Wednesday, 20 August 2008
In the queue
I allowed plenty of time. I had forty minutes between arriving at the station and my appointment with the optician so I reckoned there would be no problem in strolling to the Post Office and sending a parcel to my mum and dad. It wasn't an urgent parcel - just a small holiday souvenir and a book about the tenor James Johnston. Dad heard James Johnston sing in his amateur days and only recently learnt of his subsequent fame. And at least the Post Office was still in its grand Edwardian building and not crammed into a W.H. Smith's basement. And late afternoon is usually a good time to avoid queues - at least in my local Post Office.
I'd forgotten the effect of Post Office closures. There must have been forty people in the queue when I arrived: some elderly, one on crutches, some parents with small, hot, hungry children. There were five counters open. Evidently the Post Office is economising by cutting back of staff - miserable for them and miserable for their customers.
After fifteen minutes of standing in line, I began to wonder if I should give up and go away. I looked at the resigned patience of the people ahead. Some must have been in pain from standing so long. A small child was crying in the exhausted, hungry way that made me aware of my own helplessness as a new parent. No-one spoke. We stood and waited. Behind me, the queue lengthened. I stayed.
Twenty-five minutes after I arrived, I reached the counter. I remarked on this to the woman who sold me stamps and took my parcel. "It's always like this," she said, glancing tiredly at the queue.
I did the sums. Forty people waiting twenty-five minutes. Isn't that 1,000 minutes in total? That's 16 hours and 40 minute of people's time lost in queuing every during the twenty-five minutes I stood in line. How much is lost in a day? in a week? How many people with disabilities suffer pain? How many working people lose time they need? How many parents and children endure the discomfort of the queue?
And what will it be like at a busy time? I wonder how early I can post for Christmas.