Apart from people, letterboxes are the most pedestrian sights on any street.  Without a  second glance we walk past  every one except our own, which is perhaps the way things should be.  But like everything else  post-digital, letter boxes are no longer the proud receptacles of mail – handwritten letters, invitations, birthday  cards and their  more sombre messages of condolence.

Their very appearance suggests a faded pre-eminence right there at the front gate. But when you’re part of a junk mail run you begin to notice that letterboxes  assume a whole new level  of  importance.

In short they get the respect they  once had before  the  barrage of  digital missives, because  you have to befriend them,  persuade, push and otherwise heave them through resistant slits while keeping an eye out for dogs.

Letterboxes aren’t surrendering their position easily. They have literally weathered the communications revolution,  gone forth and multiplied.  Once they  stood alone,  and  open-mouthed as they awaited the Postie. Now they’re forced to line up with  up to half a dozen others of their kin – whole arrays of letterboxes owned by  new neighbours.  It’s what happens when one house with the fabled quarter acre section is removed and replaced by three to four units.

There’s nothing friendly about  them  either.  On our junk journey we found warnings like ‘NO JUNK MAIL!’. Or  on the  older, weathered boxes, a  more specific request:  ‘No Advertising  Material Please’. More genteel than  either, is  an older supplication: Only Addressed Mail. Thing is, when you’re  on a junk run you tend to ignore all those warnings.

Our  journey was  marked as much  by neighbourly chat as hostile signs and impregnable key-locked letterboxes. Some locals were delighted to take  our junk and spend  time talking – and in the process learning more about the neighbourhood.

We’d just pamphleted a little known, reclusive Close, when a  woman out gardening  told us that all the homes there were once part of a very grand homestead, complete with a tennis court. So even then, change took care of that grandeur, though the homes there now are well established and discreetly affluent.

We also discovered how modern changes, open door immigration and technology had affected our area. In gap-toothed streets where villas and bungalows once stood, downright un-neighbourly infill housing stands, and there are all the signs of  neighbours in retreat – from the world and each other. Two metre high fences are common,  along with cameras, keypads, mikes positioned for visitor ID and all the  other paraphernalia designed to check entry to properties. Remote controlled gates  are almost standard and among them was one egregious example  – a thick, solid iron version.

Much of this represents a suburban paranoia, fuelled by perceptions of rising crime levels. But NZ Police Crime statistics reveal a dramatic fall in burglaries:  ‘In 2017, there were an estimated 1,401,840 burglaries, a decrease of 7.6 percent when compared with 2016 data. The number of burglaries decreased 27.4 percent when compared with 2013 data and was down 37.1 percent when compared with the 2008 estimate’ said the report.

That’s a whopping decrease, but it hasn’t stopped the erection of high fences and the installation of increased security by homeowners – and they begin with a keyed letterbox –  the ultimate rejection to junk mailers like us.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.