23 Jan Captain Correos’s Extreme Admin
Have you ever done that quaintly British thing whilst on a holiday to the Costa Brava/Blanca or Sol? You know the one where on about your second day you buy the postcards to send home, write them rather wearily towards the end of the holiday and then panic about getting stamps or face the terrible shame of posting them at Gatwick. Well, unless you faced down the shame, you will know that the Post office in Spain is the Correos.
I had a couple of cards to post and an additional stamp to buy so we made our way to the Correos in Vera (pronounced Bera). This involved asking directions from no less than three staff at the checkout in the supermarket (not 3 blocks away it turned out) none of whom had the foggiest notion. Clearly they don’t send postcards nor even letters. In any case, they very helpfully asked another customer who knew exactly and sent us on our way.
The Correos in Vera is modern, light, spacious, equipped with all the latest gizmos, overstaffed but not given to a great sense of urgency, it seemed. He, who has earned the name Captain Correos, was sitting behind his counter with a number of machines around and about. He had no customers, there was no queue, Vera is a small place and on my recent sample, only 1 in 4 inhabitants actually know where the Correos is. He was addressing his computer, possibly playing patience, sending a personal email or perhaps developing a new spreadsheet that nobody will use. But I am slow to judge and so managed to suppress the harrumphing that seemed appropriate when he waved us away because he wasn’t ready for a customer.
But when he was ready, well, he was worth waiting for. When you take letters to the Correos to post, you don’t get stamps to stick on. Instead Captain Correos (or his equivalent) uses an extravagantly large ink stamp to put the necessary information on the envelope. My two cards were the same weight but very slightly different in size; he was dead right about this because he measured them very carefully! All fine for the two cards ready to go. But the actual sticky-on postage stamp, the take-away one, as it were, for the card to be posted in a few days time, well that was a much bigger challenge. “What size was the envelope – like the smaller one or like the bigger one”, he enquired. “Hmm, I have no idea”, I replied keeping up my best castellano. There followed a long explanation about the problem confronting us and then he upped and disappeared behind a screen at the back. Mutterings with a colleague were much too hushed to overhear but eventually, Captain Correos reappeared with two extremely large expanding files of the kind one used to see when offices were full of manila envelopes, pencil sharpeners wedged on the end of the table and treasury tags – you know vintage-style and delightfully incongruous in amongst all the latest electronic kit. But these ancient receptacles held that rare commodity, sticky-on stamps. Captain Correos diligently checked and rechecked the exact combination of stamps that would be needed to secure the postage of a larger card (we had agreed best to go large and be on the safe side) and then burrowed away for the stamps themselves, working out how to combine values to land right on the button. The last three, each worth a paltry 1 cent, were the most elusive. But Captain Correos is a determined man and finally he got the formula and the goods. This turned out to be 5 stamps in total, richly coloured, beautifully designed and large enough when fixed to the envelope to cover at least half of it!
There followed a very careful addition by computer of exactly what I owed: a grand total of 3 euros and 37 cents. We felt it only right that we count out this amount to the last cent. Captain Correos was thrilled at this and turned out to be a thoroughly pleasant chap with a winning smile and a devastating capacity for extreme admin.