Monday I write and send a letter to the postal worker who empties my local
postbox. I have no idea whether or not any of these letters get read, but it
pleases me to think that they might. It costs me very little to send the
letters, because they do not require stamps. I do not include on them a return
address, and for the time being I have never told anybody what I write in those
letters. It has always been a little secret between me and the postal
day, however, I received a note through my letterbox, which read:
hate you from the core of my being.
wish you were dead, but you’re not.”
had been signed, ‘The postman’.
struck me first as alarming, then as concerning, as having never written a name
on any of my letters, I couldn’t be sure whether the incident was directly
connected to me or not. The most likely explanation, I reasoned, was that a
mail delivery person had seen my name on other letters delivered to the same
address, and was of a purely vindictive streak. I was just another victim in
some mean-spirited game, which made me feel bad on behalf of whomever he or she
who sent this note was.
a postman can probably be quite difficult at times.
worried me more, however, was the thought that someone had found out about me
and my letters, and was now passing their own ones off as if they had been mine
all along. It is highly probable that these, should they happen exist and be forged
in my name, were of a highly offensive nature, particularly towards anyone
working in the postal industry. Perhaps they were from an aggrieved
nationalist, still bitter about the privatization. Someone who just wanted to
see the RM returned to its former glory, though I could not say so with any real
degree of certainty.
nature of these potentially probable letters remains a mystery to me.
seemed least likely, is that I had been singled out as part of a hate campaign
orchestrated by my local post office, because hardly anyone works there
anymore. And I’m not even sure whether those who do would actually know where I
live. I do recognise that they must surely have access to my home address, but
where’s the motivation? In any case, it was these suspicions that drove me to
throw a brick through my local post-office window.
realised the mistake in this shortly after whilst tucking into a shawarma down
the road. I had failed to include on the brick a return address.
might have gone back to explain it all in person, but by this point it all
seemed wholly unnecessary. Instead, I chose to keep on writing my weekly
letters, always alluding to, but never adding any further information about
what it was that I had done. No more notes came through my door in
was now adequate time for mulling. Had I rattled the cage of this grand old
institution just a little too vicariously? The post-office, I thought to
myself, must previously have been nothing more than just ‘Office’. How things
change, I suppose, sending mail was always meant to be their main thing, wasn’t
it? And now it was as if the glove were on the other hand.
read a book that told me how time once was when the Office would only ever
collect mail. But this changed, and a movement within the organisation sprang
up that began to push the belief that mail ought be transported to a
pre-determined location as specified by the receiver. It was naturally
nonsensical that this should be the case, and a counter movement emerged that
fiercely opposed the notion. Ultimately, it was decided (by casting a vote upon
the nature of common sense), that the location of any mail received was to be
chosen by whoever was sending the mail.
fights still ensued between sending and receiving parties, as neither could
decide precisely on how the post would be arranged within this process – if at
all. Vicious notes began circling round the Office, which resulted in the
emergence of a loose logistical structure that would eventually come to serve
as a surprisingly functional model for the organisation’s future. However, many
pre-post office thinkers still insisted firmly that everything would be much
better if their system was left principally unchanged. Emphasis for them was on
archiving all received mail for use in building up a strongly selected pile of
evidence that would support their collective vision of what was to be done.
This meant no sending mail for others, just receiving, categorizing, and
ultimately expanding the Office so that it could fulfill as many duties as
possible with an ever-growing team of workers… no dice.
pro-post movement drove their change faster due to strong organisational
support from an artisanal class of small paper square merchants and large
investment received from the eccentric owner of a factory that produced
agreeable tasting glue.
then, were the political leaders who impounded this factory owner under newly
enacted ‘just go mad’ laws of 1843, and who later devised to staunch the
economic flow of small independent paper square merchants into provincial post-office
territories. It did not take long for these same leaders to start producing
their own lickstick-sendybobs en
masse, which were steadily standardised and later austerely rebranded as ’stamps’.
