It must sell stamps. And liquorice bootlaces. And Baby Bio

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The Independent Online
PETER LILLEY says that the Tory party will do all it can to preserve the health of rural post offices. I believe him. I believed the Tories when they said they would do their best to preserve local railways, rural buses, the ERM, the pound, and so on. I really did believe them. I am like that. I trust people.

But just in case Mr Lilley needs help when it comes to preserving little old post offices up and down the country, may I remind him that there is more to being a rural post office than just sitting in the country and selling postage stamps.

A rural post office has to have certain appurtenances before it can be a true rural post office and thus qualify for Mr Lilley's charmed support. No true rural post office is worthy of the designation unless it contains at least 90 per cent of the following items:

several packets of small balloons;

last week's local weekly paper;

three doughnuts;

a middle-aged brown loaf;

some green sweets of a bright, unearthly fluorescent green surely not originating on this planet;

one dusty copy of the last Tory manifesto, marked down to pounds 1.99;

one notice explaining the gradual phasing out of telegrams in the Eighties;

one picture of the forthcoming stamp commemorating the founding of the Boy Scouts, or invention of the hot water bottle or whatever, a stamp that will actually be available in this rural post office itself, though only for about 36 hours;

one fridge containing ice lollies, none of which looks anything like any of the ice lollies in the big plastic picture stuck on the fridge;

one rack containing vintage apples, grapefruit, onions and garlic;

one box of brown envelopes, some already stuck down;

one display of current magazines, including at least one on steam railways, one on skateboard collecting and one with plastic dinosaur portions attached to the outside with sticky tape;

an ample supply of bottles of such Olde Englishe beverages as dandelion and burdock, ginger beer, lemonade and Piat D'Or;

A selection of postcards depicting the village in palmier days, which were hand tinted by someone enjoying colour blindness;

A small merry-go-round to which are attached sundry packets of seeds, including onions, carrots and nasturtiums, the pictures on the packets faded by the sunshine so that all the vegetables look a pale blue;

A large selection of cards in the window, inserted by local residents, many of which ask for daily cleaners. None of them will offer such cleaning services. They will instead offer bikes for sale, baby-sitting, logs, home word-processing, second-hand rowing machines, lectures on flower drying, local history meetings ('The Second World War and the Somerset Brewing Industry:'), Women's Institute jams, and a faded photograph of a cottage to let in the Dordogne;

the parish magazine;

a beachball in a string bag;

a dusty box of candles;

last year's bottle of Pimms;

enough potatoes for nearly three people;

a plastic lemon containing plastic lemon juice;

a ballpoint pen on an old piece of string;

airmail stickers;

chewing gum;

a bus timetable;

a selection of pork pies, Scotch eggs, rolls etc, for purchase at midday by painters, decorators and builders temporarily working in the village;

a rack of forms, which, if you fill them in properly, will get you either money from the state or a dog licence;

a trio of tins of baked beans, arranged gymnastically in a pyramid;

some of the more famous makes of British breakfast cereal;

a collecting box for your change;

a box of liquorice pieces in the shape of bootlaces;

sticky plasters;

half a dozen bundles of kindling, each one big enough to light one fire;

two bottles of Baby Bio;

half a dozen pink birthday cards suitable only for sending by and to little girls;

the last remaining tie-on labels in civilisation;

a small pile of shopping paid for by the previous customer and left on the counter by her . . .

A full list of contents of the British rural post office is available on request from Peter Brooke and his Heritage boys . . .