Death by fewer than 1000 cuts

When I applied to take on Brodick Post Office is 2007, I had envisaged a job where I would be a fundamental part of the community and would be rewarded for all my hard work for one of the most trusted institutions in the land. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since the closure program, Post Office Ltd has been trying to ‘persuade’ independent sub postmasters to change to a new model. Bear in mind that many of us independents have invested a huge amount of money into the business. The package they were offering might have suited a few sub post offices, but for me, the offer was insulting. They had not considered my branch’s location AT ALL, and came up with the offer based on numbers in a computer.

The long and short of it was that they were offering me less money for longer hours. Of course they were spinning it seven ways from Sunday, but that’s what it boils down to. Naturally, I said ‘no thank you’. So now they’re attempting death by stealth.

2013 Pay Cut

Screenshot 2014 05 27 10 26 00

2014 Pay Cut

Screenshot 2014 05 27 10 25 40

I don’t know for how much longer I can hold out. It’s despicable the way we’re being treated for investing our own savings into a British Institution. And don’t even get me started on the antiquated systems, poor products and bad customer service!

Taking on this business when I did, at the age of 36, was one of the worst decisions of my life.

Thankfully I’ve got great staff and some great customers.

Christmas Bonus!

DSC 8959This is my fifth Christmas as a postmaster. The pay’s not great, but it’s a rewarding job in many ways. December is our busiest time, of course, and we do probably three months’ work in one month. So with the running of the business and the multiple thousands of my own money I’ve invested, it’s nice to get the thanks I deserve for all my hard work – 25 1st class stamps. Well, it could be worse, it could be 2nd class!

Post Office Pens

I don’t suppose there will be too many people writing the insider scoop on Post Office Ltd’s pen supplies on their blogs. I’m here to fill that gap! ‘Finally,’ I hear you all cry. Yes, I’m a whistle-blower and I’m proud! Not quite on the same scale as Russell Crowe in that tobacco movie, but still, it’s a risky business!

I’m subpostmaster in a rural Post Office. I’ve been doing that for just over five years and I’m here to share the pen news I’ve encountered in those five years.

Our masters at Post Office Ltd supply us with pens to use in Post Offices across the land. When I started in 2008, we had the POSP15.

POSP15

All of the pens have black ink labelled as ‘security ink,’ in other words, it doesn’t fade. This is particularly important for motor vehicle licences, or tax discs are they’re more commonly known. The interesting thing about the POSP15 is that it has a red cap on the end. The urban myth about this is that it stops people from stealing them, because they think the pens have red ink in them. It didn’t work on my Post Office, that’s all I can tell you. These pens wrote well once you got them going, but all too often I’d pick one up and get nothing until I scribbled on a scrap bit of paper to get the ink flowing. It was annoying enough that, when I was cranky, I’d throw them straight in the bin after one failure. Well, I wasn’t paying for them and they got one chance only if I was in that kind of mood.

For some reason, these pens were discontinued and replaced by the truly awful SP15B 091445.

SP15B

These felt cheap and nasty, probably because that’s precisely what they were. The refill moves around inside the pen, and when you lift the pen off the paper, the nib stays on the paper. Yes, really! It was really annoying. I gave these pens about a week before I switched to a Stabilo Write-4-all, which worked really well for tax discs. I’d see cars around the village with 11-month-old tax discs that I’d issued and they looked like I’d written them up that day. So the SP15Bs went out onto the customer side for customers to steal at their leisure. Which they did.

Turns out the ink in the SP15Bs fades! Ha! So much for their ‘security ink’! Last week we got our replacements: the Truline 20SPEN1. What a super name, eh?

20SPEN1

These pens are chunkier and feel like a return to the POSP15. They have a cap that has a nice ‘click’ when posted and they write quite smoothly. But now I’m out the closet as a pen addict, I shall not be using the cheap, Chinese 20SPEN1s. Next time I order from Cult Pens, I plan on adding a few pens, including the Sakura Pigma Micron, which I’m sure will make a perfect pen for writing tax discs. We issue quite a lot of them, so I might as well make the experience as good as it can be, right?!

Pens

On my 21st birthday my mum bought me a nice Parker fountain pen. I don’t remember what it was or what happened to it. But I do recall that I found it scratchy and never used it much. As an object though, I still really liked it.

I’ve always cared about the pens I use. I favoured Parker ballpoint pens at university and used fine refills, but I also had some with medium. I am the sort of person who would spend fifteen minutes looking for one of those pens to sign a cheque when there are Bic and Staedtler ballpoints all over the house! When my grandfather died and we were going through his things, I found a Parker ballpoint in every suit jacket in his wardrobe. I still use these and have a quite a sentimental attachment to them.

Pen Addict Podcast

I started listening to the Pen Addict podcast around episode 50. I’ve no idea why it took me so long to get to it!

Now, it took me a year of listening to MacBreak Weekly before I bought my first Mac. It took me two episodes of the Pen Addict to get my first fountain pen, a TWSBI Diamond 580 with a fine nib from Cult Pens.

TWSBI Diamond 580

Not long after that, I bought a Pilot Capless decimo in violet on eBay and two bottles of ink from Cult Pens: bilberry and grape. Turns out that I think the ink colour should match the pen!

