Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Post About Post

If you may have, ooh, about an hour and a half to spare, then you might consider going to post a letter at the main Post Office in Mandraki Harbour. In town on an excursion on Tuesday I had a fairly important envelope to post to a UK address, so at around 11.00am I tugged my ticket from the machine in the foyer and went through the revolving door into the main business hall. 

I don't know what it is about revolving doors, but they tend to strike terror into me. I get visions of getting a foot stuck in one, or of it seizing up and grinding to a halt just as I'm in that curvy glass bit where you're not quite in and not quite out. I've never considered myself claustrophobic, but it makes me feel kind of, well claustrophobic. 

Anyway, somehow I managed to negotiate the glass vortex and quickly found myself staring at the condemned, as they sat around forlornly clutching their numbered tickets and looking like they're posing for a Vermeer. I'm sure you know what I mean. If not, just look at the expressions on the subjects of his paintings. The main thing they all have in common is they don't have any facial expression to speak of. It's like they're all thinking "what's the point? I'm gonna die some day and so I may as well wait it out with resignation." I suppose when you consider how long they'd have had to sit for the picture I'm not far off the point. I dunno though, maybe they've all (the customers, not Vermeer's subjects) just come from an audition for extras in "Night of the Living Dead 7" or something. Curse my vivid imagination.

Around 8 people sat in the few rows of plastic "school assembly hall" chairs, all staring hopelessly (the people, not the chairs. The chairs were staring at nothing in particular) at the arches before them and to their left, the six arches which have been turned into serving desks, all helpfully numbered from 1 to 6 and all, except one, displaying no signs of life whatsoever, and still others stood around looking bereft...

Desks 2 and 3, the second of which (No. 3 that is, to the left) sits darkened and bereft, whilst the hopeful, or rather the hopeless, would-be customers sit further off to the left, out of shot.
Actually, desks 1 and 2 were at least illuminated, but only desk 1 had a woman sat behind it, trying to speak German to a bloke who wanted I've no idea what, but it needed to take about half an hour or so to get sorted. He stood there in his shorts and t-shirt, occasionally gazing at those waiting behind him as if half expecting to be set upon at any moment by the ravenous crowd of be-crazed, frustrated customers for taking soooo long with his business at the desk. He had those shorts on that sport huge pockets down on the sides of the legs and each pocket looked as though he had half a ton of stuff rammed into it. Maybe his tent was in one and his wife/girlfriend was secreted in the other, I wouldn't have been surprised, really I wouldn't.

That's the thing about having to wait for ages when there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, right? You start studying things that you normally wouldn't cast a second glance at; like, for example, see the glass cabinets that are positioned in front of each column in the above photo? Well, the one to the right is full of a rather weird display of all things religious, icons of various shapes and sizes mainly, on glass shelves. There were ones you could attach to your car fascia, ones you could stand on a shelf and others that could be hung on walls and all at ridiculous prices, like €50 for an A5-sized for example. Can you imagine such a display in a public store/shop/whatever in the UK in the 21st century? I've noticed this even in the small rural Post Office down the road from us in the village of Gennadi too. Must be a pretty standard fixture. I suppose there must still be old folk who say, "I'll just pop down the Post office to draw my pension and get a new icon, shan't be long."

So anyway, I was sitting there studying such things and occasionally glancing at my little ticket, which displayed the number A117, and also now and then glancing at the LED displays high on the wall and also above each desk which announced which ticket would be the next one to be served when I noticed that the current one, which I presumed must have been this German fella, was A113. "Can't be so bad then," I thought. "Mine is only 4 away from that one, so I ought to get served pretty soon." Woo hoo, eh?

But then I counted the people who'd all been in here when I walked in and their number didn't tally at all with the ticket number I'd collected from the machine in the lobby. Very strange. I was only four away from being summoned by the LED display, yet I counted at least 12 people hanging about the place, 8 of which were seated and playing (as one always does these days) with their mobile phones and the rest of which stood around in various positions, sort of exuding the air of "maybe I'll just nip in first when the desk becomes available. After all, there is a hospital on the island so my injuries would be treated fairly promptly."

