Natalie Haynes: Don't be sorry about what's lost in the post

The thing is...

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The thing is that sometimes, companies are just too willing to believe that we hate them. Royal Mail has just released figures on the number of letters and parcels they fail to deliver and therefore destroy each year. But they initially refused to comply with the Freedom of Information request, on the grounds that when they 'fessed up to shredding 25 million items of post a year, they'd be buried under a mountain of correctly delivered publicity, all of it negative.

Which just goes to prove that Royal Mail should man up. They deliver 68 million items of post each day, so every year, they're destroying about 0.1% of the stuff we put in letterboxes. And given that at least one in a thousand letters is probably addressed to, "My Mum And Dad, Their House, The Town I Grew Up In, England, The World," that seems pretty good to me.

Royal Mail could only have improved their image in this story if they hadn't also had to admit that they check the post they shred for valuables, and then auction them off and keep the proceeds. You can't really occupy the moral high ground – we shred your post for security purposes – while operating a Fagin-like system of first holding it up to the light and seeing if there might be a tenner inside, or a small gold bar.

But they also return over five million items to sender each year, most of which are from me, as Natwest cannot accept that their mythical customer does not now and has not ever lived in my flat, unless he is extremely small.

The report even revealed that there is a crack squad of address-interpreters based in Belfast. These people unpick the most baffling envelopes, and get them to their intended recipients, including one which read: "Mr and Mrs T Burlingham? A road somewhere near the golf course in Thetford, Norfolk". I think the question mark after the name is the bit where I would have simply given up and burned it: if you're sending a Christmas card to someone you should at least know their name. The sender had heroically added to the envelope: "Trevor is a photographer (weddings), this might help." How would that help? Is the postman supposed to trot around a golf course in Thetford, trying to find someone called Trevor, who might be standing in front of a happy couple, one of whom is dressed in a giant meringue?

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