A take-over was being plotted from the top. Meanwhile, word spread through
unofficial public health and safety campaigns that independent stamp
manufactures, (supposedly embittered by ‘unfavourable markets’), had been
tainting their produce with poison. As such, a collectors market sprang up for
rare and poisonous stamps.
did not take long for the entire post-office business to be privately coopted by
queen and country. Many were dominated by the service and forced to contend
with the painful snapping of letterboxes on cold fingers for pathetic compensation.
Standardised stamps now carried passive aggressive depictions of the queen’s
head. Demand grew. Angry letters were written, some of which were sent and
accordingly received. The system grew efficient.
But the daily maltreatment of officers breached what were
then the limits of so-called basic human decency, which, it was claimed,
ignited The Great Stampede of 1849:
an event that saw no less than a thousand angry post-office workers march upon
Buckingham Palace with open letters (envelopes were still in their early stages
of development at the time and were viewed by many with great suspicion) in
hand. All of these had been custom-stamped with offensive drawings that pointed
directly towards the receiver. With anger, the officers endeavored to hack an
excessively large hole into one of the palace doors, into which would go the
letters. Though the uprising achieved some limited victories for a small
high-ranking few, along with certain associated business magnates, the widely
demanded legal minimum letterbox size was in fact, never implemented.
I noticed that the book was long outdated, and the author an ardent proponent
of the art form known as hoaxing. I couldn’t believe it, fooled by a mere book!
However upon closer inspection I noticed that the foreword did explain in words
near enough that ‘art is a lie that makes us realise the truth’. A fine hoax
indeed, based as this was upon a questionable dichotomy between what is true and
what is false. I took down a note to inform whoever was in charge of
categorisation at the library from which it had been borrowed, though they were
not in the custom of manipulating their rigid decimal point system in response
to user recommendations, despite the apparent veracity of my insights.
on, my librarian informed me that the book was not outdated at all, though it
was overdue, and she asked if I might have perhaps been mixing up the words
that I had meant to use. I flippantly pointed out to that the word ‘librarian’
is morphologically not so dissimilar to ‘totalitarian’, though she rejected
this point on semantic grounds and threatened to cancel my card. I was unsure
of her authority but fearful nonetheless, so submitted to the 30 pence fine and
put this on credit.
ruefully, I now believed it thoroughly impossible to ever get my brick back –
throwing it in the spontaneous manner that I had seemed like such a rubbish
pointless waste. ‘Give me back my brick’, is what I should have written on the
thing, but I hadn’t.
You see, the original difficulty I’d found was in willing
the message that a brick might send. It had previously been placed on a coffee
table in the centre of my living room as a souvenir taken from a frivolous
one-time visit to a piece of disused land.
(Making up forms of entertainment in my off-hours was a
favourite pastime of mine. The harder it seems to squeeze enjoyment out of
something, the more pleasure I feel can be derived from doing so. An
afternoon’s excursion to Madame Tussade’s Museum of Waxy Oppressors had shaken
my faith in leafleted days out, and so far, my leisure time had become much
more culturally stimulating since making the decision to boycott anything with
a Trip Advisor review.)
The brick was mine, and it, I decided, was the finest piece
of art I had ever laid claim to. Its basic functionality was enough to fill a
preposterous young man such as myself with joy. I would gaze at it whilst
eating cereal and shock myself into a state of wide-eyed appreciation: its monolithic
form, the simplicity of its presence, the sheer audacity of its single colour –
and all this in a world of nauseating visual complexity. It was Rothko in
another dimension; provoking in me as it did an uncomfortable longing for fixed,
definite, meaning and truth.
Each day I could not escape the pressure of deciding what it
really meant. With steadily increasing frequency this choice prevented me from
going to work. I would stand, transfixed, sometimes for hours at a time,
ruminating over everything I had ever experienced, trying always with rising
desperation to relate some coherent representational framework to this object
of indefinite meaning in front of me, that was a brick.
It never seemed right.
I soon lost my job at the online antiques store. I loved
that job, but having been self-employed it was I who had been solely
responsible for monitoring my own productivity, and seeing as not one single
target had been hit since the arrival of this brick, I was forced to let myself
go. ‘A clear lack of dedication to the work’, it had been written in an
explanatory statement to myself.
