Archive for November, 2009

Granny Smith Also About Being Human

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

From Hellmail

30 November 2009 by Steve Lawson – ©

Hellmail review of Dear Granny Smith

Categories: Associated stories

The postman always used to ring twice

November 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Most years produce an unexpected Christmas hit. Roy Mayall’s rhapsody to the beleaguered postie could be the one for 2009

Robert McCrum

The Observer, Sunday 29th November.

Categories: Associated stories

Roy Mayall on the Today programme

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Interviewed by Sarah Montague, with management consultant David Stubbs.

I must say I was nervous, mainly because I had so much I wanted to say, so all of my thoughts were vying in my brain for attention. You can hear it, but Sarah Montague was very professional and quickly put me at my ease with a friendly look, and towards the end I came into my stride. I was mainly worried that I was being put into a confrontational situation with the management consultant, and that he would spout a lot of facts and figures at me that I couldn’t answer, but he turned out to be a quite gentle person and actually agreed with some of my points. Afterwards James Naughtie said some encouraging words about his own postie and posties in general and I felt very welcomed by the whole team.

Categories: Associated stories

Postmen: We bind the nation together

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

He is probably Britain’s best-known postman and set to achieve greater celebrity. But there is a certain cloak-and-dagger element to our meeting. He agrees to let me come to his home town but all I can tell you is that it is somewhere in the South of England. He is fiftysomething, but won’t be more specific. He has been doing his round for “a number of years”.

Read more here.

Dear Granny Smith – an extract

November 26, 2009 Leave a comment


You ask me what has most changed about the job in the 30 years I’ve been here and I’ll tell you. It is time.

We used to have time. Not just time for ourselves: time for other people too.

We call you “Granny Smith” and that nickname stems from the old days, because we were always there for Granny Smith. We had an idea of service. And if an old lady was worried about something, we’d listen. Sometimes we’d pick up the paper on our way to our round, and we’d drop it off for her, or we’d run little errands for her if she was in need. We’d listen to her woes and her troubles and her joys and about what her grandchildren were up to and she’d offer us tea, and sometimes we’d accept it. We were a lifeline for Granny Smith: someone she knew would be arriving that day. And you could set your watch by the postie then. Always on the same road at the same time. Always the same postie, the same familiar face, a part of the family almost. And sometimes she’d know me by name, or if not, by my nickname, which is the name everyone calls me, and which I have always borne with pride.


So that’s what you can call me now. “Postie”. Everyone else does.

You see, this is what the new management at the Royal Mail don’t get. They think we’re a business in the market place here to make money. And I have no objection to money or to making it. But being a postie is so much more than this, so much more than Gordon Brown or Peter Mandelson or Adam Crozier, or any of the other penny pinching pen-pushers in offices and behind desks, with their figures and their targets and their profit and loss accounts, can ever imagine. What they don’t know is that we are a part of the very fabric of our national life, we are the thread that binds the nation together, weaving our way from door to door, not just bringing the news, but bringing stability and service, confidentiality, comfort, a familiar face, and time to listen when required.

Time, Peter Mandelson. Time. That’s what you are stealing. “Time is Money” you say, but I say “Time is Service”.  Time is listening. Time is being there, on time, so my customers know. Time is spending time on the things that matter, on the brief exchange of words that is the breath of life itself, sharing the air, shooting the breeze, enjoying the moment, taking a little time, before I pass on up the road and on my way.

How can you measure this?

Granny Smith is everyone. Everyone is vulnerable in the end. Everyone is someone’s mother or father or sister or brother or uncle or cousin. Everyone needs someone. But if you are alone and vulnerable, if your family has gone, or moved away, who do you have left?

Just the postie. The postie bringing the mail.

I’ve seen it all in my time. There are some warden assisted old person’s flats on my round. One day I came across an old lady who had fallen down. She’d knocked her zimmer frame over and couldn’t get up to ring the alarm. She’d been there for about 20 minutes when I found her. So I helped her back up and into her flat and made her a cup of tea while she called the warden.

