Now Just a Minute, Mister Postman…

It all started a few years ago, in December. I opened my front door one evening to find a Missed Delivery card from Royal Mail on the mat. Picking it up, I read the words “look under the BBQ”, with a cheeky smile drawn underneath the word “look” and dots in the O’s to make eyes. So I went back outside and along the walkway that led behind the flat, looked under the barbecue, and yes, there was the parcel I’d been expecting.

This happened several more times on the run up to Christmas; “under the barbecue” became our flat’s unofficial Safe Place. I wish I’d kept those little red cards with their quirky messages and drawings. Although it wasn’t the most secure way to deliver parcels, I appreciated our postie’s unusual methods – given that the bulk of my Christmas shopping is now done online, he or she saved me a lot of trips to the sorting office.

Christmas and New Year came and went. The quirky notes stopped, which I assumed meant that we had a new postie. Perhaps someone had complained about their unorthodox delivery practices, and they had been reprimanded by management and moved on. Perhaps there never was a quirky postie, and my parcels that year had been intercepted en route by a mischievous elf. I would never know.

Then the problems began.

I came home one day from work to find that my ASOS delivery (clothes, for those of you who don’t do online shopping) had been left hanging from my front door handle. Another time, I found a parcel wedged beneath a stray tile outside the flat, with no card indoors to say this had been done. I was just lucky to have come home before dark, so it was easy to spot – though perhaps easily spotted parcels sitting outside your house would test the definition of “lucky” somewhat.

As I’m sure you’re aware, unorthodox delivery methods and the problems associated with them aren’t limited to Royal Mail, Hermes or Yodel (search “worst parcel delivery firm” to see why I’ve singled out those last two). Quite possibly you’ve already seen this Parcelforce (former?) employee committing fraud by signing for a parcel as the recipient, before breaking into their garage and leaving their delivery in there without letting them know.

Ah, yes… Parcelforce.

Last year I ordered an item from Canada. A week after its expected delivery date, concerned that the item might have gone transatlantically astray, I spent an industrious and frustrating half-hour bouncing from website to website, from one customer services helpline to the next, trying to find some helpful information. Eventually I discovered that Parcelforce, commissioned to handle the last leg of my parcel’s epic journey, had attempted to deliver a week ago and, upon getting no response, had dropped it off at my “local post office (please see Missed Delivery card)”.

I had two problems with this revelation, the first one being that no card had been left, so I didn’t know at which post office they’d left my parcel. The second problem was that, according to the details I found online, the alleged attempted delivery had occurred when I was very definitely at home and sitting mere metres from the front door.

Suspect some creative interpretation of what constitutes an “attempted delivery”. Strokes imaginary beard in a thoughtful manner.

Anyway, I did some more searching online, phoned around, and finally tracked down my parcel and went to collect it (the Post Office staff were very helpful, despite me not having a Missed Delivery card, which would have made their jobs a lot easier). When I returned home with the parcel, I found that the postman had delivered a Parcelforce envelope while I’d been out… which contained my Missed Delivery card, dated one week earlier.

By this point, I was getting the first stirrings of paranoia – was I the only one having so much trouble with deliveries to my home? Was it some kind of secret conspiracy of couriers, designed to make my life miserable? Were there cameras hidden in my flat, recording my reactions to this nonsense, observed remotely by giggling Parcelforce employees secluded in a bunker beneath the Thames?

Well, no. Sadly, I knew plenty of people who had experienced similar (or equally frustrating) problems. Parcels abandoned outside their house, sometimes in the pouring rain. Packages left in external bins, to either be found by chance, or lost forever because the refuse collectors got there first – although, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the postie as he’s leaving and he’ll unashamedly retrieve your bin-juicy parcel for you.

Another delivery of ASOS clothes, lobbed over a fence into what was thankfully the right garden, where they were rained upon. Or having to go to the sorting office to collect some items that could have very easily fit through the letterbox, had the postman just removed the elastic band that was holding them all together. Golf clap there.

Or (another one of mine) having to make regular “just-in-case” trips to the newsagents downstairs from my flat whenever I was expecting a delivery via Interlink Express, because I knew from past experience that anything delivered by them would be dropped off downstairs without any notification going to me, because the local driver couldn’t be bothered to go up the stairs to find my flat.

I’ve been trying to work out why there have been so many delivery issues over the last few years. Certainly the companies in question are less than forthcoming. When complaining about missing mail, I’ve had a humourless Royal Mail employee defensively quote the percentage of mail that does get delivered successfully – though how they could possibly know how much went missing, given that it was bloody missing, is a mystery.

When I call, I’m redirected to someone who can’t help.

When I email, the response is either cheerfully ineffectual or simply non-existent.

I am therefore forced – FORCED, I tell you! – into inventing an interim explanation:

I like to imagine the depots of Royal Mail/Parcelforce, or any other courier, as a sort of dystopian nightmare world. There are no desks, no cheery offices, no tea-break rooms filled with light and love and biscuits. Just a warehouse, a cavernous hole stretching back indefinitely; grey rainwater drips through the cracks in the ceiling and plinks off the rusty cages that hold the waiting parcels.

Observe: a delivery driver creeps in, trying to conceal beneath his thin, company-branded jacket the parcel he has failed to deliver today. A huge, warty hand falls heavily upon his shoulder from behind. He jumps and whirls, teeth chattering with fear. The Supervisor looms over him: humungous, twitching muscles steam in the Tartarean gloam; the stink is immense. The monster punches forward with a meaty fist, which bursts right through the driver’s torso, grabbing the errant parcel on its way through. Withdrawing, it holds the gore-stricken package up, turning it this way and that. It licks it, to be sure. Then it seizes the terrified driver by his head and intones, in a voice that makes the building shake, “You Have Failed”. It drags the driver, howling and shitting himself, to a door marked FAILURE, throws it open and hurls him down into the dark depths.

The delivery driver, once his thrashing and screaming have diminished to naught but a piteous whimpering, becomes aware of another presence in the darkness. He looks around, his eyes now able to pick out vague shapes. A creature is chained to the nearside wall: the driver moves closer by agonising inches, one fractured arm cradling his spilled and shredded intestines, until he is able to read the company logo hanging from the tattered remains of the creature’s shirt. The thing on the wall utters a gut-wrenching groan as it struggles to raise its head.

“Just deliver them,” the head moans. “Any way you can.”