A gesture of goodwill from the Royal Mail

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The Independent Online

Before I went to Canada recently, I sent a package to my daughter. She was going to have her birthday while I was away. These were presents. Unfortunately, they didn't get there. The package got there, but it had been ripped open and the Italian jazz CD and the books were gone. The bread knife was still there. Don't ask me why I was giving my daughter a bread knife. Good decision, as it turned out. Whoever it was in the Royal Mail who liked CDs and books, didn't like bread knives, or already had too many.

Anyway, I decided to report the disappearance to the Royal Mail and filled in one of those Missing Mail forms at the post office and sent it off. Forgot all about it. Then, on Wednesday I got a letter, sent - though not signed - from Tim Farmer, a Customer Service Advisor at the Royal Mail Customer Service Centre in Plymouth.

"Thank you for your enquiry received on 25 August from which I am sorry to learn of the loss of a packet addressed to..."

The letter was dated 25 August. Hot diggity! This guy moved fast! The very day he had received my enquiry he had dealt with it! I could imagine him tracing the path my packet had taken, from Bath to Ispwich to deepest Suffolk, sniffing out a postman collecting rare Italian jazz CDs...

"However it is often not possible to say exactly how or why an individual item has gone astray. This is due to the large number of letters and packets which we handle on a daily basis... I have therefore been unable to make detailed enquiries about your item on this occasion."

Oh. I am sorry to hear that. Still, he is sorry to have to say it... He concludes: "I do apologise that you have had to bring this to my attention and hope that I have managed to address your issues. I enclose some stamps as a gesture of goodwill."

I look at his letter, which reached me only a week after he has sent it, and try to reconstruct how Mr Farmer came to send it. I see in my mind's eye a concerned young man holding my complaints form and talking to his secretary, who I fancy may be called Tracey.

"You look worried, Mr Farmer," she says.

"It's not being able to do anything that gets me down," he says. "There's a bloke sent his daughter a birthday present from Bath to Suffolk, and it's lost its contents somewhere. I'd love to chase after it, but here we are in Plymouth, of all places! Whoever thought of putting a centre in Plymouth!"

He broods for a little while. Tracey says nothing. Then she tries to draw his attention to the 5,000 other missing mail forms that came in that morning...

"One thing at a time, Tracey!" he says. "Let's tackle the Kington problem first. Let's send Mr Kington a letter!"

"Do you want to dictate it, Mr Farmer?" she says.

He looks at his watch. It's nearly lunch time.

"I'd love to," he says, "but I don't have time. Let's just send him a No 48."

"Is that the one about being unable to make detailed inquiries?"

"That's the one."

"With all the tired business jargon in it?"

"I beg your pardon?" says Mr Farmer.

"The one where you say 'which we handle on a daily basis' instead of 'which we handle daily'? The one where you say you cannot do anything to help and then say 'I hope I have managed to address your issues'? The one where you spell advisor with an 'o'..."

"Tracey, you're developing a tiresome streak of pedantry which you must try to control," says young Mr Farmer. "Oh - and don't forget to send the stamps!"

"Shall I wait for a day or two to send it, to make it look as if we had tried to do something about it?"

But there is no answer. Mr Farmer has gone to lunch. Tracey shrugs and sends off the letter. Perhaps she should have waited for him to sign it, but it might be a long lunch...

I wonder if I have reconstructed Mr Farmer's actions correctly. Perhaps I will write and ask him, using one of the stamps Tracey sent me.

That will still leave me with five.