The Little Irritations of Life #20: Track and Trace

There has been a lot of discussion about Track and Trace in the news lately.  Most of its fairly negative.  Often with the phrase ‘not working’ somewhere attached.

Of course, this Track and Trace relates to the government’s coronavirus contact tracing initiative (I think it is actually Test and Trace, but let’s not be pedantic at the expense of a good metaphor. Ed.), whereas my gripe is with its more mundane Royal Mail predecessor.

Not surprisingly, my story starts with a parcel.  It contained something quite precious––not valuable, but precious––so rather than send it by regular first class mail, I decided to send it by Track and Trace, imagining that I would be able to follow the entire journey of my parcel from the moment that it left my fair hand to the moment that it reached the grubby claw of the end recipient.

In fact, I was quite looking forward to following the progress of my parcel.  What route would it take?  Which sorting offices would it pass through?  Which post office workers would handle it on its speedy journey through the vast labyrinthine world of the Royal Mail delivery service?

On my first visit to the Royal Mail’s Track and Trace website, I was invited to enter my unique 13-digit tracker code.  Upon doing so, I received a cheery message entitled “We’ve got it!”  It sounded encouraging.  At the bottom of the message was logged the time, date and location of the post office where I had dropped off my parcel.  All good.  There were no further details about my parcel’s progress, but I was not downhearted: it had only been an hour since I had posted it.  I imagined that it had not had a chance to move far beyond the old grey mailing sack in the corner of the post office in which I had despatched it.

The next day, I checked the website again.  By now, I was fondly hoping that the log at the bottom of the Track and Trace page would have been updated.  I wanted to read that Barney had stamped my parcel at 4.30 the previous afternoon, that he had handed it for sorting to Sheila at 6.25, that it had been passed to Gavin at 10.15 that evening, and that at this very moment, even as I was looking for updates, Martin had my parcel in the back of his delivery van as he sped up the M6, currently between junctions 17 and 18, just passing through Holmes Chapel.

But no, all it said was “We’ve got it!”  And the same information about where and when I had posted it. 

Looking closely, I spotted some other print, which I had not noticed before.  It read “The next update you’ll see is after we’ve attempted to deliver to the recipient.”  Well, what was the good of that?  Apparently, there were going to be no progress reports about my parcel during the crucial period that it was out of my hands, merely a statement that I had despatched it––which I already knew––and another one saying that it had been delivered––which I could easily confirm by ringing the recipient.

And, of course, the inevitable has happened; perhaps the real reason for my irritation.  My parcel has gone missing.  It is over ten days now since I posted it, and the tracking information still records no more details concerning its whereabouts than the time and place where I originally posted it.  I expect more of Track and Trace.  I want to know that Barney forgot to stamp my parcel and only remembered it three days later; that Sheila dropped my parcel while handing it on to Gavin, who promptly placed it on the wrong shelf in the sorting office where it sat for the next five days unnoticed, until the time that Martin discovered it, stuck it in his van, drove off, and nicked it.

© Simon Turner-Tree

Simon Turner-Tree will always be rather second-class.

You can read more of Simon’s irritations in his books Watching Life Pass Me By and This Pedestrian Life.

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