Thursday 27 December 2007

What will you send?

There are so many arguments against identity cards that I could easily write down one a day for the next year. But I’ll just stick to a single objection for now: the fact that almost every attempt to deal with databases puts me in imminent danger of apoplexy.

You’ll have noticed that it’s just about impossible these days to tell a company your name and address. They’ll want you to provide just your postcode and house number, then insist that they’ll do the rest. Which is fine if they’re working from an accurate database, but becomes a minor nightmare if they are relying on one which omits your address, or records it incorrectly.

I live in a little group of nine houses that share the same postcode; eight of them have numbers and the ninth has a silly and rather demeaning name, along the lines of The Hovel.

Most of the comprehensive databases of UK addresses in common use record my house correctly. Some of them do not recognize the existence of my house or any of its numbered neighbours, and assert that the only property with our postcode is The Hovel. Others, in the interests of equity, take precisely the opposite approach and list the numbered houses but wipe The Hovel off the map (which might, it has to be said, be no bad thing).

As a result of this multi-layered incompetence, some organizations insist on sending me mail with the first line of my address missing completely. These include two credit card companies, whose bills seem to get through unfailingly despite this omission, which I have drawn to their attention on numerous occasions to precisely zero effect. Other bodies which persistently get my address wrong include, amusingly enough, Northumberland County Council. How I wish that their invaluable magazine about what a cracking job they are doing could get lost as a result of this, but it never does.

The thing that annoys me most, however, is that from time to time letters for me are wrongly addressed to The Hovel, while other companies address things intended for the Hovel-dwelling family to me. So long as our regular postman is at work, this presents no problem as he uses his initiative and is guided by the name on the letter rather than the address. However, from time to time I receive a misdirected letter and have to walk 400 yards or so, muttering to myself, in order to put it through the correct door. It’s not much of an imposition, to be sure, but there is an issue of principle here.

My career is now on a sufficiently sharp downward trajectory for me to have to recognize that I may well have to “downshift” before too long. If I am still alive in five years’ time, it would not surprise me in the least to find myself living somewhere with a name like The Little Cottage or The Old Caravan. But I am enough of a snob to be sure that I would always draw the line at moving into a house called The Hovel.

So whenever a communication addressed to me at The Hovel gets delivered, I make a point of returning it to the sender with a covering note politely pointing out their error. This sometimes does the trick. However, there is one particular organization that has been seriously trying my patience for the last year. I’ve written to them three times, and I’ve also rung them up on several occasions for good measure. Every time I’ve spoken to them, someone has read out my correct address from their database and said that they really can’t understand how things are being sent out addressed to The Hovel, and assuring me that there in no way that the error will ever recur.

Today I received another letter from them, addressed to The Hovel. It contained a free gift to thank me for being such a good customer, so I suppose it might have been a bit ungracious to send it back, as I did, with a note saying that this was the last straw and asking them to close my account and never write to me ever again.

And the name of these people who simply cannot get the message? Well, that’s the funny thing. They call themselves Royal Mail.

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