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July 14, 2004

The Trouble with Couriers

Posted by Digby Anderson

Couriers you wait in half a day for that urgent letter, and they then arrive during the five minutes you have popped out, only to leave a card telling you to ring a permanently engaged number. Digby Anderson bewails his troubles with courier delivery firms.

Have you too wondered how they work it: how those courier delivery firms manage to find the only five minutes in the day when you are not at home, then come and disappear in a flash, bearing their letter and parcel with them? Or am I the only person they're driving twitching and sobbing into an asylum?

There must be two of them in it. There's the man who hides behind the bush. No, I don't know what he looks like. I have never actually seen him: he hides behind the bush. He must do. That's the only way he could do it.

The bush is on the Green opposite the front door. I've worked it out. He must come in a van. I haven't actually seen or heard it, but that is because he switches the engine off and coasts down the hill, then parks round the corner out of sight. From there he can get to the bush unseen using the cover of the trees and hedge.

There he waits. He knows I'm in the study writing away but he knows most days I have to go up to the shops to the bank or post office and leave the house for five or ten minutes. As soon as I start walking up the hill and my back is turned, he bolts to the front door, gives the bellpush a sudden, fleeting tap and counts to three. As he knows, there will be no reply and he thrusts his card, already completed into the letter box, sprints back to his van and is off.

There is the card on the mat when I return. 'We tried to deliver a parcel to you today', it announces self-righteously, 'but [because you were not where you should have been waiting patiently for our agent to deliver his parcel] there was no reply'. The first reaction is always to tear the note up and get back to work. But again always the thought comes, 'I wonder what it is they were trying to deliver'. Then one remembers the cheque for US$ 500 from that magazine that one has been waiting for. 'It must be that'.

You pick up the card again and see that despite your waywardness in not being permanently on duty behind the front door, the compassionate powers at the international delivery couriers are prepared to give you another chance, indeed several 'options'. The first is to ring and have it re-delivered. You dial the number. The number is engaged. After six attempts, you are successful and told that you have been put in a queue because all operators are busy - it's a particularly busy time. They give you some Vivaldi to listen to. Eventually you are through. You ask if they could deliver it tomorrow? 'No problem, tomorrow it will be'. Could they tell you what time so you can be in? 'We do not give times', they say and the tone makes it clear that while they are discharging their duty by getting the parcel to the front door, you must not try to evade yours which is to be there, behind the door for twelve hours - and no nipping up to the bank this time.

I cannot fulfil my duty. Perhaps they would leave it in the porch? 'Releases cannot be authorized over the phone by recipients'. No, of course they can't. By now the morning's work is so disrupted that I seize the next option. I will collect it myself. It turns out to be thirteen miles away. I get directions and prepare to set off, 'I'll be there in half an hour'. Silly, impatient me; the card states that the parcel cannot be collected until six hours have elapsed since the attempted delivery which I have sabotaged. That means driving through the rush-hour traffic. But, what the hell, let's get it sorted out. I get there eventually and the courier company are charming and efficient. There is my parcel on a shelf. I sign and take it away, put it on the passenger seat and set off into the second set of traffic jams. At one set of red lights I gaze at the parcel with a sense of personal triumph. No, I will wait and open it at home. But I can't quite wait that long. I open it in the porch. It's not the much awaited cheque at all but an unsolicited and unwanted catalogue for unpleasant kitchen equipment. Blast. I open the door to go and dump the catalogue in the bin. There on the mat is another card from another courier. This one, clearly working in alliance with the first has, of course, been tipped off by him when my projected journey to the depot had been started. He hadn't even had to hide in the bush. And just to rub it in, this card has the name of the sender on: it was the magazine. My dollars were in Northampton.

The second courier's office is now closed because I have spent so long visiting the first one. So tomorrow, they say, would I phone up, listen to another spot of music, perhaps Beethoven and say which option I would like to pursue.

Digby Anderson retired as Director of the Social Affairs Unit earlier this year.


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I fear the problem you are facing is one of not having a vallet (or 'butler' as Americans describe them). A gentleman's gentleman would solve all your problems.

Posted by: Joan at July 26, 2004 05:07 PM
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