Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How the other half live

Today I learned what a profoundly useless organisation the British Post Office has become. After yesterday's ludicrous queuing incident, I went back to the Highgate branch and, as I handed my package over to be stamped, I realised the tape around the edge of the package had started to come unstuck. I noticed a stapler on the server's desk and asked if I could borrow it quickly to staple the corners together to prevent the CD I was sending from falling out. "I'm afraid I can't let you use that," said the woman. "Really? Why?" I asked. "For health and safety reasons..."

This afternoon I had the misfortune of visiting the "Post Shop" in Greenwich, where all the members of staff looked like they'd been slapped about by large wedges of camembert. All I needed was a passport photo for my driver's licence. They had a photo booth. The only trouble was that it cost £5 and only accepted coins. I went up to one of the counters, clutching a £5 note, waiting for the woman behind the counter to draw breath whilst talking to a friend, and asked if she could give me change. "No, sorry" she said, politely enough, "I don't have that much change in my till." I wasn't sure I believed her. She sent me to the counter opposite where there was a massive queue. After five minutes, I was served. I asked for change and the woman sighed the sigh of a martyr, took my fiver, and handed me five £1 coins, her lips sagging with the weight of her generosity.

I had my photo taken in the booth. It took a while to get the hang of the weird spinning seat thing. A slip of a button later, and I'd ordered one large copy of my chosen image rather than 4 small ones, so that was instantly £5 down the drain.

I spoke to the woman at the till again, and explained that I'd pressed the wrong button and that I didn't have any more cash. Could I perhaps pay with a card? She ushered me to the back of the post office and told me I could get cash there. She didn't tell me she meant over the counter. That took a while to work out. Then there was another five-minute wait in the queue...

The man behind the counter duly gave me £5 in £1 coins and I went back to the passport machine, posed for yet another picture (feeling increasingly self-conscious) and pressed the button for four smaller shots. In the meantime my "large portrait" picture came out of the machine, all fuzzy-edged with a great big purple blob on my forehead which made it look like I'd badly dyed my hair. The four shot then came out. It had cut the top of my head off and the purple blob this time was across my forehead. Plainly there was something wrong with the printing process!

I went to the counter and asked if I could possibly have a refund. "You made a mistake and pressed the wrong button," she said. "That's very true" I said, "but the purple splodge on the photograph would make this photo unusable even if I'd wanted a photo this size." I handed her the other photo: "And there's purple all over this set as well. I've spent £10 now and I still have nothing for my driving license!" She looked at the four smaller photos, "well you can't use these ones for a driving license because you've cut the top of your head off..." "But these pictures are purple, and I would hazard that they'd still be purple even if I spent another £5 making sure the top of my head wasn't cut off! Your machine is faulty!"

So I was sent over to the manager, which involved standing in yet another queue. She looked at the pictures and pointed at the full-sized shot, "I'm prepared to refund you on that one, but not the other one. You've cut your head off on the other. I can't be held responsible for that." Feeling like a broken record, I mentioned the fact that I felt pretty confident that, if I did take another photograph, and sat properly in the chair, I'd still end up with a purple splodge on my forehead. I asked if this would cause an issue with the passport office. "Go back to the booth and take another photo making sure your eyes are level with the markers on the screen. That's the only advice I can give you... Or speak to the lady over there who can take you into the back room where they have a studio that does all that stuff properly." The lady she pointed at was the first woman I'd spoken to. The one who didn't have change! The one who, it turns out, could have saved me money and time by telling me that she had an on-site business which specialised in the very thing I was looking for. But no. She was too busy talking to her mate to want my custom.

The manager took the photos from me, handed me a refund and I went back to the photo booth only to realise she'd given me a refund which included a £2 coin, which I couldn't use in the machine. As I emerged, red-faced and angry looking, a lovely American lady came up to me: "if you're looking for passport pictures, there's a wonderful chemist around the corner where they do a great service." So I left the Post Shop and went there instead. She was right. The lady in the chemist who took my picture complimented me on my odd socks, put me at my ease, took the picture without any fuss, delivering four individually cut photos five minutes later.


It's been a genuinely frustrating afternoon. I was filming Rebel Chorus member, Mel for our Pepys video in the Greenwich foot tunnel. The last time I went down there during the day it was entirely empty, but today, probably because it's the school holidays, the place was humming: absolutely rammed with people, all of whom seemed desperate to rush into the background of the shot and do that stupid rabbit ear thing with their fingers that Japanese teenaged girls do. Why do people do that? Do they think it will improve the image? Do they think I won't notice and they'll end up a YouTube sensation? Do they think they're the first people in the world to play that oh-so-funny practical joke? One group of kids heard the music we were playing as a guide for lip-syncing and decided to join in. Singing became shouting. Shouting became yelling, and before we knew it, the entire foot tunnel had become a high-pitched, echoing scream-fest which lasted three minutes and became so loud and grating we were both forced to block our ears. It was so, so horrifying.


I went into Soho later on to discover that the lovely little cafe on the corner of Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, in which I've spent many a happy end of ending, has closed down. Another casualty, one assumes, of rising rents and impending Brexit-related recession.


I was somewhat cheered by the sight of a man walking a ferret down Lower St Martin's Lane, and a lovely early-evening drink with our friend Carey from New York, who kept us thoroughly entertained with stories from Broadway.

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