Being self-unemployed was a different ball game to earning
money, and thankfully the inheritance of a single Penny Black stamp a year
prior to my totally unavoidable firing situation at work allowed me to coast
lightly without a steady income. I lived where I worked, but now that I didn’t,
it seemed as though the only proper course of action was to protest this empty
workspace by occupying the building. This meant dedicating a great deal of time
to shaping demands and fine-tuning the direction of my activism.
Daily, I would write manifestos and create protest graphics.
The brick was a constant source of inspiration for this, and sometimes its
newly assigned meaning would overlap with the nature of our demands, other
times it would seem diametrically opposed to them, and every so often it
remained courageously ambivalent.
Excerpt from manifesto:
We, the assorted belligerents of this here Occupied Residence, believe
in and in fact DEMAND an end to forced labour under the duress of crude
requests for building rental payment. The gross unfairness of this situation
ought stick out like a pineapple in a fruit bowl, yet in reality, it is
detectable as the apricot is lodged between an apple and an orange. We must
compare the options on offer, we must see with open eyes the brute imposition
of debt upon our respective domains, we must knock from their heads the rude
baseball cap of legitimacy.
WE MUST NOT YEILD PRODUCE
IN THE HARVESTS OF THEIR ILL-BEGOTTEN SURPLUS!
The invisible hand of the free market gropes without consent.
It is our demand to forcibly chastise all that which fiddles and
diddles to the detriment of human dignity.
I suppose this was my new job for the time being.
One evening, with the majestic 6pm mid-summer glow
illuminating some bins outside my house, a local cat – my favourite – had found
his resting place upon a garden wall, easily in sight from the chair in which I
would tend to sit meditatively at this hour. The moment was perfect and I
scrambled for my camera. Having often wished to be a cat in the sun on a
windowsill, or a lizard on a rock, or some other kind of basking animal, it was
a scene that I wishfully related to.
Out in the garden with my lens focused delicately so as to
fully reveal the animal’s wonderfully misshapen skull, a feature that
fascinated me to no end, I heard a familiar voice shouting, ‘stop taking photos
of my cat!’
This was typical of Jess. She had always gone to great
lengths in thwarting my business model, tearing down any posters of mine that
she saw. These were advertisements for my powerful collection of “contemporary
missing cat posters”, which I’d been cultivating for years, just waiting for the
right kind of owner, someone with real knowledge and dedication to the genre
who would appreciate the quality of these pickings and pay a fair price. Jess
usually griped with me whenever I put them up because I was keen on using
photos of her beautiful cat to entice potential customers.
Pat was honestly the finest animal creature that I knew of
in our local area, but his chiding nuisance owner, (in her mid 20’s and known
to me only through our quarrels over the precise issue), was highly objecting
to my practice on the grounds that the commodification of her pet’s image was
in some sense disrespectful, given that the cat had never expressed any wish to
be used as such. I have tried to brush up on laws regarding unsolicited pet
photography, but I’ve found nothing explicit written on the matter, so consider
that I’m well within my rights.
“If you use that photo to make another one of your posters,
I will be calling the police.” She threatened, emptily. “It’s not acceptable to
use my cat’s face to advertise something that hasn’t got anything to do with my
cat.” She continued with womanly force. “What you are doing is shameful, Allan.
I was not ashamed. However, the public nature of this
discourse forced me into retreat and I slinked back into the house until she
was gone. Afterwards, I thought of a decent number of fiery responses that
would have numbed her vicarious intervention and legitimated my actions. It was
a shame not to have thought of these whilst on the spot. ‘Next time’, I
Anyway, I had more important things to consider, as the
brick had not been assigned new meaning today, though this was not for lack of
enthusiasm, more the case that my ability to relate with the object had been
stunted for a new and unforeseen reason. The violent note that had arrived was blocking
my perception of the brick’s nascent multimodality – its emerging connections
with surrounding objects and ideas that might allow me to construct its finest
meaning. Previously the piece had sustained my interest as perfectly reasonable
representations of, and I quote from my journal here:
solidification of disparate forms. Molded into that which exists without excess
nor fanfare yet retaining an unspoken potential for exerting transformative
‘Quite clearly a
völkisch symbol of global connection as it delineates a linear conception of
temporality –a connection between the mythologized industrial past of Britain
and its recent dependence on extra-territorial digital resources for the
effective organisation of construction work. The lost echo of empire suspended
in time on a table.’
