Deborah Orr: You're slaving away with honesty and diligence for modest pay? What a sucker!

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The Independent Online

The story of postwoman Lisa Harvey's fall from grace is a new variation on a disconcertingly familiar theme. The 31-year-old was found to have hoarded 111,000 letters and parcels weighing 7.5 tons during her six years with the Royal Mail. It took days for Royal Mail investigators to sift through the hoard, which included 85,000 pieces of junk mail, and 26,000 letters and parcels, stacked up to the ceiling in her two-bedroom home. Many of the latter have now been delivered, including an airmail letter from a soldier to his grandmother sent from Sierra Leone in May 2000 and a hospital appointment scheduled for 1999.

This week, at Plymouth Crown Court, she admitted theft and two counts of delaying the delivery of letters, although she will not be sentenced until social workers have compiled reports. This is reasonable enough, because the weird thing is that Harvey did not steal letters and parcels that looked like they may be valuable.

Instead, her behaviour appears to have been obsessive. She was fascinated by official-looking letters. One of the reasons why it took so long to cotton on to what she was doing was that the mail she stole was stuff that people were not expecting or didn't want. There is evidence that Harvey did mean to deliver the mail eventually. It was only when people started complaining that they had received some very old mail that the case was looked into.

But it must be said that one other reason why no one suspected foul play was because it is now virtually impossible to complain to the Royal Mail about letters that go missing. The service has just been fined a record £11.4m by the regulator for failing to prevent mail being stolen or mislaid. But all you get if you protest is a bizarre standard letter explaining that the Post Office cannot be expected to do what it had undertaken to do when it took your money. Attempting to complain, say, that a first-class letter did not arrive the next day, brings sheer incredulity. For a poor service, rather than a failed one, we are supposed to be grateful. It is this attitude that means things have to have gone very wrong on a massive scale before questions start to be asked.

Yet there is another reason why it has become more common for postal workers to conduct themselves in a less than exemplary fashion, and I'm afraid it is once again part of the cringingly titled "respect agenda". Conventional wisdom would have it that errant posties no longer respect society and their place in it. But the truth is a little more complicated. Delivering the post, like so many other unskilled but essential jobs, is no longer a respected one, offering a person dignity and identity, even though it should be.

Any work nowadays that you don't need a degree to do, or which doesn't make you a shedload of money, is sneered at. The idea that someone might for a modest remuneration, work scrupulously, honestly and diligently, sets them apart as a sucker. A perverse part of me even sees a twisted advantage in the fact that top-up fees are putting people off going to university in much larger numbers than expected. The huge emphasis presently placed on higher education is in some ways divisive.

I'm a celebrity, get out

Goldfrapp, the glam-rock trip-hoppers whose album Supernature is so ubiquitous it even plays in my dentist, have been enjoying their success. But watching them this week, it became clear their lead singer and co-writer, Alison Goldfrapp, left, has crossed some kind of celebrity line.

Six months ago, the band were revelling in critical and popular acclaim, glad to have made it after years of slog, delighted that they could fill big, prestigious venues. On Thursday, however, Ms Goldfrapp, having over-egged her aloof pop-Valkyrie image, broke off in a huff seconds into a slow song, because she "couldn't hear for the fucking noise". It was true the audience were talking while she performed, but that was because she entirely failed even to attempt a rapport with us. It was clear she considered the audience lucky she had turned up, rather than the other way round.

She did manage to control herself eventually, and struggled through a gig carried by the rest of the band, the fabulous light show, and dancers as facelessly erotic as any seen since Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love" (but in a good way). Everything was great, except the woman we'd gone to admire.

* I've never been a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel, for many reasons. The main one, however, is that it is from among Israel's liberal intelligentsia that the most imaginative and useful dialogue about the Palestinian situation comes. It is hard to see how the refusal to engage with the institutions that employ such people can help to achieve peace.

I'm also against boycotting Israel for the reason that it is not likely to do anything other than antagonise the Israelis, who already - for obvious reasons - are very much embroiled in a siege mentality. It is important to continue acknowledging Israel because it is important to reiterate its right to exist. Boycotts smack too much of the repugnant extremist aim of "pushing Israel into the sea".

I'm always willing to make an exception though, and find myself very enthused by Richard Rogers's threat to boycott Israel's construction industry in a specific protest against the unspeakably awful dividing wall that is presently facilitating Israel's latest West Bank land-grab. This suggested boycott is against a specific injustice, and therefore has a tidily specific aim.

The boycott has been suggested by Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, whose members include Rogers. I hope that the organisation can go on to widen its ambitions. Heaven knows, some decent architecture and planning in Gaza would help to restore Palestinian identity and pride.

Most internet users are familiar with the e-mail that purports to arrive from some messed-up state asking for help in liberating and sharing a large sum by the simple expedient of coughing up a large sum. Now, it seems, an even more incredible scam is in operation. A friend of the family was approached by two men claiming to have fled Liberia, who wanted to buy his business in cash, using money that had belonged to their murdered father. There was only one hitch. The men wanted to pay the guy in what he calls "black money". These are US dollars that have been literally dyed black. The men showed him how to clean them off using a liquid chemical combined with a chalky powder, and turning black paper into $50 bills. For some unknown reason, the guy smelled a rat. He and his business partner have made a decision: "I think we'll stay poor."

* On Wednesday I wrote about how distasteful I found the cover of the Libertines' album that showed members of the group shooting up heroin. It turns out that I was wrong. As the wife of a former addict, I found the image so distasteful that I never looked closely at it, even though I bought the album, and for months had walked past a poster showing the image. I now learn that the two young men in question - Pete Doherty and Carl Barat - are simply showing off their tattoos. What a relief. There's needles and damage done, and there's other needles and other damage. Apologies to Barat, whose experience with Doherty inspired a hard line against heroin. Since it was Doherty's behaviourthat led me into my misconception, I feel no need to apologise to him.

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