals were just a little more sophisticated than jumpers, being bamboo poles. I was a master of the mighty toe punt. It could go anywhere, occasionally into goal. Oh how they ducked.

Cross-country golf This really does exist, and I don’t mean just on golf courses. Be careful playing it in urban areas…. I should also add garden putting. There’s another challenge.

Road bowlsRoad bowls Again, this does actually happen in Ireland. It might be a bit difficult in our crowded island…..

Although this is light-hearted, it has at heart a serious point. It might surprise my small circle of friends that I really do value sport, for young and old. It doesn’t matter what you play, or at what level. You don’t have to be Maro Itoje, Jonny Bairstow or Justin Rose. It should just be fun.

(No, please don’t mention Quidditch.)

Grumpy Older Person on the heatwave and uniform

A news item today condemned a school for making pupils- sorry, students- wear school uniform in the “heatwave”. The aforementioned uniform was a polo shirt and trousers.

My goodness, writes my grumpy older person alter ego. In my day we wore blazers, pullovers or waistcoats, shirts, ties and woolly vests. With caps. And gaberdine mackintoshes in all weathers. Woe betide you if your socks were not the regulation thick woollen ones. Why, I remember in the heatwave of ’72, when birds were dropping out of the sky from the heat…….

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, uniform. Well, it’s hard to think of a uniform that’s cooler than a polo shirt. I suppose shorts could substitute for trousers. I don’t suppose many students would be seen dead in sandals, however.

The news item has made me recall my schooling, which doesn’t often happen. We did have to wear blazers or jackets (and ties) in all weathers, unless given permission by the teacher of the lesson we were in. I remember Miss Young (a rather wonderful English teacher- one of the old-school types who never shouted or punished, but who never, ever had any class control problems) allowed us to take our jackets off. The room was suddenly bright with white shirts, and the odd grey one.

While we’re on the subject of uniform, hands up who remembers gaberdine macs. On of my abiding memories is the smell of them drying in the cloakrooms. Unforgettable. We take for granted modern fabrics: waterproof, cool or warm, stain resistant, easily washed and often not needing ironing, cheap……

Anyway, enjoy the heat. You’ll be moaning come the winter….

Note: More apologies (in the unlikely event of anybody reading my old posts) for some of the comments. Some are just weird. including instructions for storing medicines. Wot? Nothing to do with me, gov……

A Literary Wedding

DSCN6753Briefly- We went to a lovely wedding the other day, where there was something of a literary theme: hearts on the table punched out from a copy of Pride and Prejudice, paper bouquets made from books and magazines, themed course names, and so on.



DSCN6752I particularly liked being asked to choose a present for myself: a book from a selection made by the bride and groom. The idea provoked discussion and pleasure. I know it has motivated some guests to read, or to read something new. I chose ‘Underworld’ by Don de Lillo, as the groom particularly recommended it. Looks like a cue for a blog review. Eventually; it’s huge. Thank you, Michael and Christy-Anne

Reading in Public

Now that I have more leisure time, I have started to notice what people are reading in public. Just for my own amusement, but hopefully yours, I am sharing my observations with you.

This all started when I saw somebody who I stereotyped as a businesswoman reading Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a world without work, by Nick Srineck and Alex Williams, which is apparently a “major new manifesto for a high-tech future free from work”. To which I will only say: oh yeah? For all the starving or impoverished billions of the world? Or just the privileged few? No, I haven’t read it, and am not inspired to do so.

Persuasion (Jane Austen) This was being read by the kind of lady you would expect to be reading Jane Austen; although a surprisingly wide range of people like her work. An old hardback copy. It does inspire me to want to reread Austen, a pleasure that never fails.

Azol Agol This is a cautionary tale, perhaps. We were in Boston Tea Party, Honiton; the youngish man at the table was reading a book. Mindful of my intention to write this blog, I was peering to see what the title was, and realised this looked incredibly creepy, so stopped. It was something like Azol Agol, but I can’t find this anywhere! I can find books with Azul (I think this is “blue” in Portugese), but not the exact title. Have I misread it? I know it was recommended by New Statesman. It remains A Mystery.

Kindle Here, of course, is Another Mystery. There is no way of knowing what someone is reading on a Kindle. Of course, you could guess, from the gasps of surprise or horror, the tears, or perhaps the heavy breathing: apparently this is a good way to disguise an interest in pornography (sorry, erotic literature). Fifty Shades of Grey is allegedly a favourite; no, I haven’t read it; yes, I have peeked into it; yes, it does really look like rubbish. Come to think of it, I see a lot of Kindle reading, by all ages, and I am sure this is more for convenience than from a desire to hide titles from prying bloggers.

(According to Mrs O. it is common to see Japanese commuters reading the most violent and sexual manga comics and books on their journey to and from work.)

On a lighter note,  I was delighted to see two young children having breakfast before school in the Waitrose café, reading with apparent pleasure and apparently uncoerced. Their books were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and that timeless classic, Digger to the Rescue (author unknown) (see footnote). Interestingly, there is at least one edition of the Harry Potter books that was published in “serious” covers for adults. A couple of weeks later, I saw the family again and had the courage to tell the mum that as a retired teacher it did my heart good to see children reading, not playing on their phones. “Oh, you wouldn’t want to teach this one,” she smiled. “He reads all the time, even when the teacher is talking.” I rather think this might be a Good Thing. Depends on the teacher.

Another recent sighting was a table of four people with a copy of The Ups and Downs of Cruising. Before you get any peculiar ideas about the subject matter, it turns out to be a rather light-hearted book by Bryan Shelley about…. taking a cruise. Not “walking or driving about a locality in seach of a sexual partner” (Wikipedia). What a relief. This is Hampshire, after all.

Trains are another good source of reading matter observations: newspapers, manuals and magazines as well as books of course. The Kindle is popular. However, last week I saw Miracle Cure by Harlan Coben, which I think is some sort of medical thriller, and A Piano in the Pyrenees, which is a “light hearted travel book” by Tony Hawks. Older readers will remember ‘A Year In Provence’, another book in which an Englishman moves to France. I assume that this is similar, full of gentle misunderstandings and affection. I may be wrong and I have too much to read to confirm or deny this. I speculate that these books may be indicative of a desire to escape from the mundane reality of commuting. I only spotted the author’s name on another train book: Phillip Kerr, who I have found writes crime novels set in wartime and post-war Berlin, with detective ‘Bernie Gunther’. More escapism?

I suppose I should mention The Tent, the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. These could recently be spotted being read by the Obliques while waiting for daughter #3. I have blogged about the latter (‘The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend’ by Katarina   Bivald). The former is apparently a very amusing read about camping. We’ve been there….


Footnote: ‘Digger to the Rescue” is part of a series by Mandy Archer and Martha Lightfoot. Putting jokes aside, they look great for young readers.