‘A cold and
indifferent father figure, emanating authority in the stasis of its being. Enigmatically
inaccessible, indomitable, unquestionably always correct and present without
regard to structurally supportive elements.’
‘An organ or cell
within the body of some greater structure than could ever be perceived. It is
brick, but perhaps not before it is first the wall, then the house, then the
street, the neighbourhood, the city, the world, the cosmos. All alive and yet
somehow imperceptible in absolute totality. An invisible contradiction that
occupies both life and everything beyond.’
‘The death of
humanity, which too must die unless it can somehow interpret itself from a point
beyond… Perhaps it can, and so the subject of post-human sentience becomes
the brick’s object of urgent interrogation. What will live through
interpretation after we are all dead? Is a brick always a brick if even there
is nobody left to think of it as a brick?’
‘Just a brick today… or is it?’
This time, the room we shared seemed claustrophobic and limiting.
The brick goaded me from its position on the coffee table. I pointed at its
solid form and aggressively enquired, “Yeah? You and who’s context?”
Following my run in with Jess, knowing that the brick would
be there, waiting for me, passive and docile, always accepting of my playful
interpretations… It was immense comfort at such a time. Before the brick I
knelt, hands clasped, forefingers extended and closed in tight contact pressed up
against my septum, both thumbs nested beneath my chin. Whatever now?
The day’s manifesto had been written without confidence. Its
focus this time was on the importance of principles in guiding action, “So long as essential principles are met, any
act may be unquestionably correct.” I didn’t think to question this, but
kept it in mind whilst determining to understand the hate message I’d received.
What principles did its sender operate on? How could I come to terms with their
worldview, conflicting so deeply as it did with my own? I didn’t want to die. But
moving through the mind of my tormentor meant to me exploring what was broken
in my own regime of sense, perhaps even if this would result only in the death
of something within myself.
The possibility of my brick seemed until now without end;
research into it was going on indefinitely. When rapt in this beautiful process
it was as if the thoughts would lose their edges and become frictionless,
gliding over one another like ill-fitting similes, yet now as like never before
they seemed only to crash into themselves like planes of self-reference into
mountains of their own source material. In this moment, my own brick felt like
it was pointing at itself, drawing me into its capacity for struggle and
liberation through hijacking the imagination. But now I suffered here from what
I could describe as an overwhelming life-induced psychological immobility. It
was time to go for a walk. The brick could come with.
We wandered in a directionless stupor, signs passed without
relevance, frosted windows
left ajar let mild breeze into private worlds. Dislocated, semi-intentional
dis-acknowledgement. A hobby. A job. The week goes by
unnoticed. A crossroads offers choice. The map is acknowledged but the recognition
of its authority refused. The luxury of decision forces redundancy upon
objects, passive annihilation of value. Screaming terror suppressed, pants round
ankles. A helpful attitude, a mocking surrender. A fighting chance, a flight of
fancy, the inaccessible whirring of consent, a product designed and
manufactured at industrial scale, with fences, to block and defend, offending
That note had wished me dead, impractical I thought. The
brick now wished for life, (my duty yet unclear). It was night; I viewed myself
from afar, as if in electric white, stumbling through darkened underpasses. So
alive. Too alive. My research could go on no longer, something had been built
to completion, my letter to ‘the postman’. These words I spoke aloud to myself,
in peaceful tones it went:
Dearest violent lover
One less of me would
be one less for you, wouldn’t it? My letterbox receiving your hand and my mail
not once more again – unless I’m accidentally subscribed to catalogues. I am
subscribed to a few of these actually, need to sort that out. Not for this
specific reason though.
Yes, one less on your
route, but you haven’t known that it was me who’s been trying so hard, so very
hard, to love you in dutiful monogamy, with my one-sided secret letters to you
in the local postbox. I never even asked for anything in return, except for
active service Monday through Saturday excluding bank holidays.
