Wednesday, 7 May 2008
The Royal Maul, or: Please Mr. Postman
When I lived in England 30 years ago (cue newsreel footage and jaunty soundtrack) the mail came twice a day. The postman always smiled and he often took the time to prepare a five-course meal and give you a footrub. Today you're lucky if he even makes you a cup of tea. And what does the postman bring? Bills. Junk mail. A daily exhortation to switch electricity suppliers. (Electricity suppliers are like hairdressers over here. There's one on every corner.)
Yes, the Royal Mail, that once-proud institution, stinks. Or does it? The mail only comes once a day, around 10 a.m. in my neighbo(u)rhood. But come it does. And as I've switched much of my "correspondence" from paper to bits and bytes that seems entirely reasonable. Where the now-privatized postal service does seem to fall down is on the sending of mail, not the delivering of it. And the problem is that there simply aren't enough post offices.
The trim little Oxford suburb of Summertown used to have a post office but it closed a few years ago. We have to go to Wolvercote or down into Oxford proper. And now the Wolvercote post office is going to be closed, one of 22 in Oxfordshire getting axed.
It might be hard for an American to grasp the notion of these post offices. They are typically just a window or a counter in some other business: a pharmacy, a convenience store. But the workers are knowledgeable and they'll weigh your packages and sell you stamps. There have been rumblings about closures for the last few months. The Oxford Mail launched a campaign: Save our post offices! Make your voice heard! They had a petition drive, gathering the signatures and sending a reporter (and photographer) to Parliament to deliver them. (In a Primark shopping bag, it looked like.)
It was totally ineffectual. Every post office on the original list will close this summer. I get the feeling there was never a chance to affect the outcome. I blame the Oxford Mail for doing what it often does: taking the easy route of mounting a splashy campaign without taking the time to delve into the root causes of the problem. Why are the post offices being closed? How were they selected? How does Oxford's distribution of post offices compare to other cities'? And if there was no possibility of the decision being altered, why did the paper string readers along with a silly, self-aggrandizing campaign?
The subhed on today's story is "Campaigners fail in battle to get reprieve." Campaigners? How about "The Oxford Mail fails in battle to get reprieve"? There isn't even a leader on the subject, as if the paper's editors have just dropped the subject and will now move on to the next outrage, scratching the surface of the next issue.
I'm halfway through Nick Davies's "Flat Earth News" and he would say that the Mail's reporters are overworked, having to churn out six to 10 stories a day. That may be the case and I empathize. But surely the newspaper in a town like this could provide coverage that shines a little more light and produces a little less heat.