Breaking the code
PUBLISHED: 16:25 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 February 2013
It's names, not numbers that count, even in our high-tech age, argues Peter Sampson
Its names, not numbers that count, even in our high-tech age, argues Peter Sampson
Illustration by LUCY ROBERTS
We live in disturbing times. Much of the old order crumbles as we almost daily have thrust upon us innovations of doubtful value and only marginal utility.
Leave aside for the moment all those gizmos and gadgets that are apparently essential if you are to have any semblance of street cred but which are of little or no real benefit to you or to the people around you. I mean, isnt it a bit silly to crave a phone that takes bad photos and tells you when its time to plant your rhododendrons? And did you see the piece of research which demonstrated that American owners of iPads no, I dont know what they are, either possess well above average quantities of arrogance, selfishness and greed?
Anyway, closer to home, take the Post Office, our very own dearly-beloved Royal Mail.
Ten years ago, the rot set in when the Royal Mail stopped sponsoring Postman Pat and his black-and-white cat Jess on their rounds in Greendale. The reason they withdrew their sponsorship? They said the programme didnt fit their corporate image.
Now, ten years later, no doubt in a fresh welter of management-speak, they seem to be contemplating something new to be humourless about.
Very soon, theyre going to abolish counties. Not exactly abolish them, perhaps, but in the very near future theyre going to make it officially unnecessary to include the name of a county when you address an envelope to your aunt in Somerset or your cousin in Hertfordshire or your bookmaker in Norfolk. Even now, you dont actually need to include the county name but in future itll probably be a criminal offence leading to official disgrace and a public flogging with A4 envelopes.
The only things youll have to remember each time you dig out the Basildon Bond are the name of the person to whom youre writing and their post code. Thats all. Street names, house names, the names of towns and villages and, above all, the name of the county will become superfluous, de trop, unnecessary, unwanted even.
You see what it means? The names of our counties, names like Suffolk which go back more than a thousand years, will slowly wither on the vine and one day will be no more. Ask a child where he comes from and he will be able to pipe only something like Please, miss, XY13 ABC, miss. Ask the child about the East Saxons or the South Folk and he will be able to do no more than gawp open-mouthed before going back to his Playstation to kill more space invaders or crash more Formula 1 cars.
Once upon a time, when you were about the same age as that child, you used to write your name and address inside the front of your new Biggles or Famous Five book, an address which began with the name or number of your house, went on to specify the county and then went still further to list Europe, The World, the Milky Way, Space, The Universe. Remember?
Well, I have an idea.
If the dark day comes when people start addressing letters to you with no more than your name and post code on the envelope, send the letter back with Address Not Known scrawled across the front. When people chase you and they will, especially if they want some money out of you give them a proper address to get their teeth into.
First, let them have your name and the name or number of your house, followed by the name of the street outside your front door. So far, fair enough.
Then, give the name of your town or village but use the Domesday Book spelling, if possible. In that way, Ipswich becomes Gyppeswick, Sudbury becomes Suthberie and Lowestoft turns into Lothu Wistoft.
In the next line, give the name of your hundred, that old pre-Norman administrative area devised by the Saxons. Suffolk has some splendid names of hundreds, among them Blything and Bosmere, Colneis, Loes, Mutford, Plomesgate and the echoing trio of Thingoe, Thredling and Thedwestry.
Finally, add to your address The Kingdom of East Anglia, The Danelagh and youve got em.
You can then stick on Europe and The World and The Universe to your hearts content, secure in the knowledge that at least youve established the reality of where you live as a place with a name and a history that are unique to that one bit of geography and deserve to be remembered.
And youll get a lot less junk mail, too.