I've discovered a potential research project for some obscure US university which specialises in the study of stress levels - as they do. Wire up two groups of people from the same community, sending one group out to do something of benefit to his fellow man, (such as onto the streets of Machynlleth with Parkinson's Disease collection boxes), while forcing the other group to attend a meeting where Post Office Ltd try to explain why it plans to close its local presence. I'll discover the stress involved in the former activity today, while I experienced the latter last night in Llanbrynmair Community Centre.
It was the third such meeting that I've been to in the last fortnight. The Centre was full. Standing room only. Heulyn from the Post Office explained the 'rationale' behind the closure proposals. 'Rationale' is not really the right word. More a question of "Our one and only shareholder, Her Majesty's Government has instructed us to close 2500 sub post offices, and our computer model tells us that Llanbrynmair is to be one of them. We are intending to provide you with an 'outreach' alternative which will be open for 9 hours per week." Pretty much end of story! Heulyn looked a bit like that attractive new media spokes lady that Al Fayad has - putting a presentable face on the brutal idiotic strategy of their paymasters.
I arrive at these meetings in a good mood. I like meeting the people of Montgomeryshire. And as I listen to the presentation, and the articulate contributions and questions from the floor, I feel frustration, hopelessness even, pervading the meeting. There's a sense of just going through the motions. No-one believes Heulyn or Richard from Postwatch when they tell us that nothing has been decided yet. Its not their fault. Hands of all are tied behind the backs, theirs and ours, and the people who did the tying are probably indulging themselves in the House of Commons restaurant as we spoke. I feel my stress levels rise as the fog of helplessness envelops the room. I'm sure that a stress-measuring instrument of some sort strapped to my wrist would have gone off the graph.
Keith, who represents the sub post masters was the most depressing of all. He told us that 70% of sub post masters hope to be offered redundancy so that they can close down - the only way they can recover the money they have invested. Government decisions have removed most of their business. He also said that if the Government stick to their financial plans of withdrawing all subsidy from the Post Office by 2011, the 2500 current closure programme would be dwarfed by the next one. In 20 years time post offices will be like cockpits - somewhere for people interested in social history to visit.