The Royal Mail gets quite a lot of stick in the UK. Stories abound of letters that have been nibbled by snails during the delivery process, how letters with 1st class stamps take longer to arrive than those with 2nd class stamps, all that malarkey.

However, bear in mind the upside of the Royal Mail. They have a special department that deals with the problem of people who don’t understand the basics of addressing envelopes. Write a letter to ‘Big Steev, livs neer the brij opposite the backers shoop, gloster or tukesberry’ and there’s a reasonable chance it will get there. For many years, until his death, letters to ‘Breather Johnson, England’ turned up on Mr Johnson’s doormat. He was a WWI vet who suffered lung damage in a gas attack, and developed some techniques to help him, and others, recover a decent level of respiratory function.

There’s also a customer enquiries section, and a five year old boy set a tricky task for those worthy people. Oliver Giddings wrote to the Royal Mail to ask them how much it would cost to send a letter to Mars. Who knows why he wanted to know, but I must admit it’s the sort of question that would have puzzled a five year old me, so fair play to the lad.

Fair play to the Royal Mail too. They found out, and replied to him.

A splendidly named Mr Smout, who sounds like a minor character from one of the Discworld novels, contacted NASA. The boffins over at Cape Canaveral did a few sums and worked out that the cost to get a 100g letter to Mars would be $18,000. This is £11,600. Mr Smout (crazy name, crazy guy) then added £2.25 to cover the cost of getting the letter from the UK to NASA’s launch site, coming up with a grand total of £11,602.50. This is pleasingly precise, though I suspect not too accurate.

Young Master Giddings pointed out you’d need a lot of stamps for that amount of cash, and Mr Smout (love that name) did a few more sums. ‘That’s 18,416 first class or 21,466 second class stamps.’ I’m glad he cleared that up for us all.

But then I got to wondering….

To get a letter to the US, a distance I’ll think of as 3500 miles to make the maths easier, the Royal Mail would charge £2.25. NASA then ship the thing to Mars and get the postman back, a distance of some 350,000,000 miles, or 100,000 times that from the UK to the US, for a niggardly eleven and a bit grand. The Royal Mail would charge 225 grand for that round trip. Moral of the story might be to have NASA take over the UK postal service.

Still, great customer service. Well done Mr Smout.