October 8th, 2006


Anna Politkovskaya

I didn't know Anna Politkovskaya's work well, but I read some of her stuff when it occasionally appeared in translation and she was an outstanding and courageous journalist and her murder in Moscow yesterday is a tragedy.
She once said that, in the same way as it's the duty of a singer to sing or a doctor to cure their patient, it's the duty of a journalist to write the reality of what they see, and that's what she did, in spite of the risk to herself. It goes without saying that she made a lot of enemies. 
She was a bright shining light in Russian journalism. Whatever the circumstances of her death it's hard not to think that the people she shone that light on will have gone to bed last night knowing that there is one less person in the world to call them to account.

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the royal mail

My Firefly merchandise arrived on Wednesday (for those of you unfamiliar with Firefly, and its big-screen apotheosis Serenity, I recommend that you Google them, then go out and buy the DVDs, lock the door, take the phone off the hook and just have a damn good weekend) I'm not going to get into the whole business of being so obsessed with a short-lived and cancelled television programme that I've been ordering merchandise online - let's just accept it happened and get past it, okay?
Anyway, I've taken to having stuff delivered to the office because, while some delivery guys will make the effort to leave a parcel with the neighbours if we're not at home, some of them just leave the stuff on the doorstep and you can't guarantee it'll be there when you get home. So on Thursday I got a postcard saying that the previous day some stuff had arrived for me and that it couldn't be delivered because there was an £11.13 Customs charge to pay on it and I had to go up to the sorting office and pick it up.
This meant dragging up to Mount Pleasant sorting office at lunchtime in the pouring rain, which I duly did, paid my money, and took delivery of my stuff, and it was only when I got back to the office that I read the many stickers on the parcel, which I mention here for your illumination. If you have a short attention span, maybe it's best that you go elsewhere about now.
The £11.13 consisted of £7.13 in import VAT and £4.00 Royal Mail Clearance Fee.
The Royal Mail Clearance Fee, and I quote from another sticker, is "levied with the Customs duty/VAT on this item...a contribution to Royal Mail cost of presenting this packet to the Customs, paying the duty on your behalf and collecting the duty from you."
Let's parse that, shall we?
Now, I have no problem with paying the extra £7.13 - sending stuff internationally can be a minefield of regulations and I can't expect the company who sent me the stuff to know everything. It's just one of those things, and I don't mind.
Presenting the packet to Customs...I dunno, did a postman go to the Customs people and in some arcane ceremony hold up my parcel like the head of a vanquished enemy and say, "Hutchinson owes money."? Let's assume they did. God only knows they wouldn't be alone. Anyway, they paid the duty on the parcel, so I owe them whatever it is. Again, no problem.
But now we get to the `collecting the duty from you' bit. It took me most of my lunchtime to get up to Mount Pleasant and back, I got soaked to the skin in the process, I walked into the sorting office, rang a bell, a bloke came up to the counter and looked at the postcard, looked at my ID, took my cash, and gave me my parcel. I'm sorry, but I don't see where I owe money there. The bloke was there already, it took him less than a minute to complete the transaction, and I did most of the work.
I'm mildly annoyed about this, and if I thought it would be worth the effort I would complain. The trick about this, and many other little charges that we face in our daily lives, is that we know that the effort of complaining isn't worth the money we'd get back, so most of us don't bother. But the money that companies like the Royal Mail get from this jiggery-pokery all adds up. And that winds me up.
Incidentally, the merchandise, ordered from Cafepress - who are entirely blameless in this little British pantomime - is of excellent quality and I'm typing this while wearing my Blue Sun hoodie.
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