The Morlocks of Suburbia

It begins gradually, but the effects are permanent, like acid; it leaves scars, the mention of it will cause flashbacks in those who know the horror. Its victims are not society's have-nots, but its never-weres. People who exist in a shadowy realm outside normal life, and look on others with suspicion and, in time, unveiled hatred. Many prowl the streets when average souls are fast asleep. They come to your houses, every night. They bring things with them.

It was from these people that I learnt the true meaning of the phrase "going postal".

Mail workers, other than hapless temps, slide inevitably from irritability to shotgun-wielding misanthropic lunacy over the course of a few decades. What triggers this rage? What could possibly subvert even the most reasonable human being into this benighted state?

Think about it. Take a letter. Ideally, it should have a postcode: in Britain, of the form AA11 1AA. Simple enough. The first bit is the town. EH1-17 for Edinburgh, G1-17 for Glasgow, etc. Surely within the capabilities of anyone, excepting perhaps Richard Littlejohn. The second bit narrows it down to perhaps fifteen doors. But this proves too much for three-quarters of letter-writers. Easiest, and most forgiveable, is to miss off the last bit or all of the postcode; EH1, or just "Edinburgh". Not a problem, generally. But then there are those who miss off strange portions, switch numbers and letters, write the code upsidedown, inside the letter, in Cyrillic or in characters roughly the size of your average quark. They scrawl, oh dear gods, do they scrawl. Four letters and three numbers become a perfectly straight line, or in at least one memorable case, a perfect circle. Numbers become strewn randomly around the address.

Then their insatiable incompetence turns its fangs on the address itself. Sometimes it's too much information - not so much an address as a list of every town, village and person within forty miles of the addressee. Sometimes too little ("Jean down the street" or "Nan"). Sometimes contradictory information: "John Smith, Brixton, Edinburgh, County Laois, Trinidad and Tobago". And sometimes, in exceptional cases, no discernible information at all: "deceased", "Ph sf , - ins" or simply " ". Misspellings become rife; The Kingdome of Fyffe appears menacingly on the horizon. Sometimes, the address can only be considered an impudent challenge. One letter entered suburban legend when it arrived bearing only a stamp and a square, the latter coloured in gold. By some miracle it was correctly delivered to Virgin Radio, 1 Golden Square, London, but the toll on the postal worker's withered tolerance must have been hideous.

It doesn't stop there. Packages are sent out unwrapped, half-wrapped, or covered in an inch-thick layer of sticky tape that attaches itself irreversibly to whichever poor soul first makes contact with it. The address comes off, is repeated nine times with different postcodes on each side of the parcel, or is rendered illegible by corrections. The contents break, shatter, explode, leak and escape, usually in the way most damning of the innocent drudge attempting to sort them. They change addresses halfway through being sorted, and insist on prompt delivery to obsolete, absurdly unspecific or entirely imaginary places. String throttles anyone nearby. Brown paper reduces itself to a fine mist at the slightest touch. Stamps are missing, relics of the nineteenth century, or arrayed in their hundreds to obscure whether or not the correct postage has been paid.

With this blatant declaration of war on the part of the general public, the mail worker's benevolence disappears quicker than the sanity of an African dictator. Soon, parcels are the products of The Adversary, and are judged purely on their aerodynamic properties. Letters are cannon fodder, and disappear down the sides of pigeonholes in their hundreds, to re-emerge years later poorly addressed in Old Icelandic to Atlantis or Mu, generally with the wrong postcode to boot. "Flats", the large letters and magazines, are universally despised for being impossible to hurl accurately, and out of sheer spite the workers let them flap off to utterly erroneous destinations. Sorting becomes a rudimentary form of basketball, and around this carnage rises the ubiquitous hatred of the temps by the regulars, the management by the temps, the regulars by the cleaners and, eventually, the outside world by everyone. Further below this seeps the undercurrent of despair and hitherto unknown forms of boredom, crushing self-respect and warping one's physical form into a nightmare of beards and staring eyes. The Adversary's work is done. Another man is lost.

And still the parcels come.

Have ye no pity?

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