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Bit of an odd one this, even by my high standards. I do so like to keep my readers on their toes.

Has it ever occurred to you that every time you send anything by post, any letter or postcard or parcel or billet doux, you confuse the postman? You do, honestly. Unwittingly, you create havoc.

It’s because of the convention we use when we address correspondence. Here’s my address when I lived at home in Oldham.

Mr Duncan Swallow

20 Chester Street

Oldham

Lancashire

OL9 7BD

It’s very confusing. Why? Because we read from the top of the page to the bottom. So the most important information, the general idea of where this should be going, should appear first. Then it should get more and more speicific. It should, shouldn’t it? It’s how they name cars. You’d never buy a car called a 440 Charger Dodge. You want to know first and foremost that it’s a Dodge. You’re a Mopar man to the very depths of your soul. You don’t want to read to the end to find that it’s a Chevrolet, the work of Satan, do you?

In the UK, the Royal Mail sorts things by postcode first. Hence from their point of view, they’d really like the postcode first. OL9 7BD tells them the general area the item is going to. They ignore the county, so there’s no real point in adding it, but we all do as a source of regional pride. They ignore it. So, general area. Then logically you need to narrow things down a bit. The street name should be next. Then the number, because that’s the next level of information you need. Finally, the recipient’s name, in this case mine, which really isn’t much help at first for getting to the right address to make the delivery.

Logically that address should read:

OL9 7BD

Lancashire (not needed but nice)

Oldham

Chester Street

20

Swallow

Duncan

It should, shouldn’t it? From the general to the specific is logical, the way we do it in real life isn’t.

It’s even worse in the US, with their slightly ridiculous and very confusing addresses. I used to have real trouble navigating in the US, because most of the streets and avenues have numbers, not names. It was alien to my way of thinking. But think about how it’s done.

Mr Lee Roy Fuckwit

20130 W259th

Gatorville

South Carolina

SC66666

We know if we read backwards where Lee Roy lives. But we do have to read backwards to get this information. It’s a specific bit of South Carolina, defined by the zipcode. It’s Gatorville. It’s on West 259th, the house number (or trailer park number in this instance) is 20130. And the addressee is a Fuckwit, first names of Lee Roy.

It should logically be:

SC66666

South Carolina (again, not needed but gives a nice fuzzy sensation of belonging somewhere)

W259

20130

Fuckwit

Lee Roy

In fact, if the people who assign postcodes and zipcodes get it right, you need only the postcode or zipcode and a house number or name. Just out of idle curiosity, I once sent myself a letter addressed to

OL9 7BD

20

It got straight to me in just one day.

I realise this may be one of those things that causes you to lose sleep. Nor me. But when I have lost sleep, this is one of those anomalies that makes me ponder.