I could avoid it no longer.  My phone bill simply had to be paid.  The fines were looming – four per cent of the bill for the first late payment, six percent for the second and so on.  Friends warned me I could be disconnected without notice and I might have to wait three months without a phone line until reconnection was organised.  Having waited four months for the phone company to set up my broadband service, I could well believe them. 

Now I’m not in the habit of paying my bills late.  I like to have these things well in hand and feel rather guilty if I haven’t paid something on time.  So the reason behind my late payment lies mostly in four short words.  The Italian Post Office.  To pay the bill, the simplest thing to do is to take the exact amount of cash to the post office.  To the uninitiated or optimistic this doesn’t seem a particularly arduous task.  No longer part of either of those groups I still reasoned it was mid-August.  I might get lucky and find that there were not too many people there and duly called in on my way to work.  A quick poll count showed at least sixty people already waiting.  It was obvious that I was not get my phone bill paid and into work on time so I left to grab a quick cappuccino and ponder.  Now the post office closes for the day at one each weekday and Saturday afternoon. My Saturday morning is taken up with food shopping from the market.  Maybe I could take lunch a little early instead and try again? Racing to get there for quarter to one the queue was still impossible.

The next day I determined to get there before the Post Office opened.  When I awoke I rejoiced at the thundering rain – the first in a month – that I hoped might put off some people.  So at 8.20 sharp – ten minutes before opening – I was stood in the driving rain outside the door.  Along with the eighteen other people who had arrived before me, milling about the pavement as Italians do in preference to queuing.  After ascertaining who was the latest in line I found a spot to stand and wait for the doors to open.  A few more people arrived.  After a recent arrival had indicated to the latest newcomer that I was the last in the “queue” I realised the game.  That the obvious non-Italian speaker was always going to be the last in the ever-expanding queue.  With the assistance of the kind girl who was in fact in front of me, I successfully reclaimed my proper place in the queue.   An elderly lady, resplendent in blue sequinned slippers and an utterly unmatching floral skirt, then arrived.   She glared suspiciously around and asserted that she was in front of me.  “Rogues, you’re all conning me,” she announced loudly, with the unassailable virtue – in Italy – of being old.  The girl in front of me and I looked at each other and let her go first.  It seemed safest. 

Finally, at around 8.40 the doors opened. We surged through in a scrum to take the numbered paper tickets from the machine for the new queue that we would form inside.  I hadn’t done too badly.  Not too many people I recognised to have arrived after me were now in front of me.  So, the book I’d planned to pass the queuing time with still unopened in my handbag, I spent half an hour of carefully watching to ensure I wasn’t somehow slipping out of my place until finally it was my number lit up on the electronic board.  I went to the desk, triumphantly handed over the giro slip with the cash…and that was it.  For another two months.

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