With my new job I’d just moved to Colchester to manage 4 BT restaurants in the area. But I wasn’t there long before I moved to what became my favourite place of work – Bletchley Park. This was a Residential Training Centre for BT managers and engineers.
The atmosphere of the place was magical. Winston Churchill had held his war meetings in the office I was given to work from and my first task each morning was to shoo the ducks and hedgehogs from the foyer of the big house. But then BT moved from Bletchley Park to open a brand new Training Centre at Kent’s Hill, Milton Keynes which I helped them open. I now had 200 bedrooms, 80 classrooms, 2 x 3 storey office blocks, a gym with giant swimming pool, bars and restaurants to manage.
That I could do. My big challenge in Milton Keynes was navigating all the roundabouts. The town was designed like a chess board, so there are 64 ways to get to the same place, with a roundabout at every intersection. One day, when I was completely lost, I’m absolutely certain I went round every single one of them!
Then I was Head-hunted by Perkins Engines. They could not find anyone suitable to manage their growing catering requirements. So, I went back to them, and after a while I was promoted to Area Manager. That turned my life upside down! I had 18 catering facilities to oversee, one as far north as Glasgow, and one as far south as Faversham in Kent. I stayed overnight in hotels, took a weekly flight to Glasgow for the day, and on Friday afternoons always found myself stuck in the tailback at the Dartford Tunnel, not making it home until 9.0 pm.
That wasn’t the worst of it! In this order I had a burst appendix, lost my partner of 30 years, had a serious road accident, and moved house to Northampton.
I moved to Northampton to make it easier to travel around as it was near the M1, so gave faster access to the rest of the country – and then I changed my job again. The places I now visited and managed had varied catering requirements, from private butler service and cocktail dinner parties, to all day breakfasts for lorry drivers, and vending machines for drinks and snacks, as well as major Banks with a different branded coffee shop on each floor, the News of the World and Sun, the High Court in London, BP headquarters, and others.
This firm I now worked for had Headquarters in Millbank towers with panoramic views of London. But I found the travelling and staying away from home very tiring, so I transferred to a different division of the Company – their Refreshment Services with its own brand of coffee.
I became an Essex girl again when I relocated to Bishop Stortford as the General Manager for selling and distributing the branded coffee supplies and machines around London and the South East. I was based in an office with a telesales team, a team of sales persons and a warehouse with 5 lorries and vans transporting the coffee and machines to customers. My daily travelling didn’t stop. I had to visit clients who were buying our coffee. Many of these were High Street restaurants, hotels and railway stations – in fact any location that sold freshly brewed coffee.
Coffee making is considered an art, so I went to Dublin to learn all about coffee production, where our coffee was roasted and packed. It was instilled into me that it was sacrilege to call decaf coffee ‘coffee’. It had to be called a ‘hot beverage’!
By now my big ’50’ loomed, so I decided I’d change my lifestyle, and on my birthday I left work.
The master plan was to buy a B&B in Devon or Cornwall. This fell by the wayside. Before buying, I thought I should spend a week in one helping the owners. I woke up on the 3rd morning and realised that cleaning 15 toilets and making 15 beds every day was definitely not my dream job. So, I changed to plan B – to find a small village shop to buy. Whilst looking, I trained as a ‘secret shopper’, and a MORI surveyor.
I did find my thatched village shop and Post Office in a quaint Northamptonshire village, but the owner had lied to me. I wanted a one-person business which he had said he was. Just a week before buying his wife let slip that she herself and 3 grown-up children helped him out.
So back to the drawing board. The experience had made me decide to look at standalone Post Offices and again I started looking in Cornwall, but prices were too high. Then Norfolk appeared on my map. I attended a week’s Course in a dummy Post Office to learn all the secrets of being a qualified Post Mistress. But a week before I was due to move into West Winch Post Office, the owner changed his mind!
Suddenly a silver cloud appeared. Stoke Ferry came back on the market. One visit with Gerald and Sandra and I was smitten. So, 11 years ago, on March 27th, 2007, I moved in. Well, my family moved my belongings into the bungalow, whilst the auditors transferred the Post Office from Gerald to me.
