Saturday, 20 October 2007

postal disorder

Strike action has all the relevance of the blunderbuss and most of its shortcomings. Its effects are felt over a wide area but it frequently misses its target and does more harm to the man who pulls its trigger than to those at which it is aimed.

Union officials and employers continue to draw their salaries. Only the workers suffer. When my union went on one of its ineffectual strikes, I was the father of a young family. We won nothing like the figure for which we were striking and it took many months to recover from the loss of wages incurred by our industrial inaction.

Neither side seems to regard the needs of its customers yet postmen are part of the furniture of our day. A pal of mine who used to own Snowdon Mountain admitted that he did most of his farming through the letter box, harvesting the subsidy cheques.

In the far off days of fatherhood when my post contained more bills than a flock of starlings I remember the dread with which I awaited the crash of final demands on the mat.

It is true occasional eccentricities added to the charm of the Office. I lived in a Cheshire village where the postman was a tireless poacher. His sack was the perfect hiding place for assorted dead game. Few things concentrate the mind so swiftly as getting a letter from the Inland Revenue in a bloodstained envelope.

When I moved to Chester I used to get LPs through the post and on one occasion the postman folded the LP neatly in half to make it easier to post it through the letter box. When I complained compensation was reluctantly awarded but I was required to promise I would not attempt to play the LP. I agreed since it could only ever have been played on a crescent-shaped turntable.

Print workers were the most imaginative strikers. At the height of the IRA mainland bombing campaign printers on the Daily Mirror struck for danger money on the grounds that coming to work on a paper which attacked the IRA was dangerous. It was pointed out in vain that English reporters working in Ireland did not get danger money; that the printers were working three floors underground in what was virtually a nuclear bomb proof shelter. The printers were obdurate. Only directors running round with bundles of cash got the paper out.

In the brave new world of instant re-location there are few strikes in private industry. Only our public servants still enjoy that dubious luxury.
The rest of us are often baffled by their reasons’

When Tom Ellis, the Wrexham MP, left the Labour Party to become a social democrat I accused him of treachery. He denied the charge. He said he was leaving because socialism had achieved all its aims, and it is certainly true that we are living in a golden age. We live longer and are healthier and more prosperous than ever before in the history of man. But we are still unhappy.

Oddly, unhappiness seems only to affect the “First” World. In a recent TV series, a young man lived in turn with tribes of primitive people who die young and live hard. The most abiding quality they showed was happiness and content with their way of life. In another series, a tribe from Borneo was brought to the West and shown its glories. They were baffled by a society that had so many empty buildings yet allowed its people to sleep on the streets.

In the tribal world man helps his neighbour. Here we are perpetually at war with someone. A friend points out that our unions and employers are greedy in turn and that we are living in the directors’ cut.

Pay received by directors at leading FTSE companies grew at double the rate of the average workforce. In the past five years they have earned an average £850, 000, which does not include bonuses and shares. The typical salary increase of executive directors was seven per cent last year, against the UK average of 3.7 per cent.

Nevertheless Post Office workers are on a kamikaze track. I do business with two of the mail order firms which turned its losses into huge profit. Both are deserting it for private firms. Yet one can see the postmen’s dilemma: their boss takes home a million pounds a year. Perhaps it is understandable that there are 92 “Spanish practices" through which postal workers are alleged to wring overtime and expenses. The Union claims its members work flexibly and they are entitled to go home early if they finish a task.

Why not? The Government urges flexible working and few workers are as flexible as our over-paid MPs.
* * * *
RENTING THE MOUTH FOR MONEY ...carries with it the burden of celebrity. I found my brush with celebrity very worrying. It usually consisted of perfect strangers doing double takes when they saw me. For a long time I thought it meant that my fly buttons were undone.

My first major TV engagement was a series of Welsh Sheepdog trials. I was stopped by a man in Llandudno.

“Saw the show last night,” he said. “Terrific.”

“Oh, you like sheepdog trials, then?”

“Most boring things ever seen on TV,” he told me.

“You liked me, then?”

“You? You were crap.”

“Well, what was so good about it?”

“Your waistcoats. Fabulous,” he said. “Where do you get them?”

Once in Bangor a man barred my path. “Don’t tell me,” he said, “I’ll have you in a minute.”

“It’s on the tip of my tongue,” he went on, and then, “Gotcha! You are the Town Crier of Llandrindod Wells. Know you anywhere.”

I wear a Hapsburg moustache in honour of my favourite city, Vienna. My late landlord and supposed friend, the cavalry historian, the Marquess of Anglesey, claimed it made me look like a junior officer in a third rate Prussian cavalry regiment.

The attendant in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna was more flattering.
“Welcome home, Your Majesty,” he said, with a low bow and not a hint of satire.
And a waiter in a restaurant in the Fleischmarkt asked if I was related to the Royal family. It was the waistcoat again

On the same holiday, I was buying gluhwein at a street stall when my voice was recognised by a girl from my home village in Anglesey. She was spending a DAY in Vienna on leave from Australia.

In a bar in Barcelona it struck a chord with a group of well endowed ladies with TITS embroidered on their T-shirts. They said it stood for Team of Independent Travelling Sisters. Years later I discovered it was the first case of Boob plagiarism. The last S stood for Swansea. It is the logo of the city’s football supporters club.

It was not only the audience which had me banjaxed. The BBC itself was a great leveller. My producer got a first class travel warrant: I travelled second class.

In the early days of TV there was a children’s show which the Corporation thought ought to be transmitted from Manchester. Unfortunately, on the morning of the show, the producer discovered that the toys, which were part of the set design, had been left in London. He ordered a researcher to collect the toys and bring them to Manchester by taxi. As she was loading them she was spotted by a BBC “suit”. When he heard what she was planning to do he hit roof.

“Researchers are not allowed to use taxis,” he stormed.

So the toys went by taxi to Manchester and the researcher followed later by train.


“Henry Rees, 17, set off from his farm home near Rhayader, taking the first train ride in his life alone to the Army Centre at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham.
“He arrived at Birmingham and then got lost. On Saturday, after four police forces had been alerted, he was found walking along a road near Wimbourne in Staffordshire. He told the policeman who picked him up he was trying to find the Army Centre. He said he could not find the right train from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield.

His mother said: “It seems that after a while he gave up and decided to get back home and start all over again. But it took him three days to get out of Birmingham. Even when he was found he was walking in the wrong direction. Accompanied by relatives he will report to the Centre to-day HOPING TO START A CAREER IN THE ARMY’S ADMINISTRATION SERVICE.”