Happy New Year – rather belatedly – to everyone out there, and apologies for being such an intermittent blogger. My problem (or, rather, one of my many problems…) is that now that I am retired with all the time in the world on my hands, I lack the discipline that comes with a structured existence. I can do whatever I wish with my day and there is no urgency – most of the time – to do any of the many tasks that do actually still need to be done, with the sorry result that I am inclined to flit from one thing to another and struggle to commit to anything properly… and so it is with blogging. I am too old to contemplate – and also do not need – a new career, so am not trying to write with an end goal in mind. It is easy to put it aside while I do something far simpler, such as the day’s cryptic crossword or take myself off on a walk round the village, birdwatching. To be (slightly) fair to myself, I had been unusually busy in the month before Christmas, having signed up to help with a local university’s November graduation ceremony (gowning the students), and immediately thereafter working at Royal Mail’s sorting office, sorting the Christmas post. Both jobs, though very different, are good fun, although hard work, and I meet some very nice people, mostly retired like myself.
At this point I feel I must digress, having reminded myself of my time at the sorting office, to issue a stern imperative to everyone sending cards, letters or parcels through the post (at least in the UK – I cannot of course comment on the efficiency of other nations’ postal services):
- Do not on any account send anything of value or that is breakable through the post. I spent a very pleasurable morning sorting parcels one day, with the packets hurtling down and dropping onto the conveyor belt towards us eager sorters, whose task it was to pick them up and throw – and I mean literally throw – them into huge cages marked with the respective post codes [zip codes in N. America]. Writing ‘fragile’ or ‘this way up’ on the parcel is a pointless waste of time and ink, all parcels suffer the same fate.
- Wrap all parcels properly and securely, preferably in multiple layers of bubble-wrap, to minimise the effect of the inevitable rough-handling by our postal service. It beggars belief how many parcels are utterly inadequately wrapped.
- Write the intended recipient’s address on the envelope (or parcel, though by now you will have made a mental note never to post a parcel again). This may seem an unnecessary instruction, but believe me, so many people just put the name on, add a stamp, then forget to add the address.
- When adding the address, write it legibly and large enough to be read without the aid of a magnifying glass. Do not scrunch it up in the top left-hand corner, or scribble it right at the bottom, nor should you write in huge, pseudo-artistic, flowing script that you may think looks very impressive but is in reality a nightmare to read.
- Write the WHOLE address. Do not put, for example, ‘1 High Street, Local’, or ‘1 High Street, Tiny-village-nobody’s-ever-heard-of’ without the county/area. This is not a joke, I lost count of the number of similarly-addressed Christmas cards. The sender clearly intends to send a card to someone living very near him/her, probably in the same village/town, but unfortunately the post box is not emptied and dealt with by the local postman, it is spirited away to the big sorting office in the big city many miles away where the poor Christmas casuals who deal with everything that the automatic reading machines cannot sort, have to try to fathom out where to send the card.
- Put the post code on. It is common sense. Every address has a post code, and has it for a reason – to identify quickly and accurately where to send the letter. I do not know whether this is a phenomenon at Christmas time or happens all year long, but I do not exaggerate when I tell you that almost half of the cards I dealt with had no post code on them. Are people just too lazy to add the post codes onto all their Christmas mail, or is their time so precious they refuse to spare the couple of extra seconds per card to write the proper address? Perhaps they are impoverished and are eking out the ink in their pens? Their omission causes so much extra time for the sorters – certainly, if the town is included, then I can sort it into that town’s inbox for delivery by the huge lorries which travel the country dropping off mail to other sorting offices, but when it reaches the other sorting office, some poor worker has to go online to find the correct post code so that it can go to the correct local delivery office.
