Post used to mean what you receive in the mail. It still does, of course, but you wouldn’t know it from the internet. Search for post or posts or posted, you get forums and blogs. Much like this one. Search for mail, you get email.
Which partly explains why I can’t find any internet-based references for the anecdote on which this post (bah) is based. But I know I’ve heard it somewhere.
Anyway, the anecdote, such as it is, is that the writer GK Chesterton never posted his letters in a letterbox. He wrote them, put them in an envelope, stamped the envelope, and threw the envelope out of the window, on the assumption that any half-decent passer-by would pick it up and pop it in a letterbox for him. Apparently he never had a letter go astray.
(Update: it turns out the reason why I couldn’t find anything is because it was PG Wodehouse who did this. D’oh, as I would say if I was the kind of person who says that. Thanks ElizabethW!)
I have long wondered if this method would still work, and suddenly it seemed a good time to find out. (Before the act of writing or receiving a physical letter becomes merely a folk tale we tell our children during those long winter nights when the googlechip in our heads has malfunctioned.) So I wrote and ‘unposted’ five letters, to see what happened.
In the process of doing this various considerations arose that
probably never bothered Chesterton. I started to worry about my potential passer-by. Would I be causing someone inconvenience? They’d see the letter, think ‘Aha, I am a good citizen, I shall post this stray letter,’ but then they’d forget and find it in a bag two weeks later and be racked with guilt. Maybe it would be the last straw and they’d abandon their lives and go to work with orphans in the Third World. Although that might be a good thing, of course Complicated.
And also, weather. I could hardly leave a letter out in the rain: it wouldn’t last long enough to be rescued. And I couldn’t literally throw my letters out of my front window, as Chesterton allegedly did. They’d end up in my driveway and get run over by our car.
So I decided to leave them on my high street. One went in a flower bed and another on a windowsill of a local bank. But then I began to worry that if I left a third one on the same street, people would start wondering what was going on. Maybe I’d see an article in one of our local blogs headed ‘Mysterious Envelope Littering – Who Would Do Such a Thing?’ and the police would get involved and I’d be arrested for wilfully failing to put letters in a letter box. Ok, possibly not, but nevertheless I decided to widen my field. I left my third letter in the next suburb along from mine, and the fourth near my local hospital. The fifth, experimentally, I left in Central London, on the window sill of some posh office near the Ritz in Piccadilly.
So, the results. Of the four letters I ‘unposted’ in my local area of South-West London, all four arrived at their destination the next day. (I’d previously enlisted some London-based friends to be recipients of letters and to report back.) Of the one I posted in Piccadilly, there has been no sign.
Conclusion, and I use the word in a very loose sense as this has been the world’s tiniest experiment: unposting works, provided you live in a reasonably friendly suburb and pick a dry day. On the whole, I’d probably just use a letterbox, but it’s good to know there are options out there should you have a phobia of letterboxes. Although if you do have a phobia of letterboxes, I’d probably just stick to sending emails if I were you.