Christina Patterson: I'm giving up hope for our postal service

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Yesterday's post brought a lovely surprise. There, among the bills and the Somerfield fliers (I get one almost every day, and if there is a Somerfield within a five-mile radius of where I live, I've never seen it) was a parcel. Not a slim volume from a poetry publisher I've never heard of, not a pile of books from Amazon to plough through for my next interview, but a proper, squashy brown paper parcel. And in the middle of it, the handwriting of a friend.

Underneath the brown paper, there was shiny pink paper. Underneath that, there was something soft and red. On top of it, there was a note. "I bought this," it said, "and it's not right. If not right for you, then please just give to Oxfam."

I'm not sure if I can say that the rose-scattered shift dress, as tight as a second skin, is "right", but I'll tell you this: it's gorgeous. It was better than a bunch of roses, better than a phone-call, better – by about a million miles – than a text. It was word made flesh, or, at least, thought made (fabulous, exuberant) fabric. It's not just romantic love that can be like a red, red rose.

In the same post, there was an envelope addressed to "the occupiers". "Thank you for contacting Royal Mail about the 'opting out' of Door to Door deliveries," it said. "We are happy to stop deliveries of unaddressed items to your address, but before doing so we need to make you fully aware of the implications of opting out."

These, it seemed, were myriad. The Royal Mail, it transpired, wasn't "happy" at all. In sending an email about the Somerfield fliers (so long ago that I'd now forgotten), I had unleashed their wrath. For some reason – could it be economic? – they're very keen on the Somerfield fliers. What they're rather less keen on is my post. Because what I should have received yesterday was my passport. Knowing that my local postmen are quite relaxed about the post – arriving in the afternoon, leaving "we tried to deliver this parcel" cards even when I'm at home, as if the pressing of a doorbell might trigger accusations from invisible colleagues of excessive zeal – I queued up at the post office to get a "guaranteed next day delivery". Six days after the Syrian embassy posted it back, it still hadn't arrived. I'm going – or meant to be going – tomorrow.

In the end, I went to my local depot (and yes, of course I tried to phone first). There it was. Happily waiting till doomsday. "Oh yeah, we tried to deliver it," said the man at the window. "No, you didn't," I said. "There are no cards, and I've been in." The man paused for inspiration. "Oh yes," he said triumphantly, "on the 19th there was a strike. It must have been one of the managers who didn't leave a card."

I'm afraid I wasn't surprised by claims this week that some Royal Mail managers have rigged research to give a false impression about the efficiency of deliveries. A small group of managers has, apparently, doubled their income in bonuses by hitting – or seeming to hit – their targets.

The Managing Director of Royal Mail Letters, Mark Higson, says he is "proud" of the Royal Mail's performance. Last financial year, Adam Crozier, its chief executive, earned more than £3m.

I love the post – the eternal possibility of cards and love letters and rose-scattered dresses. I love it so much that I'd quite like to get it delivered, not to my depot but my door. "Royal Mail Door to Door" was the heading on that fierce letter they miraculously managed to send me. Door to door? If only.

A little dignity can go a very long way

Perhaps some people are doomed to have a single moment of triumph in their lives, and perhaps it's his tragedy that The Right Hon the Earl Spencer's (as he would, no doubt, like to be addressed) was at his moment of greatest sadness. No one who heard it will ever forget the electrifying power of his eulogy for his dead, "hunted", haunted sister. It's clear there was real love there, and real respect, and real pride. Real gifts of rhetoric, too.

If his nursery-school-teacher-turned-princess sister "brightened our lives", however – and she did – her younger brother's meteorological effect is rather less straightforward. This, to paraphrase Wodehouse, is a man not hard to distinguish from a ray of sunshine. No one knows the inside story of a marriage, but the respect, and kindness, he showed his sister have seemed conspicuously absent in the conduct of his divorces. His first, from Victoria Lockwood, three months after Diana died, turned into a vicious, and very public, battle. His second, from Caroline Freud, also acrimonious, is about to hit the courts.

The Earl requested a media ban on the grounds that the case would be "boring". It's a request the judge has denied. There's certainly a way to make these things boring. Separate with dignity. Take responsibility. Cough up. What he fears is that it will be interesting. Perhaps he should have thought of that first.

Tweeting is fine, but only in the right hands

On Monday night, I left an event feeling thoroughly – well, what a French person would call énervée. The subject under discussion, it's true, wasn't calculated to cheer a journalist up.

If I have to endure one more session trumpeting the triumph of the (unpaid) "bloggertariat" over the (soon to be unpaid) "commentariat", I think I might shoot myself. But it wasn't actually the "content" (let's be up to date) that set my nerves on edge. It was all the fiddling and the tapping and the peering into laps. Like 12-year-olds texting their mates through a rare family meal, a high proportion of the adult audience spent much of the event "tweeting". And I thought men couldn't multi-task!

Some of the "tweets" (twitters, twits, whatever) were projected on screens for us all to see. Let's just say we're not talking Tolstoy and we're not talking Einstein. We're not talking haiku either, which we could be, because there's nothing like the discipline of form to bring out the inner poet. In theory.

The events in Iran have shown the world that twitter can, despite its silly name, be a force for good. Reports that Habitat have exploited them to advertise its products have shown that it can also be a force for bad. Twitter is just a medium. Perhaps we'll see some twitter revolutions, perhaps we'll see some twitter literary masterpieces – and maybe we'll even see some twitter manners.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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