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It's a new experience for me being a vendor. A vendor in a computer start-up too. I sit in the back room of my house selling software. I describe my activities to my uninitiated friends as being a ``trainee millionaire.'' Hope springs eternal I guess. We all know what millionaires do - don't we? I thought I did.

Trainee millionaires don't need brains - they just need to know how to put things into envelopes. You must be an expert envelope stuffer. I cheat a little - my envelope contents all come from my computer, individually and lovingly printed for each recipient.

My computer printer puts addresses into the little boxes so that they show through the window in the envelope. This saves on the phase of addressing the envelopes. I can master the skill of putting things into envelopes, addressing them is beyond me.

To send a letter, I get the several bits of paper from the laser printer and flip through to get to the personal point where I sign it. Trainee millionaires must use a fountain pen - so I have to wave the sheets of paper in the air to get the ink to dry. Only fountain pen users have noticed that modern paper is no longer designed to work with ink. The ink doesn't soak into the paper like it used to. If you're not careful to let it dry, it runs off the paper and down the page. I digress. I need to digress a bit to let the ink dry.

Once the ink has become squiggles on the paper rather than some running stream, I can locate the tiny fold marks that I have carefully printed at the side of the page. I make two folds in the paper, ending up with a concertina that slips into the envelope and instantly springs apart to make it look satisfyingly full.

When I am done I have a pile of envelopes that make a low sighing noise when you pick them up. The concertinas contract under hand pressure and the air slithers out through the tiny holes at the sides of the flap. I am surprised that no-one's thought of talking envelopes yet, special speaking attachments that can be powered by the air whooshing out as the envelope is gripped. Product announcements by post.

At this point, it's a good idea to look in the little window at the front to make sure you can see that address that was so lovingly printed. It takes real skill to ensure that you put the paper into the envelope the right way round.

There are now two more things to do, and mortals use their tongues to do them. One is stick down the flap of the envelope (dirty minds were probably thinking about something else). The other is placing the stamp on the envelope in the correct place.

Trainee millionaires can't use their tongue because it's needed to do other things, so they will use something else that is wet. Being a start-up, it is appropriate to use the sponge that is normally used for cleaning the car - you can find that easily, it's lying around the garage.

Don't just put the sponge under the tap and place the sopping mass on the table. You'll end up with a mess. Make sure that you put the sponge into a dish. Incidentally, you'll find that this is best done when the family is not around. The family associate the dish with nice meals and know that the car sponge has been pressed against the by-products of nice meals that birds have just eaten.

You'll need a nice meal after all this intense envelope work, so make sure the family is not around, wet the sponge and put it on that dish.

The wet sponge is a dual purpose tool. You can use it to wet the envelopes AND the stamps too. Using a sponge with stamps involves a lot of skill and determination. Mortals will take one stamp, lick it (ahem, place it on the sponge) and stick it onto the envelope. Trainee millionaries don't do this. They take a whole strip of stamps, and wet them all. You then have to stick them onto the envelopes as fast as you can before the glue stops working.

There is also a special art in making sure that the stamp is placed on the envelope intact. Or you can play `fool the Post Office' by trying to leave a little bit of each stamp on the previous envelope. It takes real skill and enormous practice to do this consistently all the way through a strip of stamps.

Finally, your task is done. The envelopes are stuffed. The stamps are mounted. The envelopes sealed. You look at the fruits of your labours while sipping delicately on that bottle of fizzy water (champagne comes later, you're only a trainee millionaire - right?). Anyway, the sponge has ensured that the liquid doesn't taste of glue. Remember to clear the sponge away before the family return.

In the end, all this is wasted training and that's sad. It makes enough money so the trainee millionaire can hire other people to put things into envelopes. The fully trained envelope stuffer sneaks off for expensive lunches, trips to the golf course, learning to fly aeroplanes etc. etc. I can hope, I suppose.

On to Canterbury - a Tourist's Guide

Peter Collinson Last change: 13th November 2008