Grumble 55 (Sept 2006)

Waste

 Junk mail is a pain. One never really can be sure whether the very formal looking missive is going to prove a let down or not these days. A sure give away is the outline of a pen. I merely push on one end and extract such a thing without opening the envelope in an obvious example such as this.

Today I received two official looking letters from Norwich Union. I can't remember with whom I've insured my motor car or with whom our house is insured so I felt obliged to open these.

One asked me to take out life insurance with Norwich Union and the other, from the same company, wanted me to get "equity release". The latter is basically from a moneylender asking me to put myself into hock for some unheard of period. Can a typical pensioner, like myself, afford to pay a mortgage? I think not. If I took up their offer and received a large cheque for goodness knows how much, I would automatically lose the rights to benefits and end up frizzling away the money, not to mention having to use it to pay the instalments on the new mortgage. Eventually, after a world cruise and a new car, the house would then be at risk, and no doubt Norwich Union would look forward to taking ownership and evicting me.

I rang the free 0800 number on the letter and selected the option most likely to be without a long queue. "A new policy", or whatever and a nice Mr Gooch took all my details and promised to end the junk mail from them in 5 weeks. Why this long I asked? Because the printers already have your details in their pipeline and it takes that long for the pipe to stop getting filled, was the gist.

I wonder what the economics are? Presumably they are such that there is a net profit to be had by the time all the sums are done?

I think a simple solution is to raise the price of postage for such letters, say to £10 per letter. Leaders of the postal service keep bleating about the rising numbers of letters and how they can't sustain more than one delivery a day because they are so overwhelmed with business. I think the overwhelming part of this is junk mail.

In Victorian times there were something like 20 million letters posted each day and deliveries in most towns were several a day. Sufficient to provide a service almost as good as the telephone: in practical terms at least.

I can remember, quite clearly, the postmen in Liverpool making three deliveries a day (except on Christmas day, when only a single delivery had to suffice). Come to think of it… I can also remember when even the smallest country railway stations had loads of staff, plentiful waiting rooms, nice warm coal fires and lots of comfortable trains; not to mention a cup of tea for a penny (that's only five-twelfths of a modern penny). Amazing isn't it? True, a good wage when I was a lad, was only £10 a week. That might go some way to explain the price of a cup of tea but cannot explain the dearth of railway staff, and I can't see how it explains the loss of our multiple postal deliveries. The price of sending a letter had remained at the dizzy height of twopence halfpenny for donkeys years (twopence halfpenny incidentally is just about one new penny).

It remains to be seen whether Norwich Union will stop sending me junk mail in five weeks….

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