Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Hurray for the postmen

Sunday, 18 October 2009

I don’t normally post links to my Observer column on the blog - usually it just goes up on the “writing” page - but this week, for once, my column isn’t just a bunch of jokes but something I really believe. People seem angry with postmen for striking and they’re not looking at the bigger picture. Postmen/women are, generally, very good & hardworking people. I never met one I didn’t like. Currently, they are desperately unhappy and scared about their working conditions. They’re right to be. And the threats they are facing are bad for us all. It’s misguided to blame the postmen, we should be on their side.

  If you read this and feel you agree with it, do consider stopping by to show your support at the local sorting office this week.

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Ian Lupton at 9:47 pm on October 18th, 2009

I’m a postman and I’d just like to say thanks for your column in the Observer today.  Your appreciation is much appreciated.

Bill Green at 2:55 am on October 19th, 2009

Royal Mail have unfortunately been going downhill for years. Experienced staff have been replaced by agency workers so they don’t have to be given the same benefits of proper staff. Lazy workers are invariably the good friends of those supposed to supervise them. Kids straight out of university get management jobs and start messing about with what works. The hard working posties that have been there for years, and know how to get the job done, just get more demoralised.

Phil at 10:17 am on October 19th, 2009

Great article, Vicky; I think it’s a shame that the majority of the media so often takes a default anti-union stance, and your piece defo goes some way to redressing that. It seems fairly natural to look out for one another, but the industrial elite obviously don’t view human decency as a marketable commodity
Also I have to ask; how on earth did you find out your postman has a foot fetish? I’m a friendly guy, but have never even got beyond the most inane of pleasantries with my posties.

Victoria Coren at 12:23 pm on October 19th, 2009

Yes, a lot of people asked me that question on Twitter, how did I know he was a foot fetishist. I can’t remember exactly when the subject first arose, but I remember vaguely how it happened.
  When I first moved here, Neil would ring the bell early if there was a parcel. Remember how there was a first post and a second post *sigh* - round here it seems like they abolished the first one not the second one, because post only turns up now around 11am. But there used to be an early one and postmen (good, sensible, thoughtful people as the vast majority of them are) would go early to the houses where something needed signing for, because many people go to work early and wouldn’t want to miss those important letters.
  But, being a poker player, liable to late nights and late mornings, I would always end up having to answer the door in my dressing gown. And I’d apologize. And around the third or fourth occasion when I said “I’m so sorry, you really must think I’m an old slattern always slopping about in a dressing gown, I should get dressed quickly when the doorbell rings”, Neil said, “It’s no problem, I actually like seeing your feet…”
  And the conversation developed from there. “Foot fetishist” was a comic exaggeration really, he didn’t buy funny magazines or steal shoes or anything like that. He was just fond of women’s feet, he thought they were cute. But it never went further than the doorstep, I promise!

Phil at 3:44 pm on October 19th, 2009

Haha; sounds like the pair of you had a pretty neat symbiosis going on!  I know the late night/late morning thing for sure. I prefer to edit and design late into the night so fairly often my first conversation of the day will be a sleepily mumbled exchange with the postman whilst he gets me to sign for some shonky rubbish I’ve bought from ebay. I’m hoping he isn’t constantly looking forward to getting a glimpse of my size 11 Frodo Baggins feet, but even if he is, then he’s a nice guy and who am I to deny him his kicks?

danny maris at 10:29 pm on October 19th, 2009

They’re “no angels” as the saying goes but I also have sympathy with them.  Their pension has been devalued and I am against all erosion of such benefits while bankers trouser billions.  Ordinary people aren’t stupid. They realise they have to got to pay more in contributions if everyone is living longer, but this dismantling of our pension system is not about that - it’s about companies making themselves more competitive and pocketing the profits.

So - yep - they have my qualified support.

RomanticRecluse at 12:13 am on October 20th, 2009

Vicky, your Observer article was wonderful and the story of Neil the foot fetishist postman was sweet.  However, is there anything wrong with the idea that the relationship could have gone “further than the doorstep”?  Those brief exchanges could have been the start of something beautiful.

I don’t know what your ideal man’s like and what Neil was like (you don’t have to talus) but he could have been your sole mate.  If you’d got to know him better when you were feeling down he could have done something to heel the pain.  However, you may never know because Neil’s varnished.

I’d better stop because I think the last attempt at a foot pun was a toe-tal flop.  I’ve got one terrible pun left and I will post it if you want me to but it may make your toes curl.

MarkP at 10:26 am on October 20th, 2009

I now buy the Observer and yes, it is the better way to read your column. It also has the advantage of not having to read CIF.
A few weeks ago I had to go and collect a parcel from the sorting office. For some reason it wasn’t there, the postman was most helpful, he checked to see which one of them did the round and on discovering he was off sick apologised for not being able to phone him to find out the location of the parcel. He even took my mobile number and promised to be in touch if it didn’t appear within the next few days. The parcel did arrive within the next few days as promised, so hurray for the postmen and hurray for your story.

David Henderson at 5:16 pm on October 20th, 2009

An interesting article appeared in ‘The Week’ recently, abstracted from a piece in the ‘London Review of Books’. The public rarely see this side of the argument, sadly. See:

I agree that posties are getting a rough deal, though acknowledge there are always some (as in EVERY organisation, public and private) who are resistant to constructive, negotiated change.

Peter Verney at 5:48 pm on October 20th, 2009

Your article was a real tonic, Victoria, after all the distortions, lies and half-truths I’ve encountered elsewhere.  Much as I’ve enjoyed your other stuff, this moved me profoundly and really deserves added respect.

dom sumners at 10:55 am on October 21st, 2009

sorry but the post service needs to be modernised - probably with less people working in it. Protectionsism by the unions will cause more damage and more job losses not less. And can anyone see any “victory” for the strikers in this case - it will be like the company signing their own death warrant. I like postmen/women - i like post boxes and parcels arriving - it reminds me of my being a kid. But this nostalgia does not lead me to support a hugely destructive strike action which will harm the workers so much - nice people led by donkeys i am afraid.

