Suits and sanctions

Royal Mail, when will you start delivering again to Iran?

This is neither a rhetorical nor an academic question: I have two business suits parcelled up, waiting to be sent to Tehran.

They’re destined for my friend Ali, who I met when we were both at the University of Hull. He was a PhD student writing a thesis on international law and I was a librarian. Initially appointed to manage the European Documentation Centre at the University, my brief had expanded to encompass both official publications and law.

Ali’s quest for understanding both of legal issues and of English made him a frequent visitor to my office. Indeed, I gave him so much help that he credited me in the foreword to his thesis.

I left Hull before he did, as the weekly commute from North Wales took its toll and the prospect of going freelance became ever more attractive.

Please can you …

For 12 years or so we barely kept in touch. Then I started to receive more frequent emails, including, in the past few years, requests to help him obtain items that he was finding it difficult to procure. Initially he’d ask me to send him textbooks on international law, and I found myself spending quite large amounts of money not only on the books themselves, but also on posting them to Tehran (textbooks can be surprisingly heavy!).

He was by then both teaching and practising law, and I was struck by how serious his plight – and that of his country – must be if he could not obtain the books he needed through his own university library.

Then I was asked to send other things: face masks (Tehran is one of the most polluted cities in the world); smart shirts (as a lawyer, Ali has to appear in court); flat caps (I kid you not – Tehran gets very cold in winter); and, most recently, a suit for work.

I cannot begin to understand how desperate his situation must be to have to ask me for these things.


He is, it seems, the eldest son and is therefore responsible for obtaining medicines for his sick father. Sanctions, I suspect, have made those medicines both hard to get and expensive.

After a brief email negotiation, I bought two suits for him and they are, as I said at the start of this article, packaged up and waiting to be posted to him.

But sanctions have struck again. The Trump regime has threatened to act against companies doing business with Iran. Lots of firms have reportedly stopped trading with the Iranians and the country’s oil revenues have slumped.

Am I alone, though, in being surprised that postal services have been hit by Trump’s actions? It’s not just Royal Mail: I can’t find any carrier currently shipping parcels to Tehran. (Look on ParcelMonkey, Parcel2Go etc and it initially appears that firms are delivering; dig deeper and you find they’re not.)

This is being written on Bank Holiday Monday, 27 May 2019. A couple of weeks ago, Royal Mail was reported to have decided to start delivering to Iran again. I cannot, however, find any indication as to when that service will start.

Meanwhile, I’m checking online every day – and Ali’s business suits are lying in their box getting more and more creased.

So much and so little

As an aside, I was in Tesco the other day, doing the weekly shop (we usually manage three visits to Aldi, then one to Tesco). Faced with such an array of whatever it was I was looking for (I can’t remember the exact product) I briefly cursed having so much choice. Almost immediately, I metaphorically bit my lip, thinking just how lucky I am compared to Ali and his family, for whom a supermarket whose shelves are filled with such a variety of goods can at present only be a dream.

Bloody sanctions. Bloody Trump. Bloody politics. Why can’t people just live together on the planet we all share? And why can’t Royal Mail deliver Ali’s suits?

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