Behind the counters there was a walkway that stretched all the way around beneath the arches and now and again a staff member would appear from some dark recess further back, usually carrying a package, I presume so as to announce to all observers that they were already well occupied and couldn't possibly entertain the idea of actually serving any of the miserable wretches who gazed expectantly at them from out in the waiting area. What would further exacerbate the frustration would be the fact that when these people did appear, they'd stop right behind the only woman who was actually serving and engage her in a five-minute chat, thus further lengthening the amount of time that our German customer was destined to spend getting his business attended to.

After what was probably about twenty minutes of waiting, and having finally seen our German man with the well-stuffed leg-pockets finally take his leave, the number on the display changed to A114 and I looked around, hoping that maybe customers 114-116 had decided to end it all or something and I could get straight to the desk to send off my one solitary letter, only to suffer immense disappointment as a young woman in impossibly short shorts and hundred-metre-long legs arose, stuffed her mobile phone into her bag and marched to the desk determinedly, with that air of "no one's pushing in before me, I've been here since last Thursday" about her - at least, that's how I interpreted her body language. It certainly would have been mine. As she made her move a dozen other people, myself included, emitted an audible communal sigh and went back to studying the lines in the marble on the floor.

As the girl approached the counter, a woman of around sixty appeared from a corner, I assumed a corner where staff members could go in and out of their inner sanctum, and made for the counter too. This woman had her chin kind of tucked into her upper chest, like as if she had some problems with the bones in her neck or upper back, she wore a dowdy off-yellow sun dress and carried a shabby linen shoulder bag. She immediately engaged the woman serving at counter number 2 in conversation, quite loudly. Her hair was very obviously dyed a reddish brown and she gave me the impression that there was definitely a brick missing from her wall as she said something like, "All right my lovely? You doing good? Family all right too are they? I'll be running along. All the best now." This elicited a response from hundred-metre-legs girl and also from the woman serving. Hundred-metre-legs girl looked at the woman daggers and sighed, whilst the serving woman gave one of those patronising smiles and replied totally insincerely, "All the best, love. You take care now, hmm?" Reading between the lines I think she added inaudibly, "Phew, she's finally going. There is a God after all." But of course I may be quite wrong.

After what was definitely the best part of an hour the LED display showed A117 and I almost missed my slot, I was that far away. The buzzer that accompanied the change of number just managed to register in my brain before someone assumed that A117 had topped himself and I leapt up like a man possessed and dashed to the desk triumphantly. As I mentioned above, I only had the one letter to send and so I was turning around and beginning to make my exit within about ninety seconds when the buzzer told whoever held ticket A118 that their number was finally up. I could have sworn that had I not exited pretty sharpish the girl behind me would have thrown herself at my feet and kissed them owing to how quickly I had concluded my business at the counter. This was her lucky day!

It's a bit odd really. I mean, since the "austerity" hit Greece there have been all kinds of "rationalisations" in the civil service and local councils and stuff. But I was under the impression that the Greek Post office (ELTA) was actually turning a profit. Yet in every Post Office on the island the staff levels have been cut and some sub-post offices have been closed (as you'll know if you follow this blog, since I talked about our own Agapitos taverna losing its sub-post office status a while back now). Thus it's pretty much a given that if you have any business to conduct with the Post Office these days, you'd better take a flask and some sandwiches, 'cos you're going to be in there a long time.

Still, at least it brings home the truth of the way they measure time out here. Everything's GMT. Greek Maybe Time. As I type this I'm wondering if half of those people I saw are still waiting there in that Post Office. My imagination's now running riot and I'm envisioning a Post Office version of that movie "Night in a Museum" where all those icons come alive and terrorise the hapless customers spending the night here in the hope of getting served early the next morning.

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