Oh, the joys of Christmas shopping online. It's just great. No fighting the crowds, queuing at the till or being pressurised by pushy salespeople into buying something totally unsuitable. With just a click of the mouse and a flex of the credit card, you are ready to go. Bliss.
Until, of course, it comes to delivery. And when you are out of the house half the week at work, and have to get out of it for at least a couple of hours on other days in order to maintain your sanity with two small children, you will inevitably miss the all-important arrival of the parcels.
So instead of queuing at the shops, you get to queue at the delightful Royal Mail sorting office. My local one is a benighted place that moves at snail's pace and is only open between 8 and 12 in the morning. I swear they must go off, make tea, do the crossword and phone their grannies during the time it takes them to find most packages. And the other customers don't exactly help - forgetting to bring any ID and then arguing about it, or turning up, as one woman did the other day, and saying 'I'm expecting a parcel from my sister,' without having any notion of from whence or when said parcel had been sent. All great fun when you have two bored Littleboys in tow....
Then, you return from picking up one item, only to find that in your absence, another one will have been delivered. And a card left, telling you to collect it between 8 and 12....it's like postal groundhog day.
Now, Royal Mail's problems are well-documented, but I have to say that this year my worst experience was at the DHL depot. Having missed a delivery twice, I decided to go and collect it myself from their depot on a South London industrial estate. I found the place easily enough, as there were literally scores of yellow vans emerging from its entrance, no doubt laden with presents (so does that make DHL vans the modern-day reindeer?). But once inside, there was no sign to indicate where to go and I drove around in vain, avoiding forklift trucks, until a guy in overalls took pity and pointed me in the right direction. I then stumbled around in the freezing cold looking for 'customer reception', which turned out to be a dingy office behind a barbed wire fence.
By the time I had queued and was handing my slip over, I was desperate for the loo, so stupidly enquired whether there was a customer toilet....
Much consternation. Endless discussions behind the counter. Er, no, actually - well, there might be, but it was being painted. I started to tell them not to worry, but it was too late; they genuinely wanted to help, so a female member of staff was fetched from the bowels of the building and ordered to show me to the staff loos.
We went through a series of locked doors with combination codes to reach it (apparently the male staff weren't allowed to know the combination to the female loos; I'd rather not start to think about why). When we finally reached it, the resigned-looking DHL lady was very apologetic, and no wonder. It was squalid: water leaking all over the floor, no soap or paper towels, broken loo seat. And this was her workplace, poor thing. I was pretty shocked - sure, I wasn't meant to have seen it, but surely DHL, a multinational corporation, could afford a decent loo for its staff?
And so this Christmas, perhaps we should remember the unfortunate ones. While we sit at home gleefully ordering presents online, an army of downtrodden Santa's DH-elves sit in dingy offices with sub-standard loos, sorting parcels, so that global corporations can cream off the profits. Merry Christmas, everyone!