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Post Office


Here in Sweden where I live we have experienced the demise of the Post Office.
Earlier, you would be able to find a branch of the State-owned Office in every town or suburb; it was usually housed in a spacious, modern and easily accessable building.
These venues have all been sold and are now used for other purposes and the Post Office has shrunk and retreated into a corner of the local supermarket.
Buying postage stamps and sending parcels now compete with the placing of bets on horses and league football matches, not forgetting the purchase of scratch-cards and tins of snuff.
The Post Office in the English village where I grew up existed in similar surroundings. The Banstead Post Office was housed inside Tonge's grocery stores until it moved to the other end of the High Street and to its own premises in the 1930s.
When first opened, the new Post Office must have seemed very luxurious to the people in the village; there were a few steps up from the pavement to lead one in through the almost temple-like entrance. Even when closed, the strong wooden door had a solid and official look about it.
Immediately inside was a small lobby with two telephone boxes, side by side.
There was hardly room for one person, let alone two when one had squeezed inside and pulled the folding door shut. Only two pennies were needed for a local call, and once they were in the machine, you only had to wait to hear someone answering at the other end before pressing button " A". If there was no reply, you pressed button "B" and your money was returned. Plenty of schoolgirl gossip was exchanged in this way with my friends in Sutton or my cousin in Epsom.

Once I had learned to ride my brother's small bicycle, one of the first stages towards independence was when I would ride to the Post Office to buy postage stamps. A tuppeny-ha'penny stamp was all that was needed for my mother's weekly letter to her mother many miles away. I would leave the bike propped up against the outside wall, unlocked, of course, in those days.

There was usually a steady stream of customers passing through the two doors between the lobby and the main area. These doors were also made of wood, with small panes of glass set in them, so one could see at a glance if the queues to the counter were reasonably short or unbearably long.
During my wartime schooldays, we were encouraged to save by buying National Savings Certificates and these were handed out by my teacher to be stuck in a special little book. They could be cashed later at the Post Office.
Gradually I managed to save enough so that the small certificates filled at least two booklets with my name on and these were kept in a leather wallet.
One day, on my way home from school, I accidentally lost this wallet and this led to the only encounter I ever had with the village policeman. I had not realised it was missing until the officer arrived at our gate, climbed off his bicycle and asked me my name. He then handed me the wallet containing the Savings Certificates. It gave me a fright thinking what a close shave I had had nearly losing all my savings. What would my teacher have said the next day! I must have been in a state of shock as I ran indoors clutching the precious wallet and probably forgetting to say thank you to the kind policeman.

As I grew older, I became accustomed to looking after my own Post Office Savings book which accompanied me well into adult life, until the system was closed down. All the years I lived in Banstead, I was a regular customer at the Post Office, but also received my share of letters through our letterbox at home. An invitation to a birthday party or a card for Valentine's Day might mean the budding of a teenage romance, thanks to the Royal Mail. Then there were so many other services one could make use of, as for example sending a telegram or buying special air-mail letters to be sent around the world.

The joy of receiving a hand-written message delivered by a real-live postman just about equals the pleasure in writing and posting letters, birthday cards and postcards. Many of my friends do still keep in touch in this way, and I think they share with me a certain nostalgia for what used to be the Banstead Post Office.


Wendy

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