. . . your school teacher writes to congratulate you after thirty years
Perhaps not so extraordinary in itself. Perhaps there are teachers in England who watch the columns of the ‘Daily Telegraph’ to monitor the progress of their old boys and girls. Perhaps there are schools that keep a careful eye on their alumni so as to include appointments in the latest publication of their past pupils’ association. Perhaps my wife’s note of congratulation from a teacher at the school she left in 1980 was in itself not so unusual. Having spent years sitting at the back of classrooms asking awkward questions, it is easier to imagine that teachers would more prefer to have forgotten by the following autumn term than to remember thirty years on.
. . . and the post office delivers the letter with a guessed address
Once, while living in Co Down, a letter came addressed to ‘Rev Ian Poulton, Rector of Bright, Co Down’, which seemed a great achievement by the post office, given that Bright is a crossroads with two houses, one of which is the Rectory, and does not appear on road maps. The magic of feat was dispelled by someone pointing out that the other house at the crossroads had once been a post office for the scattered community and an old hand in the sorting office would straightaway have known where to send the letter.
Last week’s note was an altogether greater achievement. “Canon Katharine Poulton, The Rectory, Saint George and Saint Thomas’ Church, Dublin” appeared on the envelope.
The church is in the city centre, off O’Connell Street; its rectory is in Drumcondra, on the north side of the city, though there is no reason why anyone in a sorting office would have been aware of either location. Neither location is near our house, eight miles south of the city, yet a letter posted in Belfast last Monday evening was here on Thursday morning. There were no extra postmarks, indicating it had been through various sorting offices, no suggestions hand written on the envelope by postmen, such as ‘Try Killiney Avenue’. The Dublin sorters got the letter into the right bag for the right walk simply from the name, its delivery no slower than is routine.
Ireland is still a place where it would be hard to be anonymous. Meeting a man called ‘Ernie’ in Austria, who talked about his filling station in Co Armagh, it took only moments to find on the web his full name and his address and his telephone number. He might be disconcerted at how easy it was to identify him.
If there are not friends of friends who know each other, it would be unusual for people not to know at least a few places in common. Sometimes encounters with people are when they are least expected; a colleague holidaying on the Continent met her solicitor in the street. “The last person I wanted to meet”, she muttered. Being honest, I cannot even remember the name of the solicitor who handles our business in England.
While the creation of ‘communities’ on the internet seems possible, virtual friendships and social networking are not like living in a country that is a community to the extent that the postman can deliver your mail without an address, even if it does mean that everyone also knows your business, and where you are moving next.