It took me a while to adjust to being trapped in a glass cage after being on the road for so long, but thankfully Anne Brown stayed on to show me the ropes, for which I am truly grateful. But working from home has benefits. No car screens to scrape in the winter – no queuing on the M25 – being able to sneak into the fridge when peckish – only needing to turn the door key to be home for the night.
Post Office work has changed drastically in the 11 years I have been a Postmaster. Certain services are no longer available, i.e. telly licenses, premium bonds, whilst other services have gone ‘on line’ and the biggest one to affect us is car tax. No longer any queues at the end of the month. Pre-paid on-line parcels are our next threat, as we earn nothing from them. But the improvement in technology now means that the obligatory book-work takes only a few minutes each night, whereas before it could take until 7.0 pm to finish.
It was on a winter night that I was targeted by a gang robbing Post Offices. The police had me on watch with cameras installed to look for the baddies. This gave me a few sleepless nights. But it wasn’t until the Thursday morning that I found out that a police van had been watching from the garage – now the kebab shop – across the road. There had been a tip-off that a couple of Post Offices were to be raided, the first one on Wednesday night. Luck was on my side. They were caught robbing the other one.
When I moved to Stoke Ferry I knew no-one but was soon befriended by Janet, Elaine and Jean. Our jaunts around the local hostels of Norfolk helped me settle in. True, I missed the hills after living in Somerset and Northamptonshire . So it had baffled me when customers came in puffing from ‘walking up the hill’. I was completely puzzled, and kept looking for this hill. It turned out to be the inclined path alongside the mill!
Yes, the mill! Not the place to comment here, but Yes, I did see it before I bought the business.
Besides the ‘girls’ I now have Sean from Didlington Nurseries and Rosie, a golden retriever, in my life and I have never been happier. Walking Rosie encouraged me to find the local beauty spots. It is pure magic to walk down by the Wissey on a sunny Sunday morning, with the sun sparkling on the water, swans swimming past, and the quietness of it all.
You may be wondering what is the future of the Post Office. It is a moving picture. The Post Office never forewarn us of their plans. Stoke Ferry Post Office is classed as a Community Post Office, so I am not paid a fixed salary, but earn commission on each sale. So – please – keep coming in. As its politically a vote loser, the current government policy is not to close any more Post Offices, but behind the scenes they are cutting our commission on a monthly basis and many small Post Offices close ‘voluntarily’ because they can’t earn enough to make a living.
Last year the ‘posties’ moved to Downham, so I am no longer a Sorting Office, just a Post Office. The positive side to that is there are now no post bags banging around at 5.0 am.
I am president of the local branch of the National Federation of Sub Post Offices. The current policy is for all Post Offices to be located inside another business such as WHSmith, or a shop or Supermarket, with Post Office work treated as ‘extra footfall’ and not as an income earner. It means that stand alone Post Offices cannot now be sold as such, and we are calling it ‘death by a thousand cuts’. So they may have to take me out in a ‘box’. First class, I hope.
More positively, I would like to use this opportunity to thank every single one of you for supporting the Post Office. Perhaps it’s because of the latest addition, Merlot, the cat. Well, everyone is now asking to see him rather than me!
And an especial thanks to Beryl Wilson, my life saver.
Beryl replaces me superbly so that Sean and I can have holidays. We enjoy cruising with friends and whilst in Old Rhodes a few years back we became engaged. But since then he seems to have become allergic to gold rings!!
Locally I belong to Stoke Ferry Walking group which aims to keep all footpaths open. Rosie comes along and manages to roll in anything disgusting. So I’m grateful for the friendly help of fellow walkers who lift her over closed gates. I am also a Parish Councillor and a member of the Stoke Ferry Restored group.
What is my favourite customer saying?
‘Do you sell stamps?’
Well – yes – and do keep coming to buy them. It will be good to see you. I’ll look forward to it.