In the world of design it often seems to be the, apparently simple, everyday objects that fare the worst. Umbrellas, for example. Or letterboxes. Unless you have spent hours going door to door delivering leaflets or catalogues, you probably wouldn’t believe how many ways there are to get letterbox design wrong.
Who is the sadist who designs doors with letterboxes 4 cm from ground level? It takes two hands to get a flimsy letter or leaflet through any letterbox with its flaps still attached. Does the designer of these low down nightmares take delight in seeing the poor postie having to kneel on wet or icy ground to use them? The alternative being to try bending double in a fashion that almost guarantees being signed off with back problems for the next six weeks.
There are the draughty letterboxes which let in so much cold air, or flap noisily in the slightest breeze that their demented owners are driven to tape, Blue-tack or even glue them shut. (Never mind the owners who don’t want to receive the overdue bills or the court summons and who go to creative lengths ranging from screws or nails to large pieces of wood to render the letterbox unusable!)
Some letterboxes are designed to prevent even the strongest wind from creating a draught. They are also apparently designed to be near impossible to post anything through. Should you persist in trying to lever them open sufficiently to post your leaflet through the external flap, you then have to negotiate a row of bristles as tough and inflexible as a wire brush. Pushing your by now concertinaed leaflet through these you will then encounter the internal flap which feels as if it is nailed shut, but is actually just extraordinarily stiff. Barely holding back a shout of triumph, you eventually get the leaflet through this final obstacle and pull your hand back out! Only to find that where you once had fingernails, you now have bleeding and throbbing bare fingertips, the letterbox flap having closed firmly on the withdrawing fingers, removing large sections of fingernail in the process.
Speaking of flaps, there is one design, common on newer housing, that excludes draughts by having the flap fitted tightly and completely flush into its surround. The tiny indent designed to enable the flap to be lifted open requires the application of a carefully shaped fingernail which has been cultivated for several weeks, or alternatively, the tip of the penknife you always carry, boy-scout fashion, in your back pocket.
Then there are the unusually small or large letterboxes. The smallest ones, invariably in the oldest doors, rejecting any but the tiniest of hand written nineteenth century letters. The largest ones designed to take even the fattest supermarket catalogue, but which will also generously accommodate the open mouth of the rottweiler who sits in absolute silence behind the door until precisely the moment when your fingers enter the letterbox. At this point all hell lets loose, and unless you have lightening reactions you are likely to exit with substantially fewer fingers than you arrived with.
There are letterboxes which appear to be made from recycled utility knife blades. There are those which at a mere glance disintegrate into pieces or remove themselves altogether from the door, landing on the hall floor fitted snugly around your catalogue like an engagement ring. There are those with flaps which are taped together, missing or have all sorts of creative home made hinge replacements. Screws and nails are common, I’ve also encountered a pencil and a broken piece of fishing rod.
Then there are the hidden postboxes. Often placed round the side of the porch completely out of view, and sometimes in a flat white plastic identical to the panel they are fixed in, they are rendered entirely invisible.
Some houses have wire cages behind the door to collect the post. Unfortunately the designer of these did not consider the logistics of trying to bend telephone directories around right-angled corners.
Other householders, usually those with dogs who will victoriously eat any threatening, letter-shaped intruder that has the temerity to enter their territory via the letterbox, resort to a variety of external postboxes. The purchased varieties have either a top opening lid or a front flap. Those with the top lid happily accept most catalogues or directories, unless someone has already posted a couple of letters, or worse still a newspaper, in them, in which case anything else is prevented from entering. Those with the front flaps have the same design fault as the cages (only worse) in that anything you post in them has to be bent around a tight corner. The average phone directory goes about 6cm before getting stuck, leaving the rest at the mercy of the weather. Both designs funnel any rain straight into the letterbox via the incompletely inserted, plastic-wrapped directory, ensuring that any post already in there gets entirely destroyed before the owners get home to retrieve it.
The home made versions are usually cavernous wooden boxes featuring fronts that open completely so that all but the largest parcel can be left in the dry. As the door will have no way of shutting properly, the parcel can, of course, be equally easily be removed by any light-fingered passerby.
Some house owners clearly resent anyone setting foot on their property even to deliver mail or visit. Their gates will be double padlocked and chained. The bell is by the front door some 10M inside the locked gate. Standing outside wondering how on earth to deliver their post, you might eventually notice an external postbox. This is, however, fitted to the inside of the perimeter wall nearly a metre from the gate. A series of athletic contortions involving bruising, a dislocated shoulder and a piece of branch broken from a nearby bush may possibly enable you to lodge the post inside the postbox. Failure, however, will result in the post landing hidden behind a thorny bush, where it will remain unreachable, muddy and covered in leaves until the gardener cuts back the bushes and piles the cuttings, leaves and by now slug-eaten post on the bonfire next Autumn.