Oliff’s Life with Richard Oliff

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I often meet the same postman as I plod around one of the many beautiful villages that nestle in the Welland valley.

We acknowledge each other with a nod and a smile and move on. It was only recently that I was reminded just how difficult life might be without our postal service.

I’m not talking about the myriad of business-to-business courier companies that seemed to appear from nowhere in the 1980s: DHL (Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn), TNT (Thomas Nationwide Transport), Federal Express et al. They serve a function, yet nevertheless, not quite the expected door-to-door service that the Royal Mail still provides.

Another reason for making full use of our local post offices: use them or lose them.

Throughout the years
there have been many modifications affecting our relationship with our postal service, not least of which have been the changes to delivery times and pricing. For example, if I were to say to my parents that it now costs 60p for a first-class stamp I can almost hear my dad recoiling, as he would, at the very suggestion that it would ever cost 12 shillings to post a letter!

Yet in every town and
village in Britain the traditional red postbox can still be found, standing like a little soldier exactly where it was put during the reign of a particular sovereign.

Even many of the traditional red telephone boxes couldn’t defy modern requirement in the face of technological advancement, yet, purely because of its simplicity of purpose, the red postbox remains as testament that not everything has to change for the sake of change.

Time stands still for 
these often beautifully inscribed cast-iron pillar boxes that understandably go largely unnoticed purely because of their ever-present familiarity. In the western isles of Scotland I came across a pillar box that inspired the writing of this article.

When one sees ‘EllR’ one immediately knows that it is a reference to our current Queen of 60 years. I once had occasion to be strolling down by the tiny harbour in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull looking for a postbox that I might send a handful of postcards home.

As usual the monarch’s initials were largely displayed, but this one was different and rare. This ‘E.R’ referred to a king that was never crowned: ‘EVlllR’: King Edward the eighth. Sometimes the most familiar can be unpredictably surprising, like some of the architecture at the very top of some of our high street buildings, most of which go largely unnoticed because we rarely look up: there’s normally no reason to look up.

Articles like this in newspapers that never get read because of a pre-judgement of the subject matter. Familiar books in bookcases that rarely see the light of day, remaining largely unread, lost among the many others crammed into tight spaces.

Now try explaining to a child why Queen Victoria’s initials are boldly displayed on a large red metal pillar box.