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Post Office Mind Warp

by Jubbly 

Posted: 28 February 2004
Word Count: 745
Summary: This is in response to e.gs excellent Post Office Punch Up set in France. My experience in a Hackney Post Office yesterday.

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Post Office Mind Warp

I joined the dismal Post Office queue that snaked all the way from the counter, right through to the entrance. Though bitterly cold, the door had been left ajar permitting the increasingly popular queue to extend out onto the pavement. All this for a damned recorded delivery letter, I sighed. I stood there indignant, my hands tightly clamped to the pushchair and misery flooding my soul impervious to any sweet compliments imparted by kind individuals and intended for my sleeping child.

I’ll just wait patiently I thought and breathe in the clichés, the second generation Turks babbling in their native tongue, swarthy skinned and out of place in this cold country and the hooded youths perfecting looking dodgy.

Two very fashionable young men stood immediately in front of me. One was quite cute with his khaki inspired trousers slung almost indecently low around his pelvis and his designer sweater. His streaked blonde hair wafted over his baby blue eyes, yum I thought in my sad middle age, he and his companion chatted about theatre and film then the good looking one pressed his body intimately against his friend and laughed. Typical I thought, just my luck.

An elderly black man shifted from foot to foot his grey suit worn and tattered but still he was proud.

A very young girl with spidery black lashes and a pouting mouth, pressed her baby full belly forward and sighed loudly.

The whole of the neighborhood was represented in this queue of lives in waiting.

Then a raised voice distracted me from the ordinary. There she was - an old woman in elegant black high heels cradling tiny feet in thick grey tights. She wore a black coat cinched at the waist circa 1950's, which probably coincided with the last time she received a compliment. Her white hair skirted out at the base of her neck in a girlish manner and her thick black glasses announced her personality to the rest of the world.

Her mouth barely moved when she spoke yet her jaw worked overtime, her accent seemed to straddle Hungary via Morningside Edinburgh. She was clutching 4-passport size photos of herself and fury gushed forth.

"I want a refund.” she demanded shaking the photos in front of the post office workers face.

'What's wrong with them?" asked the bemused Asian clerk.

"I need a new bus pass and these photos can not be used."

"Why not?"

"Look at them." she shouted.

'What’s wrong with them?"

"I need them for my bus pass." she persisted.


'Well they don't look anything like me."

He smothered a chuckle and all eyes in the queue were on the pair of them.

'Well they do, I can see it's you."

"No they don't, they are nothing like me."

Even from where I was standing it was obvious there was no one else they could be.

He shrugged,

" I say that’s you.”

“I won’t be able to travel on the bus with these, they won’t let me on.”

“Well what do you want me to do?" He smiled patronizingly, uniting his colleagues.

"I want a refund and I want you to tell me how to get one."

He tried to humour her.

"Well perhaps you could phone and complain."

"How? What phone? I haven't got a phone?"

"Over there." he gestured to a pay phone.

She shook her head vehemently.

'You do it, you make the call for me."

He shook his head, "I can't do that."

The old lady almost danced with frustration.

"But I need a bus pass."

The clerk picked up the photos and scrutinized them.

"These photographs definitely look like you."

She calmed down and took a deep breath.

"So you think they will be alright on my bus pass, the driver will recognize me?"

"Yes." he said.

She punched the counter with her fist.

"Well why didn't you say so" she barked, and then crumpled burying her head in her hands.
"Oh this is all so upsetting, just get me a bus pass."

I moved to the next free counter and rolled my eyes as the young female clerk giggled over the mini drama. But I felt profound sympathy for the old dear.

As I weighed my envelope, yet another manuscript of hope hurtling through London in a vain attempt at success, terror struck deep in my heart.

That'll be me one day I thought, Oh my God, that will be me.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 10:15 on 28 February 2004  Report this post
Julie, the last line struck a chill straight to the heart. A slice of modern life, and when it becomes just that bit too much to bear I daresay I'll be happy to go.

I don't think you need 'I sighed', and maybe 'indignantly' would be better than 'indignant', although there's the POV to think of, see what others think.
There were a couple of places where I wanted an extra comma - after 'soul' and 'thought', and possibly a semi-colon after 'clichés'.

You really get into your stride after this, and the piece flows well.

Confident writing and well-observed - I was there in the P.O with you. Look forward to more.

Best, Nell.

Account Closed at 11:54 on 28 February 2004  Report this post
Hello Julie,
Thanks for the publicity!
I agree with Nell - this is very well written - great people descriptions - I felt like I was there.

Good luck with your submission

kennyp at 13:00 on 28 February 2004  Report this post

Again, consistenly good writing. I suppose thats probably one of the good things about living in Hackney. It so rich in material. I've seen a variation on that Post Office scene, played out almost every day.

Good Stuff.


olebut at 14:13 on 28 February 2004  Report this post

I am always amazed how somebody, in this case you, has the ability to take a semingly common every day event and turn it into such a great piece.

I guess this is the thing good sketches are made of and whilst not humorous in the commonly accpeted sense had a great degree of pathos.

you get my vote

take care


Jubbly at 14:35 on 28 February 2004  Report this post
Thanks Nell, David, Kenny and Elspeth. Stilll reeling from that little trip into the Twilight Zone that is my stomping ground. Will sort out the punctation Nell, ASAP.



haunted at 15:47 on 28 February 2004  Report this post

I thought the descriptions here were great. I could see the situation and the people so clearly, and not just because i see events like that every time i dare to venture out of the house.

I don't have anything helpful to say i'm afraid, but you made a simple event very interesting to read.


JohnK at 23:43 on 28 February 2004  Report this post
I really feel I don't want to go there! A couple of points: I agree with Nell about 'indignantly'.
The line "How? What phone? I haven't got a phone?" would read better for me if the third question mark were an exclamation mark.

Apart from that, you gave one person's take on a vary uncomfortable situation, and it comes over very well.

All the best, JohnK.

sjames1132 at 15:42 on 20 March 2004  Report this post

I'm rather taken with the idea that all of humanity can be represented by a post office queue in Hackney (I know this is true as I've lived there). I think there's something for yuo to expand upon here, building around the central character's frustration at finding what she takes to be commonsense comes across as nonsense behind the screen. Perhaps that's the basis of a story - taking the diversity of a post office queue in Hackney, making each individual's query or complaint seem sensible (via references to a back story), only for their hopes to be dashed when trying to get this across to the counter staff.

The only other observation I have of post offices per se, is to observe elderly people queuing up for the places to open, whatever the season. It's like they have to get out and do all their jobs before the children get out of school or it gets dark - that seems just as sad to me.

Hope this is of use. I certainly think there's a good chance of further development of the piece, however yuo decide to take it forward.

Jubbly at 17:25 on 20 March 2004  Report this post
Thanks for your thoughts Simon, you're right the Post Office queue is the sad domain of the elderly. I'm going to dramatise this piece along with some other shorties I've written but I'll certainly think of expanding it in narrative form.

Anj at 12:06 on 05 May 2004  Report this post

I thought this was brilliant. I'm not normally a fan of descriptions of the assorted crowd, but you have it spot on. The woman's disbelief it could be her looking back from her photos is agonizing, as is the last line.


Take care

anisoara at 21:06 on 27 August 2004  Report this post

A slice of colourful everyday life. I guess that anyplace that brings people together has the potential for drama, such as this! It certainly negates the idea of the humdrum everyday!

Oh my heart really went out to the old woman. I already have these feelings - I feel like I have become invisible. Part of growing older. Ugh!!!!!


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