- Once you have decided you will include the post code, put the correct post code on – obvious you may think, but so many people appear just to guess it and put down whatever comes into their heads, such as B… for Bristol instead of BS… (B is for Birmingham). We are instructed not to read the address, just to look at the post code (the expected rate of sorting is 31 letters per minute – quite a feat even if every letter is addressed clearly and accurately), but very soon I learned not to trust the post code and to glance at the town as well to prevent the letter being sent to the other end of the country, only to be sent back again another day.
- Do not post cards with silver/gold or red or similarly dark envelopes. The automatic sorting machine cannot read the address, neither can it read addresses written on white/light-coloured envelopes in silver or gold ink. It all looks very pretty, but is guaranteed to delay your letter reaching its destination by anything from one day to several days. The machine rejects it, it goes into an enormous stack of post to be hand-sorted and then you are in the lap of the gods as to when it will arrive.
- Do not buy the tiniest (cheapest?) Christmas cards on the market, nor the most extravagant over-sized ones, if intending to send them through the post. Neither will go through the machines and must be hand sorted. The tiny ones fall down through the cracks in the pigeon-holes used to sort the mail and can get lost, the large ones are too big for the pigeon holes so are put to one side, causing even more delay in them reaching their destination.
- Do not put your cards for family and friends, which you intend to hand over personally, into the letterbox. This may seem an obvious injunction, but every day we came across cards addressed simply to ‘Mum’ or ‘Jane’, and obviously without an address or a stamp. ‘Mum’ or ‘Jane’ will not receive them. They will be thrown away, not by the harried sorter, but by some poor higher-paid official whose job it is to sift through mountains of incorrectly addressed mail to see if there is any way that the correct address can be identified.
- Finally, put a stamp on the envelope… Again, seemingly obvious, but I came across piles of envelopes clearly written in the same hand, all without stamps. Far be it for me to suggest that the sender fraudulently chose to omit the stamps in the hope that at Christmas there is so much extra post to be sorted that the omission will be unnoticed or overlooked (although I suspect there may be an element of that). I assume – and hope – it is just an oversight, but that again delays the post as the cards are removed from the normal system and sent to an office which adds a penalty to be paid by the recipient.
I could go on forever complaining about the sloppiness of countless people in addressing their envelopes. I did not come across isolated incidents of the above, but a sizeable percentage of the post I handled (all rejected by the machines) fell foul of one or more of the above. I can only conclude that there must be hundreds of people out there sending mail who do not care a jot when their mail reaches its intended recipients, or whether or not it reaches them at all. A real eye-opener.
Having got that off my chest – very much later than intended, as I left off writing this blog to deal with more pressing matters (including the happy birth of Chomeuse’s second child, my granddaughter), my topical recipe is for using up Christmas left-overs. This may seem rather a long way after Christmas, but then again it is in plenty of time for next Christmas… It is only a useful recipe (and obviously that’s a matter of opinion in any event) if you make your own mince pies, and that pre-supposes you are British or have access to a shop selling quintessentially British produce, so apologies to all North Americans and others living abroad.
Left-over Mincemeat meringue:
Any left-over pastry, especially with egg yolk (from making mince pies?), or make some fresh Rind from an orange if you have one Mincemeat Meringue made from 1 egg white and 1 1/2 oz caster sugar 1 or 2 apples, eaters or cookers, peeled, cored and sliced
1. Mix/knead the orange rind (if using) into the left-over pastry and press into a small ovenproof dish. I am a lazy cook and rarely can be bothered to roll out pastry. 2. Prick the base and cover with a generous helping of mincemeat. If you have sloe or damson gin [I make my own] you could mix a little into the mincemeat before spreading over the pastry. 3. Cover the mincemeat layer with the sliced apples, then bake in pre-heated oven at 190C (170C fan oven) till pastry cooked (15 – 20 minutes?) but not too brown. Allow to cool a little. 4. Spread over the meringue, making sure the pastry is completely sealed by the meringue. Return to the oven and bake till meringue lightly browned. Eat hot or cold.
Now I must try to catch up with reading other people’s blogs and get back into a routine…