Friday, April 4, 2008

The lamentable letterboxes of Latchford

Up in the further reaches of Dublin 15, between the townlands of Rosedale and Ravenswood and nestling in the foothills of the old and now deserted Hansfield Road, lies the quiet and ancient township of Latchford.
It is said that residents can trace their history back to 2004 when a merchant called EP Lynam first had the vision to turn a barren and featureless field into a strong and vibrant community and embarked on a plan of building that would be undreamt of today. Quite why he decided to name the estate after a bearded Everton centre-forward of the 1970s is unfortunately lost in the mists of time but certainly modern day Latchfordians are proud of their heritage.
Latchford has been called “The Zurich of the North,” particularly by those who have visited both places and have commented on the similarity and indeed the resemblance is striking. Both have roads and houses and footpaths and green areas and enjoy an almost winsome mix of apartments and semi-detached and terraced housing, so the moniker is well-founded, though perhaps Zurich’s financial district is slightly larger.
Every fortnight I have the pleasure of visiting this delightful estate in order to relay the tidings, glad and otherwise, contained in this very newspaper. In days of yore, naturally, this would be done by a stout man with a very large voice and a bell, shouting out “Hear ye! Hear ye!” in the middle of the village green, but sadly my bell lost its clapper a while back and I got special dispensation from the editor to simply post a copy of the paper through every letterbox. That’s modern technology for you.
As newspaper rounds go, Latchford is pretty okay. The doors are close together and thankfully there are no garden walls to treble the distance around the estate. With a fair breeze and a good head of steam, I can give every resident his or her fix of community news in around one hour.
However, despite all its fine attributes, its honest, hard-working citizens, its picturesque and homely street layout, its sturdy yet attractive housing and the stunning view towards the hedgerows of Ongar, Latchford appears to be deficient in one specific area – its letterboxes.
Most of us, I am sure, take letterboxes for granted. They are there as a decorative means of blocking the draught that would otherwise surge through the rectangular hole in the front door. A letterbox is a letterbox, as Iago cunningly tells Desdemona in “Othello.”
The lamentable letterboxes of Latchford, however, are different.
They are as much use as sunglasses in a coalmine.
Oh sure, they look the same as any other letterbox, rectangular and brassy and possessing that enigmatic glint when caught in the sun’s fleeting rays, but the proportion of houses that have defective letterboxes is quite staggering. This of course has gone unreported for many years but the inclusion of the Letterbox section in the next census will doubtless shed light on this whole murky affair.
I must admit I am only viewing these sorry pieces of door furniture from an on-street perspective. I have no idea as to the condition of these letterboxes hall-side as posting newspapers is generally a task performed al fresco.
A lot of houses simply have no letterbox on the outside, merely a rectangular strip of rubber. Whether the letterbox blew away in a storm or was purloined by the hares that bound suspiciously around the field at the rear of the estate or simply melted in heavy rain, I have no idea. In some cases, the delinquent contraption lies forlornly on the window ledge, pleading to be reattached to the front door. (Incidentally, a note to any apprentice newspaper deliverers – do not try to post through these letterboxes, as there is no corresponding hole in the window ledge)
Some letterboxes have been ingeniously reattached with what Buzz Lightyear called “unidirectional bonding strip” (or “sellotape”) or masking tape. Others have been carefully balanced back into position so that, though they look perfectly sturdy, glancing sideways at them causes them to fall off. As I was delivering to one house for the last edition, the whole letterbox came away in my hand and I was suddenly affronted by one of those Game of Scruples type moments when the thought flashed through my mind that perhaps I should just place it on the windowsill and walk away quickly. Thankfully the prophet Elijah appeared to me in a dream and I heeded his advice and gingerly replaced the offending article as I had found it.
Strangely, not every house has been affected by this curious phenomenon. There are still many houses that boast sturdy letterboxes, grinning intactly (?) from their proud vantage points, oblivious to the mayhem that surrounds them. However, many of these have a rough edge on their bottom lip, which rubs against your hand when inserting a newspaper.
After the first time I had completed the round, my hand resembled one of those roughly chopped hunks of meat which zookeepers throw to the lions and I have since been obliged to purchase one chain-mail armour-plated glove to complete the round as per current health and safety guidelines.
I have been doing some research into what Doctor Watson would doubtless call “The Curious Case of the Latchford Letterboxes” and have come up with three possible explanations for this sad state of affairs.
Firstly, EP Lynam, hardworking and honest merchant that he was, was sold a dud consignment of letterboxes. Apparently there have been a lot of fraudsters operating in the letterbox trade in recent times and it is possible that several have moved to our shores for tax reasons. It is hard to believe that EP could have been hoodwinked by charlatans but they might have caught him at a weak moment.
Secondly, and equally unlikely, is that the lad who affixed the letter boxes was in a hurry to get home and listen to his new Lionel Ritchie CD and cut a few corners (not literally.) Maybe he used insufficient glue or glue of an inferior quality or glue for indoor use only – a classic case of spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar, though a ha’penny doesn’t buy you much tar in today’s market.
Thirdly and much more likely is the uncorroborated tale I heard fourth hand from a friend of someone who once drove somebody past Latchford. Apparently a fair damsel approached Mr Lynam and asked him if she could purchase one of his houses. After lengthy and protracted negotiations, he refused her on the grounds that she “hadn’t any money.” Flying into a rage, she turned into an ugly old hag with a hooked nose and a pointed black hat and screeched, “A curse on you, Lynam. From henceforth, all your letterboxes shall in time wither and fall off! Yea, even those of your children and your children’s children! And I shall hide all but two of the letters of your first name in a place where nobody shall ever find them, except maybe an amorous prince a hundred years from now!”
Of course, this is only rumour, but it does appear that Latchford’s lamentable letterboxes have been bewitched in a way not seen since the great Castleknock garden gnome hex of the late 1700s, when 40 of these six inch figures ran away to Benidorm and set themselves up as property developers.
In the meantime, I will keep you posted.

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