Team Talk

Posties have to be given instructions on how to ride a bike.

Tuesday is a good day.

This is because Sunday is everybody’s day off. On Sunday the sorting machines in the metropolitan sorting offices are silent. No one is working. Nothing passes through the Royal Mail on a Sunday, not in Birmingham, not in Glasgow, not in Liverpool. Everything is quiet. Everything comes to a stop.

This takes two days to filter through to the delivery office. Monday is a normal day. Wednesday is a heavy day. On Wednesday we are catching up on all the mail that didn’t get delivered on Tuesday. But Tuesday is a good day. Hardly anything gets delivered on a Tuesday.

This is just in the nature of the mail business, the way it’s always been. One day maybe, when the Royal Mail is finally sold off to the Lithuanian National Postal service and all of the old rules no longer apply, then they will run the sorting machines on a Sunday too, and Tuesday will be just like any other day. But, meanwhile, Tuesday is a good day.

You usually finish early on a Tuesday.

On the other hand Tuesday is also the day when we have our Team Talk meetings.

“Team Talk” is a euphemism.

There is no team, and no one talks, except management, that is, and then it is less in the nature of a talk, more in the nature of a lecture. We get told what to do.

We all go in the recreation room – what used to be the recreation room when there was still time for recreation (it’s only ever used for Team Talks these days) – and the Manager reads out from a prepared paper sent down from head office, the latest directives about safety or security or whatever. We get news about what’s happening in other offices. We get the latest figures: how many hours we went over last week, how many hours we are expected to manage with this week. Profit and loss. The weight of mail passing through (it’s always down). Any new initiatives that are being considered; new technology and the like.

It’s boring. People sit round polishing their nails waiting for it to be over. It’s just so much wasted time since nothing we say at these meetings will be heard in any case. We’re not important enough in the scheme of things to be heard. No one listens, no one cares what we think, so no one talks.

It feels like we’re back at school again, at school assembly, the headmaster delivering some pompous lecture on the nature of duty. That’s all it is. Propaganda.

Really it’s just to fill up the time because the management hate to see us getting away with anything.

Tuesday is a good day. Team Talk is their way of spoiling it for us.

There are one or two subjects which come up again and again.

Is he wearing a helmet?

Bicycle helmets is one of them.

It’s a stock subject. Whenever they can’t think of anything else to say, they talk about helmets.

You see, no one wants to wear them. The Royal Mail insists that we do.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Mostly we choose not to.

Generally management are too busy to notice or even to care.

This may sound petty. Indeed it is petty. But how else are we to show that we are still human beings and not just cogs in a wheel? How else are we to show that we are quite capable of making our own decisions?

Actually there are very good reasons why most of us choose not to wear bicycle helmets. It’s not only a symbolic matter. We are only required to wear them when we are riding a bike. Most of the time we are not riding a bike. We are scooting the bike or pushing the bike. The helmet is uncomfortable, too hot in summer, too cold in winter, it’s better to take it off. But then, where to you put it? Where is it supposed to go? We are already full up with mail. We have mail in our tray and mail in our panniers and mail in a bag over our shoulder, so where, now, is the helmet supposed to go? So mostly we leave the helmet in the office.

Management know this of course and occasionally we get lectured about it in Team Talks.

Someone in some office in Birmingham went out without his helmet once, and he came off his bike, over the handlebars and – you know what? – he cracked his head on the pavement and he died.

Therefore bicycle helmets are a requirement.

Even the union agree. Health and safety is one of the issues that the union can hold management to account over. Let’s face it, they have very little power otherwise. But no one can argue with health and safety. So the union have debated with the management about the need for a safe environment at work and both of them have agreed, everyone should wear a bicycle helmet for safety reasons. It’s mandatory.

So every so often we get the lecture, and every so often there is a crack down and every so often we have to go out wearing our helmets so we are forced to bump about on our round with this spare bit of kit getting in the way, rattling about in our bag or in the panniers or being left at a drop-off point so we have to go back and recover it later. And, then, after a while, management forget about it again and we all go back to normal.

But, you think, if this is really to do with health and safety, why can’t I choose?

Surely I am responsible for my own health and safety?

And if they say, “well no, not at work you are not, since management are liable for any accidents that might occur during your hours of employment,” then why don’t they just make us sign a waiver instead?

“I agree that if I fall off my bike and crack my head when not wearing a helmet, it’s my fault not yours.”

That would do it.

The other thing we’re often lectured about is how to ride our bikes.

We are not supposed to ride our bikes on pavements, to scoot, or to hold mail in one hand while guiding the bike with the other. We are not supposed to look at mail while riding our bikes. We are not supposed to bump on or off pavements. We are not supposed to carry too much weight. We are not supposed to lose sight of our bike at any point. If we park the bike to do a “loop” (up one side of the road and down the other) we must keep an eye on the bike at all times.

Often, as they’re giving us this lecture on how to ride a bike, I think, “They’ll be issuing instructions on how to walk next.”

The joke here is that if we actually did the job as we are supposed to, following all of these guidelines, then it would probably take about twice as long, and then we’d be in trouble for “deliberate withholding of mail”, a sack-able offence.

In other words, they issue instructions knowing that – in order to do the job – you are going to have to ignore them.

Such is the logic of work in the 21st century.

Guidance notes:

Walking while delivering.

1) When walking please use “feet”. Other parts of the body are not suitable for this activity.

2) Place feet firmly on the ground, preferably both pointing in the same direction.

3) Raise one foot, using leg, and with a forward motion, place it on the ground ahead of you.

4) Repeat procedure using other foot.

5) Once feet have been raised and lowered successively in a forward-moving motion a number of times, this is known as “walking”, and is the official Royal Mail recommended means of propulsion when not cycling.

6). DO NOT hop, skip, run or jump.DO NOT do backwards somersaults or scissor-kicks. DO NOT do John Cleese inspired “silly-walks”. Use only official Royal Mail forward-moving one-foot-before-the-other walking-motion. All employees using “unorthodox” walking-methods will be severely reprimanded.

7) DO NOT walk, fart and read letters at the same time as this may cause permanent, irreparable confusion. Farting is permissible only when reading has stopped.

8) It is recommended that you keep all “thinking” to a minimum as this has been known to tire the body and depress the spirits. If you cannot refrain from “thinking” please think official Royal Mail recommended “happy thoughts” available from the “happy thoughts” dispenser next to the coffee machine.

9) DO NOT step off cliffs, walls or high buildings, as this will cause a “falling” sensation, quickly followed by a “crunching” sensation as legs and other bodily extremities are concertinaed into easily removable parts. Falling off cliffs and high buildings is not to be mistaken for “flying”, a wholly different concept altogether.

10) “Feet” are usually found on the end of legs, just below ankles. If foot is found in or around other parts of body (ie, in mouth) please see a manager immediately for corrective therapy.

11) Please keep “feet” in good repair at all times, well-oiled, and free from toe-clag. They must be appropriately encased in “shoes” or “boots”. Accidents caused by inappropriately encased or ill-maintained feet are not Royal Mail’s responsibility.

A. Manager


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