I have Pilot G2 pens and Zebra Sarasa gel pens. I don’t recall where I heard about them, but I like them. And, of course, it didn’t take many minutes of Pen Addict Podcast before I heard these pens mentioned.

It’s a strange thing. Pens have always been important to me, but I’ve never really gone deep. It’s strange because I have an obsessive nature and tend to go deep on whatever I’m into, sometimes to the exclusion of other things, which is why I’ve learned over the years to avoid things that are likely to capture my attention too fully (TV shows, video games being the obvious things I avoid).

It’s also strange because I don’t actually write that much! In the past couple of weeks, I’ve become a good pen friend with my friend in Luxembourg, whom I miss terribly and don’t keep in touch with nearly enough. Needless to say, she’s really pleased!

Shop

I have a small Post Office in a rural location in Scotland. I’ve been selling stationery since I started here five years ago. Gel pens sell reasonably well, but I’ve never really learned about them other than which ones sell and which ones don’t. So I’ve gone back to episode 1 of the Pen Addict podcast and plan to start stocking more pens and paper, including Moleskine notebooks.

I’ve always loved the staff picks in Waterstone’s book shop, particularly the handwritten reviews displayed on the shelves. So I’ve come up with the idea of handwriting testimonials of the different pens on brown luggage tags in the shop.

Whether this will work or not remains to be seen, but it’s worth a try and it’ll be fun for me to sell something that actually interests me. Experience tells me that things I like don’t sell well and things I don’t like do, but maybe it’ll be different where stationery is concerned!

Post Office restructuring

Now that the closure plan is complete and I’m still standing – just, it’s time to consider the future.

Post Office Ltd has launched a restructuring plan. I had the choice of:

  • staying as I am
  • switching to the new model
  • walking away with compensation

I have to say that it was very tempting to walk away, very tempting indeed. However the thought that I would end up working in the Co-op kind of put me off! Seriously though, my accountant persuaded me that I should consider the premises as an asset to be leveraged (horrible word) against Computer Repair business. And that makes sense. The fact that I have a business premises in the main village on the island is quite important for a business.

So I opted for the new model, which means I will either be selected as a Post Office Local or a Post Office Main. I’m not quite sure what that involves yet; a field change adviser will be visiting me soon to talk over the branch specifics. The main attractions are the ‘enhanced’ remuneration (whatever that might mean) and the investment grant. If I can refurb the shop, it will help the business immensely. And it will allow me to change the retail stock around as well.

So now I wait for the Post Office bods to come and tell me what’s what before I make my decision.

Here’s some info on the restructuring: Post Office Restructuring

New Poster Board

Just got new poster boards yesterday. It’s much better now.

Nerd on site?

I’ve been troubleshooting PCs for years now, starting from Windows 98. I am now wondering whether there is any opportunity of making some extra income from offering repair and upgrade services on our little island. That got me wondering about Nerds on Site, a sponsor of Security Now! it could be a good thing, although I tend to think that, being island based, it may not be the proper solution for me personally. If I were in Glasgow, maybe.

Nerds on site aside, I do think that I have something to offer in this space. I am up-to-date with tech in the PC realm at least and can usually diagnose hardware and Windows issues, offer back-up solutions and set up broadband connections / email etc.

Could be a good way of bringing in supplemental income. Only trouble is that there is a guy doing that sort of thing already and he’s a decent enough bloke. Ah well, a bit of competition never hurt anybody, right?

 

For Place Mats

Here is our selection of photos taken by local photographer, Alex. These are going to be turned into Arran place mats and hopefully sold in their thousands!

Taken by my pal Alex [Alex @ RedBubble]

[easyrotator]erc_76_1336749744[/easyrotator]

Placemat contender

Here is a photo I picked out of my own library that I thought would be a contender for Arran placemats.

Placemats with Arran images

I have been planning on getting placemats made with images of Arran on them for a good few months now. The original plan was to take photos and use a selection of the best ones, put them on place mats and sell them. I do have maybe three or four shots that would potentially make nice images for place mats, but my friend Alex-U is a far more accomplished photographer than I and just happens to have a great selection of Arran shots on flickr [Alex’s Arran set on flickr]

I spoke to Alex today about licensing a selection of his shots and he’s open to it. It will cost me money to do it and neither of us have any experience of this sort of thing, so he’s considering it just now and we’ll see if we can come to some sort of arrangement. His work is good and he ought to be paid what it’s worth. Only thing is that I suspect the true value will be more than I can afford, which is why I’m hoping we can come to an arrangement. It would be nice, of course, if I could use my own images, but having given it some thought, I tend to think that Alex’s shots would make the product more eye-catching and, ultimately, more saleable, and that’s the bottom line.

On the flip side, the pre-made Arran placemats I had last year from Strathmore Melamine sold and they were horrible. So I could in theory use my own images and they would still sell. Or, how about this: of the two possible manufacturers, I go with one for Alex’s shots and one for my own, using the higher-quality product (Strathmore Melamine) for Alex’s and make it a premium product, and my own from Doricmor to be of less quality and more a more affordable alternative?

I’ll call both parties tomorrow to get costs, turnover time and minimum order numbers and see where we go from there.