The Curious Case of the Missing Letter Boxes

Having recently found myself in the UK with a dodgy Internet connection and e-mails on strike in the Outbox I finally decided to resort to that Old Faithful, The Royal Mail.

I was in Manchester city centre. Looking round for those iconic British symbols, those big shiny can’t-miss-it red cylinders beloved of photo-snapping tourists, I had a strange sense that something was amiss. Not a red cylinder in sight. Where had they all gone?

Come to think of it, there weren’t any red double-deckers either. There were red, white and orange ones. And blue, white and orange ones. What about red phone boxes?

Allo Allo?
Allo Allo?

Well, I did spot one, in between a red, white and orange bus and a blue, white and orange bus, but you had to climb over a barrier to get to it. The barrier was red.

In fact the Council was big on colourful barriers. Roads were being dug up everywhere and turned into mazes built of giant bits of red Lego.



Not a letter box. But nice bee.
Not a letter box. But nice bee.

There were also numerous litter-bins. These were a shiny black with pretty gold bees on them.

At the end of Day 1, the letter was at the bottom of my handbag, creased, with something sticky on it. I didn’t investigate too closely, but chances are it was a bit of drizzle from a Marks and Spencers lemon drizzle cake.

Day 2, having de-stickied the envelope and flattened it under a book–it was to the bank, mustn’t give a bad impression–I set out to find the elusive scarlet cylinder. Ah! Just round that corner. No, it was a wheelie bin. A red wheelie bin. By lunchtime I’d bumped into several people–me head up scanning the horizon, them head down scanning text messages–and narrowly missed being sliced into salami by a fearsome Manchester tram. It was time for refreshment.

Over another piece of lemon drizzle cake in Marks and Spencers tearoom (when in Rome) I pondered the problem. What did Holmes say? When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Impossible to imagine that no-one posts letters any more. A covert inspection of my fellow cake-munchers was enough to convince me that there were those among them who were definitely not sending e-cards to wish Great Grand Son Dwayne a Happy Birthday.

Ergo, a) the government, in a devious plot to make the UK a paperless society, had gone in for a campaign of subtle dissuasion, painting all the letter boxes grey to blend in with the sky while sowing confusion by painting barriers and wheelie bins letter-box- red or b) somebody had stolen them all.

Back outdoors, changing tactics, I tackled a lady with a shopping bag and an air of local knowledge.

‘Excuse me, do you happen to know if there’s a letter box near here?’

‘A letter box?’

Her reply was on a par with the great Edith Evans riposte ‘A haaaandbaaag??’

OK, I’ve been out of England for a while, but surely the language hasn’t changed that much? Were they now calling them something else? I was beginning to think I’d  been abducted by aliens and was now on Planet Letterboxless.

Whipping the grubby envelope out of my bag I waved it in front of her.

Her face lit up.

‘Ee, she’s broken a record today, she has.’


We both gazed at the stamp, bearing the regal profile of our beloved monarch. It was September 9th.

‘Ay. Beaten Queen Victoria, longest reigning monarch. She’s in Scotland today, opening a railway, saw her on the news. Looking right smart she was. She’s a hard worker, I’ll give her that.’

We enjoyed a pleasant discussion about the stabilising role of the monarchy. I omitted to tell her I lived in a country where they’d beheaded their lot. Just when I was wondering if I’d have to show my credentials and join in a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen my interlocutor noticed the time and said a hasty farewell.

I like Manchester. I might have said that before.

Oh, and I did find my letter box in the end.

A lonely survivor?
A lonely survivor?

It was hidden inside the Post Office, behind a machine that takes photographs.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the letter boxes in Manchester.”

“There are no letter boxes in Manchester.”

“That is the curious incident.”

Not an exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Gregory in “Silver Blaze”.

Merci! Beaucoup! Perfick!

Just back from a trip to the North, in particular Manchester, a city I have a soft spot for, as may have been mentioned before. True, it has the disadvantage of finding itself on the wrong side of the Pennines, but I suspect one of those tectonic shift things could be at the root of that obvious geographical error. We’ll probably know more in years to come when archaeologists stumble upon prehistoric skulls of Yorkshire hominids in ancient burial chambers at the back of the Manchester United locker room.

But enough of that. My visit provided a fascinating subject for my next blog piece. I shall not however reveal what that will be, except to ask (or sing): ‘where have all the letter- boxes gone?’ Watch this space.

Today’s blog is in fact a ‘Thank You’ card. Two, actually.

Thank You Card No 1: To The Dentist.

Yes I know, not usually top of your ‘thank you’ card list. But this is not just any dentist…

September 10th:

As I was waiting for my regular check-up, chatting to Helen, the ever-cheerful super-cool receptionist, I happened to notice lots of cards on display.

‘Aha!’ I said. ‘Someone’s birthday?’

‘Oh no, those are just thank you cards from patients. Some of them have been there for ages, they probably need a dust.’

O shame on me. How many years have I been a patient at Kissdental, Manchester, the Nirvana of Dentistry, the Eden of Enamel, the Shangri-La of All That Is Teeth? Answer: many. And how many cards have I sent to convey my undying gratitude to all who serve there? Answer: none. So, a huge thank you to Kailesh, Fabergé of Dentists, Transformer of Smiles; to Vicci, Queen of Hygiene and Goddess of Gums, to Helen, afore-mentioned, keeping it all in order, and to all those other members of the team who help to make a visit here as enjoyable as a Champney spa break.

And to anyone reading this who is suddenly turning pale and getting flashing images from ‘Marathon Man’ and ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’, I have the answer. Put yourself in the capable hands of all at Kissdental, lie back, relax and before you leave don’t forget to pop into the bathroom to admire your gleaming gnashers in the mirror.

Thank you Card Number 2: To The Magic Elves.

Having been severely Wi-Fi challenged on my recent travels I was unable to get a good look at the review of ‘Hot Basque’ that appeared on ‘Areadersreviewblog’ on September 3rd.

The articles and book reviews on this site are written by two Magic Elves called Caroline and Tina. I know they are Magic Elves because they both have partners and  children, and are able to juggle washing, ironing, cleaning, school runs, spaghetti-hoop management and candle-lit dinners whilst also devouring huge numbers of books and then writing about them. What I’d like to know is–what are they on? Ginseng? High-dose Vit C? Royal Jelly? Or my very own favourite, a double G and T? Back in Wi-Fi land I’ve been looking more closely at some of their amazing output and I’m not talking three-line-copy-and-paste stuff. Every post is engagingly written, bursting with enthusiasm, and just what readers are looking for when choosing a book.

So, booklovers, sign up, read their reviews and select your next purchase to take with you, for example, when you go for your spa-day at Kissdental. (NB This tip is not for Magic Elf Caroline, who in her 11 amazing facts about herself notes that she has never had a filling…not fair.)

Up to now I have never written a blog piece without some literary reference or other. There is one in here. Clue: look at the title! Think of a ‘darling’ (clue!) character in a wonderful series of books that were turned into a wonderful TV series and featured a ‘budding’ (clue!) new actress who went on to become a Hollywood star.

And, as a prize to anyone guessing the title and author, you can get a free copy of ‘Hot Basque!’ Yes! That’s right, free!

(Actually… it’s free to anybody who wants to download it, starting Friday September 18th until Sunday September 20th  .  😉 Just what you need to transport you to a sunny beach next weekend without the hassle of having to put your sun cream and toothpaste into those little plastic self-seal bags that won’t.)