Sarah Todd: Advent of post office closures means seasonal headaches

WRITING Christmas cards (what do you mean you've done yours?) always makes me think of the postman.

He's done a brilliant job, getting through in all the bad weather when all apart from the milkman, another unsung hero, had declared our lane a no-go area.

In contrast to such dedication and professionalism, the nuts and bolts of Royal Mail need a complete overhaul. A godfather sent the children some Advent calendars. Postcards came to say there was mail waiting at the sorting office and the 10p underpayment needed to be paid plus a 1 "handling fee" for each item.

There was no way we could get to the sorting office in the bad weather – it's down a notorious bank that just couldn't be negotiated in a non-four wheel-drive. The alternative was to stick stamps to the value being asked for and send the postcard back. We didn't have 2.20 worth of stamps hanging around. We never have any in because our village no longer has a post office. It took a ten-mile round trip into town to buy some. It really annoyed me. How would somebody elderly or unable to drive have managed?

Once in town at the post office, there were only two ladies working behind the counter. The queue snaked out of the door into the street. Nearly everybody was like me, in from the country to sort out some red-tape or other.

In the days when we had a post office, almost everybody we know in the village was encountered there. There was a walk in at least once a week – we're jut over a mile away – and there was never a time when we didn't have a chat with someone or other.

When the Advent calendars finally arrived, the children couldn't hide their disappointment. All the going backwards and forwards had got them into a state of pent-up anticipation, but the calendars turned out to be very plain, without so much as a single hidden chocolate. The first ten days, that had been missed while they'd been languishing in the sorting office, were opened with a flourish but it's past teatime now when they remember.

They were, of course, told that chocolate isn't what Advent is about. It's hard to stand firm when every aspect of Christmas seems to have been commercialised.

Our son announced on the morning of his Christmas play: "If I was the Prime Minister I'd ban mummies from buying costumes …"

As a shepherd he'd been sent in with the customary tea-towel, an item that's been good enough for countless generations, only to find himself stood next to fanciful robes and crooks.

"Well we've got a shepherd's crook, why don't you take that in?" he was urged. "No, you don't understand, they've got special little health and safety crooks that are made of foam …"

CW 18/12/10