Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Amazing envelopes

I read this great little piece on Harriet Russell in The Telegraph (Horatia Harrod). I copied it below.

As family traditions go, it's unusual. But Harriet Russell is only the latest in her family to seek to amaze and befuddle the men and women of the Royal Mail. Her great-great-great grandfather, Henry Ponsonby, was an eminent Victorian - a veteran of the Crimean War, private secretary to the Queen - who also had a hobby of embellishing the envelopes of the letters he sent with whimsical pictures. The addresses would appear as signposts in snowstorms or as huge envelopes shouldered by tiny people.

Russell's approach was more challenging. Over the course of a year, from her flat in Glasgow, she sent herself 130 envelopes with addresses in the form of anagrams, crosswords, tests for colour blindness, dot-to-dot puzzles, cartoons. The first one she sent was in mirror writing, and when it arrived back at her flat - in the same time it takes for a normal letter to arrive - she knew that somewhere at the Glasgow Mail Centre, someone had enjoyed her work. So she pressed on.

Although she worried about the project at times - 'I thought I might get a letter saying, please stop wasting our time by doing this,' she told me - there were many sustaining little victories. She never met any of her accomplices at the Post Office, but they seemed to be enjoying the game. The crossword she sent out was returned, filled-in, with the proud comment on the back, 'Solved by the Glasgow Mail Centre'. And ultimately only 10 of the letters she sent didn't make it back, among them a particularly testing anagrammatic one, and several that lacked a postcode (the key to getting any letter delivered, she learnt).

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