A Permanent Address

Commoncock's picture

(Written for the 1991 Yearbook)

So there I was standing quietly in the circle one Monday evening when it is announced that our new On-Sec, Tim “Next Week” Hooke, has been recalled by the Wizards of Oz at 5 days notice and that I have been undemocratically appointed as his successor. How was I to know that within a week my cosy little academic study would be turned into a monstrous Hash Factory, that no matter how hard you try, you will always be wrong, incompetent or both and that there would no longer be any spare time, only Hash time… but all that came later; first I had to take receipt of all the run files, hash sheets, run directions, accumulated over the last 10 years, T-shirts, beer mugs, stationery, maps and “the key”.

“What's this for?” I ask.
Standing on his head drinking a cup of tea, “Next Week” explains that this is the key to our P. O. Box, the permanent address to which incoming mail for the CH3 is delivered. The following Monday morning I set off to the Main Post. Office in Fort to check the box for letters and so began a typical Sri Lankan horror story.

Squeezing past the AK47 at the front door I made my way to the Poste Restante counter. “I would like to check our post office box. Can you tell me where I can find it please?”
“Uh?”
“1 would like to check our post office box. Can you tell me where I can find it please?”
“Not here.”
“O.K. I'll try the information counter.”

There was an enormous throng of people around the info counter. Most seemed to be harassed and trying to get the stamps on air-mail letters franked to prevent them from being stolen, whilst the Post Office employees on the other side of the counter smiled a lot, drank tea and chatted to each other. Finally, I pushed my way to the front and brandishing the key I addressed the most important looking man behind the counter (probably the tea-maker himself), “I would like to check our post office box. Can you tell me where I can find it please?”
“Uh?”
“I would like to check our post office box. Can you tell me where I can find it please?”
“Ah! Not here sir.”
“Not here?”
“No sir, you must go other Post Office.”
“Thank you. Ah, which other Post Office?”
“Colombo 10, behind Fort Railway Station.” In order to make sure I had got it right, I asked the man to write the address for me, which he did. I left the Main Post Office and handed the address to my taxi driver who took me to a large shed behind Fort Railway Station.

Strolling past the guard who seemed to be having a bad dream whilst sleeping at the main door I approached the counter. Looking up from his newspaper one of the reclining Post Office personnel asked me what I wanted.
“I would like to check our post office box.”

“Yes?” He looks at me as if I am a total idiot.
“I have brought the key?”
“But why have you come to the Incoming Parcels Depot? You must go to the main post office opposite the President's house in Fort.”
“I did. They sent me here.” At this point I ask the taxi driver to show the man the address given to me.
“That is this address, but it not the place you want.” Noticing my disappointment, possibly because I was banging my head on the counter, this chap volunteers to try and find out where I should go. For the next ten minutes he makes a number of phone calls and then, ignoring the scowls of the guard, who has been woken up by all the noise he gives the driver fresh instructions.  “You must go past Lakehouse offices and go inside behind Sampath Bank. I have spoken to them any they are expecting you.”
“Great. Thank you very much.” Smiling and heartened by the effort made on my behalf, we set off for the Sampath Bank Building.

“What do want?” asks the Gate Security Guard. 

“I have come to check our post office box.”

“You can't come in here.”

“But they are expecting us."
“Wait.” Another man approaches the car. 
“What do you want?”
“I have come to check our post office box.”
“What?” puzzled look on his face. I explained that the man at the Parcels de-oat had telephoned etc etc. Increased puzzlement on Guard's face. He confers with the first man and then says:

“What you want?” This time the taxi driver explained the situation, whilst I (Smiling through gritted teeth) hold up the key to reinforce the point.
“Ah! Not here.”
“But the man at the parcels depot….”
“No sir, not here.” The driver then gets into a longer Singhalese discussion with the guard and suddenly a paean gets into the car and we leave.

