I hate junk mail.
And yet it accounts for almost every envelope that falls through my letterbox. Birthdays and Christmas aside, I rarely receive a card or letter any more. It’s not that no-one writes to me; but they do so by email. For most of the decade-and-a-half since I left home, my mother wrote me – later, us – a letter every week; but even she no longer writes. (That isn’t a complaint: I never once wrote back, and we still speak on the phone almost weekly. But it is a personal indicator to me: if even my mother no longer writes letters, surely letter-writing is dead…) Even our bills and statements are increasingly transacted online. From time to time I get a special delivery – books from Amazon; jeans from howies. But if we get any regular daily post delivered at all, it is unsolicited generic advertising; and it sits on the worktop only as long as the next time one of us goes outside, before being thrown, unread, into the blue paper-recycling bin.
And yet, I wouldn’t want to lose the neighbourhood postal delivery, in exchange for, say, my going every few days to collect my mail from a rented box at a Post Office. The postal round ensures that someone is regularly walking through my neighbourhood, able to keep an eye out for old ladies living alone, or houses whose owners are away on holiday. Not that their presence absolves me from being a good neighbour; but that, in the course of their daily work, they have a reason to walk up and down every access path, that the rest of us simply don’t. (The same applies to that dying breed the milkman: we used to pay one, who has since given up his round, not least to help keep his role viable; his customers included elderly women living on their own, who, their heads filled with fear by the press, would only open their door to him from one week to the next. But the milk-round is fast becoming a thing of the past, undercut by the supermarkets. And while local butchers and bakers cling on, the supermarkets have long since killed off the butcher’s/baker’s delivery boy.) Among the rural dispersed, and the urban transient, this social role is even more crucial.
When the posties no longer walk their rounds, I think that we shall miss them. And if picking up junk mail off the doormat and dropping it unceremoniously into the blue bin is what it takes to keep them coming to the door, then I suppose it is a price I am willing to pay. For now. And who knows? I might even make the time to send you a letter…
in praise of posties , unsung heroes ,neighbourhood