LC at 9:01 pm on October 21st, 2009

RomanticRecluse, are you Neil, the foot fetishist postman?

Andy at 6:41 pm on October 22nd, 2009

I love how the word ‘modernised’ has come to mean ‘being shafted’. When, exactly, did this happen?

daniel maris at 2:30 am on October 23rd, 2009

New word:

A punion -  “an excess build up of foot puns causing irritation”.

RomanticRecluse at 12:01 pm on October 23rd, 2009

LC, I can see why you asked that but I’m not a Neil, a foot fetishist or a postman.  He sounds lovely (he’s thoughtful, patient and easily pleased) and maybe now he’s found true happiness, perhaps by getting a job in a shoe shop.  I’m sure there are worse men in the world than Neil.

I just couldn’t resist the temptation to make some foot puns.  The ones I’ve posted were stockingly bad and I’ve still got a sandalous one left.  I’ve got some post puns too but they sound like something from Viz magazine and they might get stamped out.  Luckily Neil was a postman and not a travelling fish merchant because if he had been that would be an opportunity to post fish puns which are easy because there are mora them.  This isn’t the time and plaice for whiting them.

I’m sorry.

Billy Bollix at 12:58 pm on October 24th, 2009

“I love how the word ‘modernised’ has come to mean ‘being shafted’. When, exactly, did this happen?”

Around the time of the Luddites.

RomanticRecluse at 2:07 pm on October 25th, 2009

Modernisation isn’t always bad for workers.  A previous employer of mine was out of touch, tight-fisted and old-fashioned.  They wouldn’t look ahead, wouldn’t invest and stuck with or reverted to costly, time-consuming, unreliable 70’s methods and died.  Rivals which looked ahead, invested and modernised survived.

I don’t want the postie to go the way of the rural station master, coalman or milkman but many people like cars, central heating, supermarkets and many other products of modernisation.  Many people want more for less money more conveniently.  Many consumers welcome or demand modernisation.  You’re reading this using a product of and a tool of modernisation (unless someone has written out this blog and posted it to you).

Postman Poker at 11:48 pm on October 27th, 2009

Just read your colum on the union board at work (print out) and would just like to say thanks, at last someone who tells it like it really is. We are not a bunch of lazy morons who are standing in the way of ‘modernisation’, Royal Mail’s so called moderisation will reduce the service even more (even later deliveries ,even earlier last collections).Look at the improvments to the service so far, less post offices, later deliveries, second delivery scrapped, earlier last collections, price rises, new (stupid) pricing system. Real modernisation should improve the service and at the same time take its workers with it, improving job security for the workers who are left after another round of massive job cuts. Rant Over. Cheers again:)

Jon at 11:47 pm on October 30th, 2009

The majority of postmen have worked in the industry for 10-20-30 years and are stuck in this prehistoric culture that is proving very challenging to change.

Royal Mail HAS to change, it HAS to modernise and with it, the workforce must adapt to these changes. 

As for the Wildcat Strikes, perhaps someone would care to explain exactly who they are benefiting.

The Postman? NO, they lose money and go back to an even more hectic/stessful environment when they return.

Royal Mail? NO, these series of strikes are crippling the business financially and logisitcally.

The Economy? NO, it’s further damaging it and ruining any chance of a fragile recovery.

So, who benefits?

What will it achieve?

Absolutely no-one & absolutely nothing.

Just like the 2007 strikes.

AndytheDealer at 11:42 am on October 31st, 2009

Royal Mail HAS changed (Modernized) a great deal in the last twenty five years.

Can we have a list of ten changes that have been beneficial for the customer…

Sorry, someone else will have to start this list, because I can’t think of one.

Dan at 1:38 pm on November 1st, 2009


Just one point: they are not wildcat strikes.  They were balloted by the union.

AndytheDealer at 10:33 pm on November 2nd, 2009

So, in twenty-five years the management of Royal Mail hasn’t been able to come up with one improvement in its service for the customer.

Sack the lot I say and let my postlady run the company.  She could probably use the absurdly large pay rise and we could all do with the changes for the better that she’d almost certainly make in the service.

Vicky's ex postie at 12:13 am on December 26th, 2009

Don’t know a Neil at your local office Vicky.
Must have been Nick who took over my rounds when i was disgracefully treated by the mangement.

Think he might be in for some urine extracting over this lol.

Can’t say i noticed your feet when you signed for a letter once.
probably starstruck for once.

Thanks for the support.

Victoria Coren at 12:42 am on December 26th, 2009

No it was definitely Neil. This was quite a while ago though - five years, could even be ten years now. His name was definitely Neil (or so he told me anyway…)

Vicky's ex postie at 10:47 pm on December 26th, 2009

Our office is terrible er i mean great for banter.
Will have to ask around.

Dan Macphail at 9:46 am on January 5th, 2010

Ooh, serendipity or something; from the above you seem to attract the attention of Postal Operatives(I was one for a while). Re postal strike; as with all organisations there are heros and villains on both sides. Given the current stalemate, binding arbitration would appear to be both the least worst and the only workable way out. Management isn’t trusted by the workers, and vice versa(god, have I been transported back to 1975 and not noticed?).

My PO had a rubbish manager, the union rep was still bitter about not being a PHG anymore, the rest were the mix of the consciencious, the workshy, the jokers and the dullards you get in every workplace(I was a consciencious dullard btw, none of that ‘I tried to deliver a parcel, but you weren’t in’ nonsense with me!).

Victoria Coren

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