I'd like to tell you about the Royal Mail.

I've been selling, on and off, by mail order since 1982, and despite the stories that people tell about the Royal Mail, I have always found it very reliable.

Occasionally, of course, things do sometimes go wrong.

I always obtain a certificate of posting, which is free of charge, and which establishes that you have, in fact, posted a certain item on a certain day.

When a problem has arisen, I have filled in a claim form, attached a photocopy of the certificate of posting, then sent it to the customer service office.

Years ago, I used to get an acknowledgment within a week or so, then a couple of weeks later, I would get a cheque. 

It hasn't been as efficient as that for the past two or three years - I've made maybe three claims, which have never been acknowledged, and which were dealt with more slowly.  Once I had to telephone, but the claims were settled in the end.

On 4th December, I posted 68 items, including many copies of Without You.

One of these was a first class packet containing several CDs.  Although they were well-packed, several cases were crushed and one CD had to be replaced.

I photocopied the form and on 6th December I sent a claim for 18.83 to the Royal Mail.

On 20th December, I received a letter from Zarqa Iftikhar at the "Leeds Arlington Contact Centre".

Mr  Iftikhar had clearly not read the claim, as he thought it was for a parcel.

He wanted the packaging (which, as I had explained was with the addressee) and the envelope (what envelope?).

I thought that a telephone call would be sufficient to sort matters out.

The Royal Mail Customer Service has adopted an 0845 number.  These are alleged "local rate" numbers, although as they are non-geographic, the actual sum you are charged depends on the pricing structure of your telephone service supplier.

The most significant point about them, however, is that the number's user (in this case the Royal Mail) splits the revenue with the service provider - in other words, the longer the Royal Mail keeps you hanging on the phone, the more they are paid.

That's why you have to endure an imbecilic series of messages and lies about "all of our agents are engaged" before you can actually speak to anyone - the Royal Mail wants to cheat you out of every possible penny before it has to introduce its modern version of "customer service".

I was eventually connected to a polite young man who insisted that I should send the original certificate of posting.

As there are 68 items recorded on it, this would not be a very sensible course of action for me, as I would no longer be able to prove that I had posted any of the packages.

He also insisted that I should provide proof of the value of the items.  I pointed out that as I was the original supplier, this would be of little value to the Royal Mail, as I could run off a price list showing any sum I chose.

Bear in mind that this claim was for the grand sum of 18.83.

I asked to speak to a supervisor.  I was told that she was on the telephone, so I asked that she should call me back.

She hasn't, of course.

It's enough to drive you into the arms of TNT.

On second thoughts, no it isn't.  I've got a story about TNT....

TNT are one of the big courier services.

As I'm out during the day, I always give instructions that couriers should deliver to another address, a couple of miles away.

Last week, Amstore, who duplicated Without You, addressed 200 copies to my home by mistake.

As there was no one in, TNT decided to leave several hundred pounds' worth of CDs in my porch for seven hours.

They were also delivering 20 posters in a tube.  19 of the posters had disappeared and the remaining one was crumpled inside the tube.

Today (20th December) TNT were supposed to deliver 200 replacement Without You booklets.  They've lost them.

TNT, to their credit, provide a free 0800 telephone number, so they don't work on defrauding people who have complaints or problems.

Footnote: Just before Christmas, I had what seemed to be another futile discussion over the claim with a charming lady with the Royal Mail in Leeds.  Then out of the blue on New Year's Eve, I received a cheque for the full amount of the claim.  It was, however, accompanied by a letter advising me to get a certificate of posting in future.  If you've been interested enough to follow the story so far, you will know that I had, in fact, supplied the Royal Mail with a copy of my certficate, and no one had ever suggested that I didn't have one.