I had to go down to the post office to buy a stamp, you see; something I've done hundreds of times before and, over the years, I've come across many variations in queueing strategy. Years ago, it was the norm to find around six 'windows' staffed by post office personnel and six queues in front of them. Then, someone had the brainwave that space and potential 'queue rage' could be saved at a stroke by having a single line of customers, coiled serpent-like around the public area, waiting to be called forth by a recorded message from someone who sounded far too cheerful to be human.
As far as I know – and what I learned about logistics in those brief moments of wakefulness in maths lessons at school – both systems were adequate in their own way. I mean, think about it; there are six people serving and 20 people waiting in line. It doesn't really matter if it's one line or six separate ones, does it? I would imagine that customers get served in approximately the same amount of time. And, of course, with the former, there's the added delight of playing 'post office queue roulette' where you have to make the decision about which line would be speediest to join.
However, now it seems we are subject to a new generation of middle-management types who make decisions about simple ergonomics – and they've hatched a real corker of a plan for Bath post office. Now customers have to take a numbered ticket – like the deli counter at Sainsbury's – and sit around waiting for that far-too-cheerful voice to tell you which window to go to.
OK, so far so good. There must have been a reason to change over to this system from the old one – although I have to admit that I can't work it out. But, here's the twist; the number you are allotted is different depending on what you're visiting the post office for. The machine that issues your ticket has around five different designations (and, before you ask, no I can't remember all of them). Certainly, one is for 'identity services' which I took to mean that perhaps you were visiting the post office to sort out your new passport or driving licence application – and fair enough; you know what it's like waiting in line for a stamp when the guy in front hasn't filled the form in properly. Grrr, right?
But a member of staff must have witnessed my hesitation, standing there as I was wondering where all the happy queueing public were hiding. This is a rough version of the conversation that ensued:
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm just trying to work out your new system..."
"You need to take a ticket – what have you come in for?"
She pressed the computer screen at the point where it said 'Identity Services' and handed me the ticket that appeared from nowhere.
"Identity services? For a stamp?"
I think her sense of humour had waned by now. It must have been a long day, after all, and so I merely smiled in what I hope was an ironic way and walked off to await the summoning of the cheerful one.
But I'm seriously thinking of going back on pension day to see how they cope then...