Sign of the times

royal mail blog

I’m not sure I would have bought shares in Royal Mail even if I had the money. The minimum investment is £750, which seems an awful lot to spend on stamps. It’s too late now anyway – I’ve missed the last post for share applications. If I did want to buy them in time for tonight’s midnight deadline I’d have to do it online. Call me old-fashioned, but I think Warren Buffet would have something to say about that. It’s a bit like buying shares in Quality Street then asking Jack to nip out to buy me a packet of Minstrels.

And I’m not sure I could look our postie in the eye either way. It’s bad enough opening the door to him in my dressing gown at midday as it is without having to take responsibility for the potential loss of universal deliveries and him having to wear privatised shorts, probably sporting more logos than Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Talking of dressing gowns, naked commercialism and a healthy balance sheet don’t always go hand in hand. While reading up on the Royal Mail shares issue I came across James Bartholomew’s entertaining Diary of a Private Investor column in The Telegraph. He was describing how his investment in the national pawnbrokers and jeweller’s company Albemarle & Bond had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Share prices have plummeted along with the price of gold and they are having to close 33 shops. Now I have nursed an irrational grudge against Albemarle & Bond ever since they took over our lovely high street jewellers, Dawson & Briant, a couple of years ago. The new people are perfectly nice and just as helpful when I go in to change the battery or pretend I’m going to buy a diamond or six.

Both shops were in the same business – jewellery and pawn broking – but Dawson & Briant just did things differently. The old shop was fitted out with an antique clock with the company’s name on it and had a long open wooden counter where you could pour over trays and trays of new and antique diamonds, emeralds and pearls while you waited for your ring to be straightened out or had your safety chain fixed. All the pawnbroking was done at the back of a shop in a discreet little kiosk where people could pop in when things looked quiet. Now the gilt hand-painted sign that had stood over the shop since 1840 has gone and the front window is screaming with posters urging you to sell your gold or cash your cheque or get a loan, making no secret of what the real business is all about. The old jewellers was a family-run affair headed up by a kindly man called Peter whose son went to the same secondary school as the girls. Instead of the wall-to-wall glass security screen the new guys have installed, he had a huge fluffy Alsatian who used to rest her paws on the counter. She was the doggy equivalent of a bouncer in a dinner jacket – beautifully presented, but you wouldn’t want to cross her. It used to look like a jewellers that lent money on the side, now it looks like a pawnbrokers that sells repossessed jewellery on the side. I still pop in, because as I said, the people who work there are perfectly charming and helpful, but I can’t help feeling that my private Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been Ratnered. No wonder its stock has plummeted.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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