Okay, now that the Christmas card season is underway, allow me to offer some first-hand tips aimed at stopping your cards getting lost or damaged in the massive crush the Royal Mail endures at this time of year. Every day I see the stack of damaged cards in the mail centre, and I try not to think about the wasted effort, and possibly even heartbreak that it represents. It's easily avoided.
The less expensive cards have awful gum on the envelopes. Make sure the card is correctly sealed, and don't be afraid to use tape if you have to.
Never, and I mean NEVER send cash money through the post. We have all sorts of casuals in during the festive season, and they can't all be thoroughly vetted. It's easy to spot a letter with a banknote in it. Really.
Identify your letter simply and easily with your surname and postcode on the back. That's enough to track you down if something bad happens. That's a good tip for all mail anyway.
Try and post all of your cards at once, and stick a rubber band around them. Everyone concerned in the handling process will bless you, and it makes them easy to handle and process, and prevents random damage occurring to them in the early stages of handling. If you have no rubber bands, accost your postman. I guarantee he will have access to thousands.
ALWAYS take them to a post office if you can. The rubbish in mailboxes is dreadful during the party season. Just today I pulled a half-drunk can of Red Bull from a box full of mail, and of course, some of it was soaked. You see worse things too. Ghastly.
If you HAVE to use a post box, bear the following in mind: Don't post mail in the rain or snow. I have scooped many tragic handfuls of mail from boxes, posted by people who should really have known better. Post boxes are not waterproof. The older ones are better. The boxes in supermarkets are great too, as the mail goes straight into a bag, avoiding much scraping and pulling.
Here's one you might not have been able to work out for yourself: If you are using a post box at this time of year, leave it as close to the collection time as you can. REALLY don't post too early in the day. Why? Well, imagine a big metal tube full of letters, with the removal window at the bottom. Imagine all the weight on top of the bottom cards, the ones which have to be removed first. Perhaps ones with a "budget" flimsy envelope. The ones which have to be pulled through the opening guarded by a rusty, fifty year old wire frame. Do I have to complete the picture? The ones posted late are usually OK, because they don't have so many on top.
Despite this, please keep sending cards. This is a great time of year for us. I'm working 12 hour days at the moment, but everyone I meet is smiling, and chatting, and wishing me a happy Christmas. I'd love to think that folks were doing all they can to make sure all of their cards arrive at their correct destinations, and everyone has as happy a festive season as possible.
On behalf of all my colleagues at Royal Mail, have a very Merry Christmas, and, of course, a Happy New Year.