The life of an international internet postcard dealer is not as glamorous as you might at first think. True there was that meeting in a West End hotel with a young Swiss banker representing a reclusive Geneva based collector who passed over a briefcase full of Swiss francs in return for the only known copy of a card showing Gustav Mahler playing snooker with James Joyce in Trieste, and then there was the time when a lady in a fur coat and not much else offered me far more than the asking price for a rare photographic card of the 1907 Upton-on Stour Coronation Day Sack Race in the car park of the Les Dennis Memorial Hall in Droitwich during the West Midlands ‘Card Bonanza’. But on the whole it’s a pretty mundane business, hours at the computer, scanning, listing, sending invoices, packing and finally the queue at the Post Office and the latter is where time stands still and you begin to question your whole existence and you think “What does it all mean?” “Why am I here?” “Is that blonde bloke in Hollyoaks really a girl?” I have tried to pass the time by humming the overture to Flying Dutchman in it’s entirety but there were complaints.
Last week however something remarkable happened while I stood near the back of the queue beyond the photo-booth, a lady wearing a badge on her ample bosom that proclaimed that she was both Valerie and a Supervisor approached me and said “Mr Irwin?”
“Come with me please. Let me take those for you”. She seized my carrier bag full of post and strode to the nearest counter, elbowing aside an OAP who had waited 2 hours to buy a single second class stamp, “Sort these out for Mr Irwin”, she ordered the counter operative and then led me through the door next to the foreign exchange counter. On the right just inside the door was a young man sitting in a cubby hole surrounded by video screens.
“This is Craig” said Valerie “, he’s responsible for the CCTV round here. He’s the one you have to thank for all this. Craig has calculated that you have queued for more than 500 hours in this post office during the last year”.
“Very nice to meet you at last Mr Irwin” said Craig “I’ve put together a little montage of your highlights”. His nimble fingers sped over his keyboard and a series of images flashed up on the screens around me. There I was standing next to the drunk who asked me 26 times how long it would take for a letter to get to Kettering, there I was in the summer dressed in shorts and Hawaiian shirt, and there I was so far back in the queue that I was next to the cheap DVDs with titles like “The Glory of Sudoku” and “Design Your Own Garden Pond”.
“I’m not sure what to say” I said
“You don’t have to say anything at all Mr Irwin” said Valerie and led me along a bleak corridor to a door labelled ‘Staff Canteen’. She pushed me through the door and as she did so champagne corks popped, streamers flew across the room and a sea of grinning faces sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. A pretty girl thrust a glass of champagne into my hand. A beaming chubby man stood on a chair and ‘tinged’ on his glass with a teaspoon until there was quiet.
“Welcome, Mr Irwin, to this little get-together to celebrate your sterling efforts in queuing for more than 500 hours in the last year. A remarkable effort and a branch record, furthermore you have achieved this feat without complaint. I think I am right in saying that you have not once asked for a complaint form”.
“Er there didn’t seem much point” I replied
“Quite right” said Mr Chubby. “Ooh by the way does anyone here know where the complaint forms are?” he asked the room in general. Everyone laughed uproariously at this. “Thank you for joining us today and now I think Mrs Winterbotham would like to meet you”.
Valerie took me by the elbow and led me up some stairs and along a carpeted corridor to a mahogany door with a brass nameplate.
“Mrs Winterbotham is about as big a cheese as it’s possible to be in postal circles round here” explained Valerie as she knocked on the door.
“Enter” said a commanding voice.
“This is Mr Irwin” said Valerie and she half curtsied as she left the room.
I was in a large and richly furnished office with a vast desk at one end and an open fire, sofa and coffee table at the other. The walls were hung with expensive Turkish rugs, there was a Faberge pen-holder on the desk and a polar bearskin rug in front of the roaring log fire. The room reeked of money and power. Behind the desk sat an attractive raven haired woman.
“Ah Mr Irwin, Valerie has told me all about you. Thank you for taking the time to pop up and see me”.
“Um …no problem” I replied.
“I’m interested to know which of our services you found the most useful”. She said as she stood up, and as she did so I saw that she wasn’t an attractive woman, she was a very attractive woman. She wore a bright red suit with an unexpectedly short skirt and had legs to die for. She gestured me towards the fire and sofa.
“Well I just use whatever seems appropriate…” I muttered.
“I see. Are you are a big user of ‘Proof of Posting?” she asked as she came closer “a lot of people find that very useful these days….”
“….and the ‘Next Day Special Delivery’ is that something you might consider”.
By this time we were both on the polar bear skin rug. “Phoo it’s hot in here” she said and shrugged off her jacket revealing a sleeveless black silk top that set off her light tan but was having trouble restraining the gentle thrust of her breasts.
“Valerie tells me that you’re a big man for ‘International Signed For’. Is that right?” She was closer now and never once took her large brown eyes from mine. “Can I have a sip of your champagne?” She took the glass from my hand, our fingers touching for an electric instant, she sipped and returned the glass with a perfect semicircle of lipstick on the rim. She was standing as close now as was possible and not touch.
“Have you ever tried ‘Air-Sure’ ?”. She put her hand on my arm, I felt dizzy. “I think you might find ‘Air-Sure’ just the ticket”. Her lips moved closer to mine but then out of the corner of my eye I saw something in the fire that distracted me. It was an ‘International Signed For’ sticker. I bent and looked closer, the fire was no log fire it was a parcel fire. There were letters, packets, parcels, ‘Special Delivery 9.00am’s, ‘International Signed For’s, ‘Special Delivery Saturday Guarantees’ all ablaze. I turned back to her.
“What’s happening? This isn’t right!” but she had changed, her skin had yellowed and coarsened, her hair seemed grey. I felt time passing very fast and Mrs Winterbotham first became a cackling skeletal hag and then crumbled into bones and dust. I ran from the room, down the stairs and back into the main body of the Post Office. For a moment all seemed normal, the queue hadn’t moved an inch, but then I realised that the queue was petrified, mummified, skeletons clad in yellowing flesh and rags, a Royal Mail version of the Terracotta Army. I ran for the exit but as I did so the ghastly figures shuffled forward to bar my path. The horror was too much for me and I swooned and all went black.
I felt a prodding in my back. “Move along dearie” said the old lady behind me “Position 6” is available”. I was at the head of the queue and phew! It had all been an awful dream.