the A5 and the Post Office

Image from here

I spent the most recent bank holiday weekend in rural North Wales – the Lleyn peninsula – a place I love for its ‘time warp’ quality. When you live in London, it can be quite nice to occasionally escape to a place that has something of 1958 about it. It’s even better there now you can get phone signal.

Anyway. On the way back this time, we decided to go part of the way down the A5 – famously the first Roman road and then one of the first major civil engineering projects of Great Britain – the history is
. The road goes all the way from Holyhead on Anglesey to Marble Arch.

The amazing thing about this trip – from Thomas Telford’s bridge across the Menai, to the M6 Toll motorway, was the fact that it was almost entirely devoid of the brand names that so many people complain now make up the average British high street. There were no Argoses (Argii?), no Greggs and most shockingly of all – no chain petrol stations. For a time, every single petrol station we passed was completely independent – Jones & Jones filling station, Williams Thomas & sons fuels and carburants. No Esso, no Total, and no BP until we hit Shrewsbury.

The only brands that recurred were Spar, Londis, Co-op and most prominently of all, the Post Office. I understand that many have shut now, but the Post Office and its rural workings were very obvious on a trip where there weren’t many fascias or ad boards or brand names at all.

Unusually, on the way back we had a stack of letters to post and visited three Post Offices to do so. The first was shut for lunch (OK, this is the countryside, we’ll make allowances), the second had a queue out the door and the third was perfect – a little rural post office in a Londis in a village much like the others: pub, curry house, fish and chip shop, Jones & Sons butchers and no other chain stores.

At other points we saw Royal Mail mobile post offices parked in the middle of nowhere for Pension collection and similar and there was a tiny office in basically every village along the A5. As we thundered back down the M6, we saw dozens of Royal Mail lorries carrying our letters back and I felt huge affection for their shiny livery and signs and services. I loved the fact that I could go and get some Hungarian Forints or 500 euros in Llangollen (“Chlan-goch-chlen,” I believe).

We might complain about the Post Office and Royal Mail, but I have developed a new affection for them of late after I managed to send 70 wedding invitations all over the country and the world for under 50p a pop, on the whole. The Post Office in Chiswick could certainly work on its queuing, but its recurring presence on this trip reminded me why both the PO and RM are brands I would miss if they ever disappeared.