9 08 2008

Over the past week, I have spent some time in the company of my grandparents, and have been reminded what wonderful people they are. I have two little points I wish to share with you to illustrate this.

Firstly, I was in the pub with my grandfather, dad, uncle and cousins the other day. I will set the scene further for you: it is a quiet country pub, home to locals, and the occasional family looking for somewhere to eat. The atmosphere is warm and the bar staff are welcoming. If I’m going to be brutally honest, it is quite a Conservative pub (although most of my ‘neighbourhood’ is), and the people in it are reasonably traditional (well the locals are).

Anyway, back to the story. As mentioned it doesn’t just cater to the locals, but is trying to build a reputation for food, with more people visiting for a meal now. Whilst we were sat there around various pints, in came a couple, a white man and a black woman. I think it is fair to say both were quite ‘big’ people, the sort of people you wouldn’t particularly want to start arguing with. My grandfather though, ever one for political correctness visibly turned his nose up at the woman. Then made two remarks, both which rate quite highly in the cringe-worthiness ratings. Firstly he said (and I paraphrase slightly), “I bet his social life has declined a hell of a lot“, in a reasonably loud voice. The trouble with grandparents is that you know they genuinely mean what they say, and have no concept of being politically aware (nor indeed of racism- which is odd given my grandfather very definitely has a conciousness of racism, being as he was, one of the first employers in Wolverhampton to welcome black workers, and to this day has many black friends). However, if that first remark wasn’t bad enough, the second was just painfully funny. Again, I paraphrase: “So, I’ve asked my wife this, but she didn’t know, so I’ll ask you lot. [Pause of about 5 seconds] How on Earth do people like that pee?” I presume he was talking about fat people, rather than black people, but then you never can tell with grandparents.

Anyway, that was the slightly jovial side of this post. The more important point came as I was driving my Gran home. As she is getting on a bit, she very much dislikes driving down the miles of country lanes to our house to visit, so she gets dropped off by my grandfather one afternoon a week, and one of us take her home again. This week it was me who had to take her back home. As we were meandering through the lanes, conversation turned to post-offices. Her local village post office is on the list for closure. This post-office is the only shop in the village of about (and here I’m guessing) 700 people. This village is very much an old village, there are few youngsters (that’s not to say there are none), and I would guess the average age is somewhere close to 50. For these people, the village shop and post-office is somewhere they can go to talk to other villagers, it is somewhere they can go to get groceries, and to sort out pensions. It is somewhere they can go to post letters, or to buy stamps. In short, it is a very important part of the village. If it is shut down, my Gran informed me, the owners would not be able to keep the shop open as simply a shop. The nearest post-office is two villages over. That’s about 10-15 miles away. Which is quite a short journey by car or bus. It’s much longer to walk, especially if you are getting on a bit, and have dodgy knees, hips, back, feet or any other body part. So why not catch the bus I hear you cry? That would be the bus that goes through the village four times a day? That would be the bus that for two of those times is filled with school children (and I mean filled)? That would be the bus that, in reality, is hopelessly impractical, and too infrequent? Yeah, that one. Which means that, when this village post office shuts, the only option is for people to drive to the other village. Which, I’m reasonably sure, cannot be helping the environment (as it is encouraging more cars onto the road), and is just a bad solution for most pensioners who do not drive anymore.

My Gran then went onto inform me that they could fight tooth and nail to keep this post-office open. They very well might win. But (and I apologise if people already knew this but I didn’t) the government have a set number they must shut. So if one gets kept open, it means another one somewhere else must be shut down. Which means that fighting for one post-office is condemning another, with, in all likelihood similar circumstances, to closure. How’s that for attacking the conscience of older people? Why should they be forced to argue (effectively) that their post-office (and by logical continuation, themselves) is more important than somewhere else? Well, the simple answer is because the government says so. Great.

Anyway, to continue this a little bit further, I was then speaking to my dad about it, and he told me an example of one post-office owner who was interviewed about the number of signatures a petition to keep his PO open had attracted. His nonchalant answer was (along the lines of) “This is great, but is totally wrong. If even half the people who have signed this petition actually used my post-office, I would be doing very good business. The trouble is, they don’t use it, and are just simply jumping on a band-wagon.

The decision to close post-offices was, and remains, a controversial one. I cannot say that I’m hugely thrilled about the decision. The problem is very much a generational one too, people of my generation cannot see what the problem is. Those of older generations very clearly can.

I thought that it was fitting that in a week where I have reflected on the merits of children, and have turned 21, I should look and think about grandparents too. Many apologies if this has rambled on, but it is something important to consider I think.




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