25 August, 2012


The bells, the bells!

I can't say I'm too impressed with Royal Mail's super up-to-the-minute plan for dealing with failed parcel deliveries — viz knocking on the neighbours' door and getting them to take it in. That does rather depend on the neighbours in question: we don't all live in pretty little villages where everybody has known everybody else (and all their business) for generations.

Both the houses on either side of me are bought-to-let places with a typical occupancy period of about a year. I've got to know the current tenant on one side — at the address I wrote about here — who seems a decent enough sort of cove. The person on the other side I've never seen. I've heard them banging about at odd times of the day or night. Oddly enough I do know their name, since I get a fair amount of their post — some of our postmen use the "close enough" delivery technique, leaving the actual recipient to make any necessary final corrections. I having been using gender-neutral language above, incidentally, because the unseen person next door has a Muslim name, probably of Afpak origin, and the gender association, if any, of the particular forename is unfamiliar to me.

The latest misdelivery intended for this particular neighbour was, er, a recorded delivery (to be signed for) item, just shoved through my letter box. I wonder what signature appears on the postman's tracking documentation for that one.

On the whole, when the postman cannot deliver something because I am not in to give a signature or to open the door for a packet too large for the letterbox, I am perfectly happy with my existing practice, which is to get the sorting office to deliver the item to my local post office (200m away from me) for collection. That service costs 50p per packet, which is peanuts, and the two-day delay can easily be quicker than relying on a neighbour. The last time I took in a delivery for a neighbour — the Persian lady who used to live in the house now occupied by the Afpak ghost — it took me 7 days to catch up with her.

OK, then, why is this post titled The bells, the bells!?

Well, I recently had a curious delivery experience. No, no, no, I don't mean I've given birth, which would be biologically "interesting" for a 64-year-old male, but I have taken delivery of a couple of items which needed to be signed for because of their high value. The logistical facilitator in this case was not the dear old Royal Mail or its heavy lifters, Parcel Force, but one of those numerous delivery companies which have destroyed the financial basis of the universal uniform-rate postal service by assiduously sucking out all the profitable traffic and leaving the nationalized rump to deal with the residual rubbish traffic, heavily subsidized by the taxpayer.

But the economic politics of the universal service obligation are a matter for another time.

It was quite a snazzy operation, in theory. I received text messages giving me a day's notice of the expected time of delivery to within a couple of hours. So I made sure I was in during the notified time frame, respectably dressed and ready to answer the door at a moment's notice and not swinging stark bollock-naked from the chandelier making Tarzan noises as I usually am at that time of the morning. The time came. And the time went. No delivery.

As it happens said delivery company has a website with parcel tracking software that sort of works, so I visited the site and checked on the status of my consignment. The log told me that the driver had called at a particular time, within the agreed timeframe, and that he had failed to gain access. In the notes field he had written the single word "bell". The delivery was deferred until the following day. Interestingly, there was no text message advising me of this. Clearly a high-tech system, but only a fair-weather high-tech system that doesn't manage actual problems.

Hmm. An incredible suspicion began to form. A bit of context is needed here. My front-door bell doesn't work. It hasn't worked for a while. This doesn't particularly bother me. When it was still working it always took me by surprise when it rang and made me panic for some unexplained reason. A knock on the door doesn't seem to have that effect. Doubtless the effect of some dreadful childhood trauma. Anyway, I'm in no hurry to get it fixed. But until I finally get round to removing the pushbutton from the door I don't want people pressing it and expecting an answer, so the button is taped over. Now the postman, the electric-meter reader (who still calls regularly despite the fact that I read my own meter — joined-up contracting there, EDF), the local Jehovah's Witnesses and every other unexpected caller seems to have worked out that the most productive strategy in the absence of a doorbell on the front door of a domestic property is to knock on the door.

But not this guy. So I rang the helpline and spoke to a nice lady who arranged for the driver to be told to do just that on his next call. To be fair, as he must have still been in the general area at the time he did actually call on the off chance a couple of hours later, rather than leaving the job until the following morning.

I'm having trouble getting my head round all of this. I keep asking myself, suppose I hadn't investigated the situation and called in with instructions on how to knock on doors, would the same driver have turned up the following morning, noted the absence of a working doorbell, and gone away. And so on until the procedure kicked in that returned the goods to the supplier as undeliverable. The mind boggles gently but worryingly.

Anyway, despite all of that I am now the proud possessor of a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S3 phone. That's going to be a bit of a learning curve for a relic who cut his computing teeth on the sort of room-filling machine you communicated with using a teletype — with printer output not CRT.

Some serious RTFM of the 181-page manual and lots of finger-swiping practice is called for before I feel confident enough to migrate the number across from my Nokia. At least I can I can visit Julia's site again, which the Nokia 5230's browser couldn't cope with after she changed the background image.

Ah the joys of the twenty-first century.

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