No junk mail please

IMG00137-20091123-1447 (2)“Crunch crunch crunch” go the trainers on the gravel,
“Clang cling clang” goes the letterbox flap,
“Thump, whoosh, fizzle” go the leaflets on the floor,
Put up a notice if you don’t want them any more.

I’m sure there’s a tune in there somewhere. But does this sound familiar to you? You are sitting quietly at home when you hear footsteps approaching the front door. The next moment a pile of assorted leaflets explodes on your hallway floor sending window cleaners, taxi drivers, pizza deliveries and charity clothing collections into every nook and cranny.

This intrusion can start at dawn and finish well after dusk. For those of us who choose to place the recycling bin under the letterbox every morning as we leave for work, we will probably find it full by the time we get home. The fact is, most of us are the recipients of junk mail. But is there sometimes treasure amongst the junk mail, and when indeed is “junk” mail not as it is described ?

If you live in south-west London or the leafy suburbs of Surrey, the chances are I have delivered junk mail to your door. You see over the last few months I’ve been junk mailing on a part-time basis. It combines one of my favourite pastimes, walking, with one of my essential needs, earning a living. The result is a job called “leaflet distribution”. However leaflet distribution, whichever way you look at it, is just another term for delivering junk mail.
The dictionary describes junk mail as “Post, usually advertising products or services, which is sent to people although they have not asked for it.”

There is no law against distributing it, although there are some hard-to-find guide lines covering the do’s and don’ts when delivering it. But it does raise a moral question.

By way of an illustration, please consider the following scenario. I arrived at the start of a long and winding drive which meandered its way through the vast grounds of a beautiful home. There was no letterbox at the entrance to the drive. I set off determinedly for the front door. What seemed like hours of trekking later I approached the letterbox, hand outstretched, grasping an estate agent’s invitation for a “Market Appraisal” of the charming property onto which the said letterbox was attached. Then I noticed a beautifully made plaque above the highly polished letterbox that clearly stated “No Junk Mail Please”. It was made of solid brass, with engraved lettering and positioned so it couldn’t be missed.

I stopped dead in my tracks. It was a hot day. I was perspiring heavily with the weight of thousands of leaflets on my back and my feet hurt. I had expended a lot of time and energy to get to this point and so I pondered on the moment.

To junk mail or not to junk mail.

I considered my options. If I posted a leaflet through the letterbox, I would have blatantly disregarded the request of the owner. After all, they had gone to the effort of putting the sign there in the first instance. To ignore it would therefore be rude.

I pondered some more. Was this invitation, printed on high quality gloss card, elegantly styled with scripted letters really junk mail? I thought not, for it exuded quality. It said ‘Flex me in your hands. Read me. Go to the phone. Invite us round to your beautiful house, for we are good at what we do. We are nice people. We will sell your house.”

Then I cast my mind back to the gentleman who RSVP’d to my invitation the previous day by throwing open his front door before it had even landed on the mat.

“No joonk merle pliz” he had uttered in his hard-to-place accent, thrusting it back into my hand, glancing at the invitation and directing my attention to the “No Junk Mail” sticker on the letterbox which I had so obviously disregarded; “bleddy estat agence”, he then muttered as he slammed the door. I was left standing on the doorstep feeling undesirable, devious, underhand …confused (a day later and my self-esteem was still deflated like the soles of my trainers).

So, at this moment, and quite possibly because of the heat stroke, I said out loud, “If I was the owner of this house and beautiful brass ‘No Junk Mail Please’ plaque, what would I expect a decent, honest, hard-working ambassador of this splendid firm of estate agents to do in this instance?”.

I instinctively turned round, still clutching the leaflet in my sweaty palm, and started the long trek back to the road; this particular moral question answered. I was now clear on my Junk Mail policy. If there was a “No Junk Mail” sign up, I wouldn’t post the invitation.

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But was my leaflet a “Free Newspaper”? You see, there are plenty of “No Free Newspapers” signs around too. In my book, a leaflet is not a free newspaper. It has no pages, it is much smaller and it does not report on a local stabbing or the threatened closure of the local hospital. Do people put up one of these signs in the belief that it will stop all junk mail, not just free newspapers from being delivered? Because if they do, they shouldn’t, because it won’t.

One pain in my lower backside however is tiny letterboxes, so small that anything that goes through them has to be rolled, flattened, smeared with grease and tapped through with a hammer. In fact I carry a pot of Vaseline and a hammer in my rucksack just for that purpose. The Vaseline helps reduce chafing as well! Also, whilst I’m about it, why are letter boxes located at ground level? Is it to keep the osteopaths and knee surgeons in business? Perhaps they are the owners of these houses.

A “Beware of the Dog” sign gets me thinking twice about walking up a path. On many occasions I have approached the front door amidst the terrifying noise of a hound baying for the taste of my hand, or the frantic yapping of a terrier waiting for an inch of flesh to appear through the little slit in the door. Gingerly I have inserted the invitation through the letterbox using only the tips of my fingers, then to have it seized and torn apart on the other side of a door leaving a destructive pile of embossed lettering and guilted edges. I imagine they do it to the Royal Mail letters as well. May be to postmen and milkmen too.

Being confronted by a street of driveways sealed off by automatic security gates can bring a smile to my face, as this means the letterboxes are mounted on or next to the gates and saves me a long walk up the drive. But how regularly does the mail get checked? Are there cheques and Premium Bond wins dating back to the mid-seventies still lurking in the depths of the metal container? Magazines have turned into vintage collectors items by now, still in perfect condition preserved in their plastic packaging. Owners of these letter boxes should check them, just in case.

By and large people have been friendly towards me, despite the fact that I am delivering something that they haven’t asked for. In fact, with the exception of the gentleman with the strange accent, I haven’t had any other display of hostility at all. Admittedly there has been the odd occasion when I have approached the door at the precise moment when a young mum has opened it, laden with bags and babies, throwing them everywhere with fright. Once the Valium has kicked in though, they have been perfectly pleasant.

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So long as I stick to the paths, keep off the flowerbeds and the newly-seeded lawn, don’t scratch the car paintwork with my rucksack buckles, cough loudly if I suspect there could be someone about to open the door, shut the gate, don’t leave the leaflet sticking out of the letterbox, refrain from staring at the naked person stretching in the front room and obey the ‘No Junk Mail’ sign, then all will be well in my world of leaflet distribution.

Having admired the signs of others, I decided to erect one on our own front door. Not to persecute my own kind you understand. More a considerate desire to save them the unnecessary effort. Nothing custom made mind you. Just a simple “No Free Newspapers or Junk Mail” off-the-shelf-creation. Has it been effective? Well yes. Now we don’t know if anyone is being stabbed or not in our own neighborhood, at least we don’t read about it any more in our local free newspaper as it isn’t being delivered. Although we do still get the occasional money-off voucher from our local pizzeria, which is ok because with all the leaflet distribution I’m doing, I can eat as much pizza as I like safe in the knowledge that I’ll be burning off some of the calories.

IMG00145-20091123-1551 (2)On a final note, let me tell you that before I put the sign up, I retrieved a business card from a pile of junk mail left on our door mat from a website designer offering his services. From a business perspective, it turned out to be like finding a bit of treasure amongst all the junk.

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