My Kingdom for a Postcode

8th October 2013

Looking back, it is hard to define what made it so compelling.

Was it simply that it stood there, picturesquely, amongst grass and hedges, framed by the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks? Or perhaps that there was little else of human creation to attract attention? Or maybe the explanation is more prosaic – that I needed to water its hinterlands, and confused my motivation with interest in this particular, byroad object?

Whatever the allure, forces demanded that I stop my bike. And so I did.

One cannot create divine images with an iPhone, even if the tool itself has acquired the lustre of divinity. Nonetheless, I sought deftly to compose the photograph which told the story my mind saw.

For this was not simply a postbox. It seemed to channel a certain verité about our convulsing, febrile country. This country that refuses to stand still, whose truth seems to be ever-obscured by the pace of its change.

The pillar’s vibrant green had already seen days of vibrant red; I could see the GR (George Rex) of the British postal system, erased palimpsestically, transmuted into its Irish cousin. But now, both symbols of government lay in splendid dereliction; out of service.

Its tilt to the right surely also told a story. I resisted a prosaic explanation: a reversing trailer; an errant teenage motorist… No. I fancied I was observing the tilt of time. This proud postbox had held and held, until slowly, it leaned. Tired of all of its duties. Tired of rejecting all of the those small packets. Of accepting Letters Only.

Today, the Irish government has announced that the nation will switch to a 7-character alpha-numeric postcode system by 2015.

The decision means that Ireland will move from being the only nation in the OECD without a postcode system for postal deliveries to being the first nation in the world with a unique identifier for every dwelling and premises.

Such is the grip of progress – we are suddenly leap-frogged into leader position.

It reminds me of the so called ‘third world’ rung of nations which, having failed to erect complicated and expensive fixed-line telephony, found themselves running much of their lives and economy through mobile phones just like that. Indeed, Africans today are more likely to have Facebook accounts than they are email addresses, as mobile phones and smartphones have rendered expensive laptops redundant.

I am strangely non-plussed by our Irish dance into the leading edge of postcode-ery.

Something in me wants to hold back, to wallow in those ridiculous addresses down the country which demand local knowledge of a town-land, and a Masters degree in Private Investigation. Apparently 30% of the nation does not currently have a unique written address, thus forcing precision off the envelope and into the heads of much under-appreciated postal workers.

Nostalgia can be, I freely admit, a tool of social tyranny. Its cloak is usually desired for others, not for oneself.

I have on occasion met despondent Americans touring Ireland, dearly wishing those pesky motorways and clothing franchises away.

‘Why can’t it be like it used to be? I don’t want Ireland to be just another American mall!’

I myself felt despondent for a whole afternoon when I read that the county of Leitrim was to get its first set of traffic lights.

That was in 2003.

I must confess that I was not aware that Leitrim was bereft of red, orange and greenery. But once I knew, I was willing to go on a march to keep traffic lights out, out, out. Sure what would Leitrim be wanting with those?

So here we are, on the brink of Irish postcode efficiency. Apparently, the well-established Dublin codes will still be detectable in the new postcode system, signalled by the first three characters i.e. D01 XXXX, D02 XXXX, D03 XXXX, D04 XXXX… The Irish people – being human – have always sought to codify belonging – be it by hailing from Cork, or the Northside, or D4. We are about to get 9,999,999 further possible ways to create new groupings to which we can belong, or un-belong.

Indeed, because the new codes will carry four letters in them as well as three digits, that figure is grossly under-estimated. One would need a Masters in statistics to figure out its upper limit.

It will be interesting to watch it creep in; micro-areas of cities and counties being given preferential rates on insurance, zones of town-lands being categorised as desirable or otherwise. There will likely be unintended consequences, as well as intended efficiencies.

I do not resent the postcode progress. On the contrary, it is, of course, the right thing to do.

And yet, emotionally, the introduction of seven-character brevity comes with cost attached.

Just like the crooked postbox standing amid the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, our bokety old postal address system stood for something.

A little of what we are is once again painted over, and we must ride further down the byroad, in search of our living soul.

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