To wish me dead for
this? It seems bad form from someone who has delivered for so long with such
admirable devotion to neutral consistency. Although we’ve never met, I can tell
that you’ve changed. But the respect I have for you will never die. And here I
have in my hand something with which I might fulfill your wish.
The value of my
anonymity, this principle that I have stood by, I break it now in order to show
you my devotion in the face of a newly constructed circumstance, that of my extremity.
I must commit this unquestionable act, part with self-imposed rules, embrace the
unknowable potential of a future that we might share together. Do I really want
this to continue? Can I kill myself for you? Will I end this letter with a
question mark or with a full stop?
The brick went through my post-office window.
To kill a piece of art is to relinquish the monopoly of
control held over deciding what it means. Writing up my letter as the sun rose,
the question over how it should be signed and addressed brought my issues up to
the precipice of ‘reality’. Make it happen or else go back to life as before.
My first name I put in print at the bottom of this letter, and the namesake
written upon the envelope was pitched, ‘To whomever it does not concern’. I
placed this on my coffee table and went to sleep.
Waking up at a leisurely 3pm, my cursory scroll through the
day’s events led me to find a small piece of news that had made it online about
the brick. Reading a headline that included the phrase ‘Local Yob’ thrilled me
now as like never before, though I was less keen on the accompanying article’s
informative content – not enough rampant speculation for my tastes. Still
though, that my piece had been offered a status of meaning by some external
source was enough to make me want it back. I dithered with tea and brooded.
‘How it would make such a powerful addition to somebody’s chimney, if only
there were safe and legal means of reclaiming the object.’ But there was not;
it was far too dangerous.
I sent my letter backwards through the letterbox of my front
door, so that it would lie upon the paving slabs in waiting for dearest, who I
reasoned would be quite excited to finally learn of my residence. I peeped at it
from the living room window and was overcome by the kind of nervous excitement
normally felt by teens in possession of an untried drug. Licking itself behind
a small ballerina fruit tree was my favourite cat. It was all too much. I
retired to the bedroom for meditation and study. Today’s manifesto had been
We, the Occupying Resident and assorted onlookers declare everything to
be better than usual. That is to say, beginning with the future, we see how it
is imperative to arrive at a new historical precedent without scraping a single
knee upon the mystic barnacles of misfortune that line our past(s). We must
reinvent everything, and can do so, and we must. We may organize to
disorganize. We must acknowledge that the world is officially run by boring
people, yes, but that beyond these scabs that cause a common itch around the
anus of respectability, is something far deeper, that our present moments are
purported to belong to them, let us say now then, no! For time belongs, more
than ever, to those who dawdle with great purpose, who self-distract to
uncharted degrees, and who incline to think, and feel, and yell:
Utter and abject horror struck at shortly afternoon when I
found the letter lying on my inner-porch doormat. ‘To Whomever It Does Not
Concern’, I read back, with one sweaty palm now cradling the sinking features
of my rapidly flushing face.
‘What the hell kind of ending is this to my project?’ I
thought to myself. I didn’t have the guts to resend the letter in case it
failed again, the brick was gone, and my occupation totally burnt out. It was
The letter made a very ill man out of me. If I read it again
it would hurt too much, if I threw it away it would kill my most important
relationship, if I sent it to anyone else it would only feel like some artless
hoax. On its own, it said nothing of what was meant, it begged for an
interpretation that had been absolutely rejected. So I wrote this very sorry
story, the one that you read here, with the letter included in it, which I
handed in as a neatly packaged bundle to my local library (along with the
mandatory 30 pence fine), before walking home, informing the neighbours of my
intent to set my already petrol-soaked house on fire, and then I did exactly
this, and now I am dead.
Or maybe I would end my protest, keep the letter in a drawer
somewhere, perhaps as a souvenir from this time in my life, maybe I could even
work up the courage to try sending it again perhaps. I would keep one eye
carefully trained on the news in case any more comes up regarding the
post-office and attempt to rehire myself as an online antiques dealer again.
This seemed like a suitably feasible and sensible departure from the dead end I
But when it came to making a final decision about what to do
next, however, I could ultimately bring myself to pursue neither of these two options,
choosing as I did instead, to find a new brick.