One of the more interesting sides of my job is being on the receiving end of some very strange, bizarre and often downright scary missives. They are, frankly, the fruits of the mentally unhinged. And they plop onto my desk, nuggets of abandoned sanity, day in, day out.
Kooky correspondence, I have learnt, comes in many guises. The warning signs come before even opening the envelope/parcel/tatty old box: addresses etched onto stained, torn paper; spidery, blotchy, old typefaces from not-quite obsolete typewriters and thick, handwritten childish crayoned names and numbers are all more than suspect. Re-used envelopes, often re-circulated multiple times (inside-out envelopes? we’ll all be there sooner or later), are a home goal – if it wasn’t for my morbid curiosty these would be filed to the orderliness of the recycling bin upon hitting my pigeonhole.
Their contents have, in the past, variously included lashings of photocopied library cards, council pamphlets, parking notices and gas bills, dark with xeroxy stains, the mad, scribbled anotations screaming to the by-now-spooked reader: ‘I’M ILL!’; unwashed t-shirts; old family photos; a raw crystal from the Amazon; crayonned drawings and football chant lyrics (with 50p coin attached – thanks, Mikey P of the Vale of Glamorgan).
I can’t remember the number of times I have been told who the real Jack the Ripper was, or given the truth behind the 7 July bombings, the names of the murderers behind Princess Diana’s death or details of alien abductions across south east England. I’ve been shouted at (capitals, underlined, highlighted with many exclamation marks atatched) in obscene (way, way beyond ‘colouful’) language for leading a BNP-style racist attack on British Muslims. And that’s before the phonecalls – a topic that warrants an entry unto itself.
But my favourite are wartime tales, penned with old-fashioned whimsical charm and the bells of Ham church ringing in the writers’ blood. They tell of unexploded bombs (UXBs) in the Blitz, parents trained at Caterham barracks, newlywed couples escaping death by seconds and war survivors unfortunate enough to encounter a different kind of tragedy in the Bethnal Green tube disaster. They speak of a different London, an inaccurately greyer, bleaker place in my mind but obviously full of colour and passion, hardship and love.
It’s a patchwork of disjointed mental fragments that seem to collide with me whilst my workmates sit happily around, apparently immune to the abuse (or stimulation?) attracted by my position. One colleague describes my work as “like running the bloody Samaritans.”
In a small way, it is, I suppose. But my days are so much fruitier for it. So, thanks to all of my correspondents for your dark, compulsive obsessions.
Yours ever, Newsdesk.
Or, as Mikey says at the bottom of each typewritten splurge, “Thats a big 10/4.”