Stepping into Errigal Road Post Office, I bought a book of ten stamps for national use. “That will be €11, sir,” said the cheery man behind the counter.
Post offices were once the gateway to happiness and adventure. They enabled communication that was otherwise not possible.
I remember booking holidays in France by post, using international reply coupons that could be bought in a post office. The coupons enabled writing to someone with an address in a foreign country and for the person to reply by using the coupon to buy the necessary stamp in a post office in their own country.
International mail was rare enough and there was always a moment tinged with excitement when a letter arrived from France with its continental number sevens and the surname in upper case letters. Receiving a letter confirming holiday arrangements would make it doubly welcome.
Post offices were ingenious in allowing people to communicate. The poste restante system allowed one to send a letter to a post office where it might be collected by its intended recipient at some future undetermined date. Poste restante was the stuff of adventure stories; intrepid travellers calling at the post office in some small town in some remote country and collecting mail dating back months.
Moving to Bright, a small parish in Co Down the summer of a holiday booked by post, a friend in Belfast had no idea of the new address, but wrote on the envelope, Ian Poulton c/o Bright Post Office, Co Down. Bright Post Office had closed years previously, but its absence was no obstacle to the postman who delivered the letter the day after it was postmarked in Belfast.
How many years more will there be a post office of the sort that can supply international reply coupons, provide poste restante services, and deliver letters with unlikely addresses? Electronic communication is fine, but there are things it cannot do.
How would it be possible to enable someone without access to email to respond in a post-coupon age? Where could mail be sent in hopeful anticipation that someone might call and collect it at some point in the future? How effective could an email system possibly be in trying to guess the possible address of an intended recipient?
Electronic technology cannot match human ingenuity for flexibility or imagination. The day when there is no longer someone to push a letter through the box will be a day when communication takes a step backwards.