Another time I came to someone’s door and I noticed it was ajar and the mail from the weekend was still on the mat. That worried me. I looked through the window and saw him there on the floor. I went in. I didn’t have to force entry as the door was open. He was still breathing. I called an ambulance, covered him up with a coat, and then went and finished off delivering the estate before the ambulance arrived. He died later that day.

Once I was there just after one of my customers had lost his wife. The neighbours came out and told me. He’d woken up that morning and when he turned to her she was dead. She’d died in her sleep. He used to come out every morning to collect his mail from a home-made mail box by the gate, always with a cheery greeting. He didn’t come out for days after that, and then, when he did, he had tears in his eyes and I could do no more than say, “I’m sorry”.

But then later I could do more, you see. He kept getting letters addressed to his wife and he kept sending them back. I knew that this was distressing for him. So I spoke to him.

“Do you want me to get rid of these letters for you?” I asked.

“If you could. Yes please. I would be very grateful.”

So whenever I saw a letter addressed to his wife I would put it back in my bag. And then later, in the office, I would return it. And these days he’s back to collecting his mail from his mail box with a wave and a few cheery words about the weather again.

You see, I know my customers and they know me and in the old days I had a little time for them too. I still do. I make time, though there’s no time for just shooting the breeze any more. But if someone is in need, I will still do whatever I can to help.

It’s only human.

Back cover blurb

This book is a letter to you, me, all of us, from a British postie. A fascinating, eye-opening, heartfelt letter which goes behind the scenes, through the ages, in the sorting room and out on the daily round, to tell the other side of the story.

At a recent staff meeting, a postman asked what the modernisation of the Royal Mail would mean for “Granny Smith” – the little old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline.

“Granny Smith isn’t important,” was the reply. “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.”

Well, Dear Granny Smith is an attempt to explain why she does matter. An appeal to all of us to spend an evening by the fire with a cup of cocoa and take a quiet moment to read a letter from the people who are the real Santas, not just at Christmas but all year round…

Categories: Associated stories

Letter in the LRB

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Postmen speculate endlessly as to why Royal Mail is making it impossible for us to do our job properly. The most common theory is that Royal Mail actually wants to get rid of us and replace us with casual workers.

Categories: Associated stories

The End of Public Service

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

With Leo McKinstry

The end of public service

Mr Jones lives on Valley Road. I don’t know how old he is; in his eighties at least. Almost every morning, as I carry out my daily postal round, he is standing at his kitchen window when I come up the road. By the time I reach his house, he is at the front door waiting for me. ‘Usual rubbish, is it?’ he will say with a laugh. Or: ‘If it’s a bill, I don’t want it.’ There’s a bit more banter, then I have to get on with my round.

It was Mr Jones who initiated this daily routine. One day, when I first started doing this round, he greeted me on his front doorstep. ‘I always like to see the postman,’ he said. ‘It makes me feel that everything is right with the world.’ Words like that have made me realize how important my job is. My round is not just about delivering mail.  It is also about being a valued and trusted member of the community, a source of support to the vulnerable.

That concept of public service has long been one of the guiding principles of the Royal Mail. But sadly today it is disappearing, overwhelmed by a crass mismanagement and political dogma. The tragedy of our times is that the cack-handed approach to commercialisation by managers and ministers has not only weakened the ability of the Royal Mail to function effectively, but is also fast destroying the public service ethic. That is why, in recent years, we have seen mass post office closures and heavy job losses.

It is also why we went on strike recently. I must admit that, as a postman for the last few years, I had feelings of ambivalence about these strikes. Precisely because I so strongly believe in public service, I hated to think of the disruption they would have caused during the busiest time of the year for the Royal Mail.

But I also felt that, if the Royal Mail is to be saved, then a stand had to be taken against the continuing run-down of a once great, uniquely cherished service. The strikes might have been called off, but the dispute isn’t over. There are a number of outstanding issues yet to be resolved.

The Government and their lackeys in the Royal Mail management like to paint our union as a dinosaur holding out against modernisation. We the employees are portrayed as an army of  idlers who are bent on an act of suicide in a foolish attempt to protect our cushy and outdated working practices. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of the drive to streamline the service.

