|The Spanish Inquisition ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (Bernard Picart)|
By way of background, I should explain that in tandem with the (not overly successful!) bottle sale on Bonkers the other week - which may of course be partly down to this fact that I cannot post abroad - I have been lobbing a few bottles on eBay, and letting them take their chances. The other day I was lucky enough to sell one of these, for a quite decent sum too. It was a not quite full 100ml bottle, so - mindful of the risks of leakage in transit - I parcelled the bottle up with elaborate care: first I put tape round its collar, then popped it into a gauze bag, which I placed inside a plastic mailer, before swaddling the plastic mailer in bubble wrap and laying the whole thing gently in a nest of tissue paper inside a gift box. I closed this box tightly with elastic bands, before wedging it inside a sturdy cardboard outer box lined with polystyrene chips and scrunched up bubble wrap. That box was then firmly sealed on all edges with parcel tape.
So far so good. Then, at my local post office, from the moment I asked for an ID8000 label everything started to unravel. The postmaster is used to my frequent shipments of perfume, and these days the most he ever asks me is: 'One bottle or two'. On that afternoon, however, his elderly mother was serving at the counter, and proved to be an absolute stickler for the rules. Anxious to create a good impression, he acted as her Greek chorus, chiming in with her ever more impossible stipulations. "Is it in the original packaging?" "Yes." I replied. "In its original box?" "Er...no, it's not in a box." "It must be in the original box with the cellophane still on." All of a sudden, the postmaster whipped out a blue demonstration bottle of a men's fragrance to show me what his mother meant by a perfume bottle. "This comes in a box, wrapped in cellophane. Is this what you are sending?" "Er...no, but to be honest, I am not sure it ever had cellophane - I am not even sure it had a box. It might have been a bag." "That's the only way you can send perfume...in the original box, in cellophane."
So that was me told. Browbeaten and crestfallen in equal measure, I slunk off to the next nearest post office, a little sub-branch inside a grocer's about half a mile away. Once again I asked for an ID8000 label, and this time hoped against hope there would be no grilling about boxes, let alone cellophane, or the small matter of the missing 15ml... The lady behind the counter looked at me as though I were an alien. "We don't have those. I have no idea what they are", adding in a peeved tone, as though I was trying to make her life inordinately difficult - at 4.45pm to boot: "I only work in the shop a couple of days a week - I don't normally deal with this side." In vain did I ask her to have a rummage in the drawer in case one of her colleagues had put some of the all-important labels by. "No, we don't have them. So do you want to post this then?" Suddenly, a Royal Mail delivery man hove into view, a huge, strapping hulk of a man, who wordlessly began humping big plastic sacks of parcels to his van, before returning and loitering with intent as I decided if I was going to post this package 'commando' or not. "You are my witness that I did ask for a label?" I piped up in a tone I had intended to sound cheerily upbeat, but which came out as wavering and doomed. "Hey, I don't have anything to do with postage and all that." Of course he doesn't - he is Royal Mail and she is a small outpost of Post Office Counters within a convenience store.
In desperation, I decided to chance the package with tracking, but without a hazard label. At least I hadn't been asked any awkward questions, but now the box had to take its chances in the Royal Mail's system, subject to random - or possibly even systematic! - scans and spot checks of its contents. I could so easily come a cropper, and what if it were a case of 'three strikes and you're out'? And straight into Stafford Gaol, as quickly as Rolf Harris was smuggled out the back at dawn the other month.
|HM Prison Stafford ~ Source: Wikipedia (Stephen Pearce)|
Cue a nailbiting 48 hours, which was the shortest timeframe in which a second class parcel could arrive. Meanwhile, I tried googling the scenarios under which Royal Mail parcels travelling within the UK are likely to be scanned. Could it be first class only? Special delivery? Ones going on a plane, even within the country? Tracked mail of any class? Some combination of the above - or even a completely different and more random set of criteria...
I also sought solace in a fragrance selling and swap site on Facebook. Members piled in to regale me with tales of their own daring and derring-do in dodging the authorities - many involving creative renaming of their parcels' contents as a 'statue', 'collector's toy', 'cosmetics samples', 'CDs', and 'books'. One comment in particular really helped allay my nerves:
"Ohhh don't sweat it. You'd probably get sooner taken for a ride by a dodgy buyer than have Royal Mail give you a headache with your parcel."
Kittens assuaged, I did take the precaution of alerting the buyer to my postal problems, and reassured her that I would issue a full refund in the event of the parcel being intercepted and confiscated. She was most understanding, and said she'd keep her fingers crossed for - and with - me. We sat tight for two days. Then on Day 3 at 11am I received an email from her saying the parcel had landed safely, without any sign of misadventures en route. She thanked me for packing it so securely, and for the free sample, while I thanked her for her patience. Then I thanked the members of the fragrance site, as their stories from the coal face of perilous perfume posting had been a comfort at a worrying time.
It was some days before I ventured out to my local post office again - with two big parcels this time. The postmaster was there, with his wife serving, and the mother nowhere to be seen. The wife weighed each package and made no comment - not even to ask me which service I wanted it to go by(!), so I chipped in to specify second class. The fact that they asked no questions is less significant than you might think, a) because the parcels were both returns - one to an Amazon supplier, the other to Nestle (two defective boxes of Cheerios, since you asked ;) ) - and b) because they didn't feel or look remotely like the sort of package that could contain perfume. Though I could so easily have lost a decant or two in one of the Cheerios boxes. But nevertheless, the near silence was in complete and utter contrast to last week's Spanish Inquisition.
I don't know if this marks a turning point in my relations with my local post office...I cannot be sure the postmaster will revert to his laissez-faire self on a future occasion, even if the mother is not on his case. So I think I should find a post office that is in possession of ID8000 labels, but which displays at best a cursory interest in the contents of my package.
And someone needs to tell the Royal Mail that not all new perfumes come wrapped in cellophane...
Do you have any perfume posting war stories - from either side of the pond? Do tell! (I might feel a little less beleaguered. ;) )