We drive about half a mile up the road to a group of buildings when the paean speaks to the guard and we are shown into a large shed where six men are sitting on the floor around a mile of mail about meter high.
“Good morning sir, what is the problem?”
“No problem, I have come to check our P. O. Box.” I show him the key. 
“Aah yes sir. You wait here."” The man takes the key and disappear: A couple of minutes later he reappears, hands me the key and says, 
“P. O. Box closed.”
“Why, it's not Poya is it?”
“No sir, Bill not paid.”
“Can I pay the Bill?”
“Different office sir.” He tells me how to find this office (fortunately on the same compound).
“Oh! One more thing... what happens to mail that arrives here after the 
P. O. Box is closed?”
“Redirected Sir. You can check next door.”

“Good morning, I was told that this is the office for redirecting mail.”
“Yes Sir.”
“How can I find out if any mail has been delivered to our P. O. Box since it was closed?”
“Where is the letter coming from sir?”
“There may be many letters from different places.”
“Yes, but where is letter coming from.”
As I scratch my head thinking how to overcome this impasse he says, 
“You are expecting letter sir, but where from?” and he opens an enormous cupboard full of mail to be returned to sender all apparently filed under the names of the countries from which they have come.  Thinking quickly, I said, 
“There may be some from Bangkok.” The man hands me a huge bundle of mail and says, 
“You must check these.” It soon became apparent that the filing system wasn't quite as good as it had first appeared. The bundle of letters included some from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, The U.K., Saudi Arabia, but not one single letter from Bangkok or for us. I decided to accept defeat on this, thanked him for his help and set off for the office where I could reopen the P. O. Box.

“Good morning, I am told that Our post office box has been closed because we haven't paid our annual subscription.”
The man at the desk checks a list in front of him and YES!! there we are P.O. Box 2041 - Colombo Hash House Harriers - UNPAID.
“I would like to pay the subscription and reopen the box please."”
“Aah sir, you must see the Supervisor.”
“O.K. where do I find him.”
“He is on leave today. You come tomorrow.”
“I can't come tomorrow; I have to go to work. I will come next Monday.”
“You can't come tomorrow?”
“No I will come next Monday.”
“Okay, you come Wednesday.”
“No, I must go to work, I will come next Monday.”
“You can't come Wednesday?”
“No I will come next Monday”
“You can come tomorrow sir.”
“Can you please tell me how much the subscription is?”
“Rs 100 sir.”
“Thank you, bye-bye.”
A whole morning has now passed, but at least I now know where to go and who to see.

ONE WEEK LATER

“Good morning, are you the Supervisor?”
“Yes sir.”
“I am from Colombo Hash House Harriers and I would like to pay the subscription to reopen our P.O. Box.”
Supervisor checks list, “Ah, P.O. box is closed sir.”
“Yes I would like to reopen it.”
“You must pay subscription.”
“Yes I know.”
“You have brought letter?”
“What letter?”
“We send you letter telling that you must pay.”
“I never received a letter.”
"Yes sir, we sent letter." 
“But where did you send it?”
“Sir?”
“To what address did you send the letter?”
“To the P.O. Box sir.”
“But the P.O. Box is closed, so how could I receive the letter?”
“Sir, it is only address we have.”
“Yes and it's the only address we have.”
“Okay, you have money?”
“Yes, Rs 100.”
“No sir, we sent letter, saying subscription gone up. Now Rs 600.”
“O.K.” I check my wallet, “Sorry, I only have Rs 580 with me. Can 
give you that and pay the balance when I come next time?”
“No sir, you must pay all Rs 600.”
“But it's only Rs20 difference.”
“No sir, you come tomorrow with Rs 600”
“No, tomorrow I must go to work…” Thinks, I'm not getting into that one again.

ONE WEEK LATER

“Good morning, I have come to pay “
“Yes sir, you have letter?”
“No, but I have Rs 600.” The supervisor deals with the necessary paperwork and says, “O.K. now, P.O Box open again." I felt like hugging him I was so pleased.

ONE WEEK LATER

Full of confidence, I arrive at the sorting shed.
“Good morning, I have come to check our P.O. Box.”
“O.K you wait here.” Man disappears with key, then returns, smiling I should have known 

“No letters sir.”