This move is all too typical of the belligerence which has dragged industrial relations to a new low within the Post Office. Contemptuous of the idea of public service, the bull-headed management has long been spoiling for a confrontation. At one meeting in my office, we were informed by the management of changes in working practices and hours, which would put a new emphasis on delivery to the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that the quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of big businesses. In the middle of this meeting, an old-fashioned postman piped up, ‘What about Granny Smith?’

Now I should explain that Granny Smith is the Royal Mail’s nickname for its customers. It is a deeply affectionate term. Granny Smith is everyone, but particularly every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. When an old lady gives me a Christmas card with a fiver slipped in with it and writes, ‘Thank you for thinking of me every day,’ she means it. But, in response to the question from my colleague, the answer from the manager was chilling, ‘Granny Smith is not important. Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.’

Dave Ward

The ostensible justification for all this ruthless indifference to public needs is that volume of Royal Mail business has fallen, so costs have to be cut dramatically. ‘Figures are down’ is the mantra constantly repeated by management. But every postman knows that the figures are false. From my own experience, my mail bags are heavier than ever before. My job is meant to start at 6.15 in the morning, but many of us have to come in early, unpaid, to prepare our rounds because the pressure is now so great. When I start my round on my bike, with a tray at the front and panniers at the back, all filled with mail, I can almost feel my knees giving way thanks to the weight of it all. If the figures are really down,


then how come I can work up to five hours at a stretch without time for a sit down or a tea-break?

The truth is that the volume is not down at all. The Royal Mail have just been fiddling the figures with breathtaking cynicism. This is how it has been done. The mail is delivered to the offices in standard size grey boxes, from which it is sorted into the individual rounds. The volume of mail is calculated by taking an estimate of the average number of letters in each grey box. Through a national agreement between the management and the union, that average used to be fixed at 208. But in the last year, the Royal Mail management has arbitrarily, and without any consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters per box to just 150. Having taken this step, the management then declares that business is down more than 10 per cent, so the workforce has to be slashed.

The Royal Mail must be the only business in the world that actually pretends its turnover is shrinking when the very opposite is the case. Doubtful of the management’s figures, the union ordered a random count of letters in the grey boxes over a two week period in a number of offices, including mine. On average, it was found that these boxes each contained 267 letters, not the absurd 150. So in reality the figures are up, not down. And that is hardly a surprise, given the amount of traffic that is now generated by the internet, and TV and phone shopping.

Armed with their manipulated statistics, the Government and management keep running down the service. Indeed, much of the Royal Mail has already been deregulated, which means that private firms, like TNT and Citypost, have successfully bid for contracts for profitable bulk mail and city-to-city trade of large corporations.    TNT, for instance, has a lucrative contract with British Telecom. But this kind of cherry picking of certain businesses will have a disastrous long-term impact on the integrity and viability of the Royal Mail, since we are the only organisation that has universal delivery obligation, meaning that we have to delivered letters at a fixed price to any part of the country regardless of distance. At present, the profitable parts of the business subsidise the public obligation. Take away the those parts, and the whole system will collapse.

The Government has also used the vast pensions deficit, estimated to reach about £8 billion next year, as a further justification for privatisation. But this is another piece of nonsense. A partial sale of the Royal Mail will not get rid of the deficit, nor would any private investor take on such a staggering sum. So, even if there is a sale, the taxpayer will be lumbered with the pension costs, while a private firm rakes in the profits.

We cannot go on like this. The strikes were not a return to the arrogant union militancy of the 1970s. They represented a battle to protect a much-loved service. We will all be the losers if the Government and management are allowed to carry on swinging their demolition ball at the Royal Mail.

Roy Mayall’s book, Dear Granny Smith.

This book is a letter to you, me, all of us, from a British postie. A fascinating, eye-opening, heartfelt letter which goes behind the scenes, through the ages, in the sorting room and out on the daily round, to tell the other side of the story.

At a recent staff meeting, a postman asked what the modernisation of the Royal Mail would mean for “Granny Smith” – the little old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. “Granny Smith isn’t important,” was the reply. “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.” Well, Dear Granny Smith is an attempt to explain why she does matter.

An appeal to all of us to spend an evening by the fire with a cup of cocoa and take a quiet moment to read a letter from the people who are the real Santas, not just at Christmas but all year round…

Categories: Associated stories
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