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A new use for a brick or a hammer

I seem no longer to exist. In one sense at least. And not for the first time.

Our postcode being a rural one covers as a mere six locations, all domestic dwellings. The maximum possible is ninety-nine.

The postcode system was first piloted in 1959 in Norwich in East Anglia with a code that was the characters "NOR" after which came some numbers. The pilot led to a different approach when the UK roll-out started in 1966. And Norwich was the last area to get a modern-style code in 1974.

Aberdeen was an early place to get its postcodes. Perhaps the first in Scotland. I well remember being sceptical. I posted two letters in Old Aberdeen, where the main part of the city University is located. One had the old-style address, sans postcode, of my digs in Victoria Road, Torry. The other simply had the house number and the postcode.

One arrived a day before the other. The postcode slowed down delivery.

The AB prefix didn't just extend to cover Aberdeen but extended well into rural Scotland, and even included Shetland. So a second class letter posted at the main post office in Lerwick travelled down to the airport at Sumburgh and thence to the main sorting office in Aberdeen, an hour's flight-time away. If it was addressed for another address in Lerwick, it then got back on a plane and returned to the local sorting office in Lerwick where a postie included it in their "walk". A round trip of several hundred miles.

Stornoway had a similar postcode affiliation with Paisley, with its mail travelling similar distances.

Sense eventually prevailed and remote, particularly island, locations got their own main code.

Today we take it for granted, and postcodes create a precision about a location that I certainly found missing on the four or so occasions in the 1960s when I worked for the GPO as a "Christmas postie".

So reliant are we now on postcodes, that any breakdown in the system, any omission from the database can have significant impacts on daily life.

A few years ago, we ceased to exist. We started to have some difficulty placing orders online because our house did not appear on suppliers' lists of valid addresses. We twigged and looked ourselves up in the Royal Mail postcodefinder database (

We had vanished, been deleted, removed, made invisible to the rest of the human race. Our address was no longer in the database. I knew it had been there because I had checked the formal address when we bought the house.

To be fair to Royal Mail, they remedied the problem quite quickly. We did ask how the deletion occurred. Answer came there none; to this day.

There seem to be quite a number of bodies that can update the database. Every local Council can do so. That's important as they have formal responsibility for granting planning permission for building and demolition and for naming any new streets. I am not pointing the finger. I believe there are other bodies which can also update the database.

However, getting the Royal Mail data correct is but part of the story.

When the many bodies who have to use postcodes do so most, perhaps all, actually use a copy of the database which they purchase from Royal Mail. Therefore it will always be a bit behind because of subsequent changes. And it was a few years before the problem of our being absent from the postcode database went away. For suppliers its costs money to update data they use. Some clearly do it pretty infrequently.

Now we come to nub of today's grumpiness.

We received a printed letter, remember these?, from BT. It had an unusual address which was something like;

[Housename], Unn AI Unn at [Housename] To Cnn L at [Housename].

For privacy reasons [Housename] replaces our and two neighbours' house names. The "Unn" and "Cnn" are the Council's identifiers for our roads, we are nearly two miles from a "B" road.

That description covers five of the six houses in our post. The sixth? Maybe.

The start of the letter says;

"Great news - you could get faster broadband."

In the light of what you may have read in my previous writings, you will not be surprised that what at first glance appeared to be yet another inappropriate advertising circular, was paused for reading before reaching the recycling.

The UK Government, and this was sent to me at their instigation, established a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband a couple of years ago. It is not designed to deliver the superfast broadband which the Scottish Government's upgrade to a minimum of 30 megabits per second download provides. But it may lift those of us who are languishing below 10 megs into a slightly better place.

Given that the 5% or so of households in Scotland who may qualify are in inaccessible places, telecoms-wise, I am pretty uncertain that the limit of £3,400 that they are providing to finance an upgraded connection, will help many.

But it costs nothing to enquire.

I am directed in the first instance to to check if I qualify. Yesterday the site was down, "Try later". It's working today and now confirms that I should be eligible and that I should phone 0800 783 0223 to progress matters. Yesterday I made that call after my failed web enquiry.

A pleasant person at the other end asked for my name and address. There was a longer than expected delay and the sounds of huffing and puffing at the other end. Could I just repeat my address, please. Sure.

The BT person trying to help confirmed that my address appeared in their database. Jolly good, wouldn't want my phone and broadband line to disappear into the blue yonder with my address. But it appears that that was merely step one. He now had to check the OFCOM database to check that they thought I qualified. My address is absent from the database, so no verdict either way.

It seems that they update their database every four months. And the update is very soon. Before anything could happen, I am required to provide a bill to demonstrate that my address exists. Quickly or I may miss the update.

I am invited to email it in and am provided with an address. Guess what? It bounces back as an invalid address. To avoid my physically dismantling my computer with a brick or hammer in frustration, I pause and retreat to the kitchen to make a mug of tea.

And then do what any sensible citizen confronted by a public system not providing a proper response. I decide to contact my MSP for assistance.

Putting my other hat on, I have taken steps to alert OFCOM to the situation and solicit their assistance.

It's not as if the UK offer is that great speedwise and they warn that you have to pay any installation costs over their grant of £3,400 and that it may take one or two years to deliver.

I have just checked the mortality tables provided by Registers of Scotland and see that statistically, I have 10.3 years to live.

Morbidity may be beckoning more effectively than the UK broadband scheme.


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