A walk through Marylebone takes in a whole range of the faces of our houses – the doors – and this particularly springy and wealthy neighbourhood offers some of the capital’s finest. I shall not tell you what medical imperfection led me to Harley Street in the morning of Friday last , but let’s just say I am now blinking through my nose and can’t frown for toffee. Either way, I was surprised by the advent of the inner London SuperRich door. The internationally wealthy modern Londoner tends to favour bilious colours (bright purple), frosted glass, as if to imply that the residents are so fascinating that we are drawn to dribble and stare at them through their windows, and massive brick-type slabs of letter box in muted silver. Brass is absent, being so nineteenth century. Modern letterboxes of the SuperRich are filled with spiky black bristle, a.k.a. the postman’s nemesis. Letter boxes are not created anymore with the idea of mail delivery in mind. They are developed with an eye to them defending against your average millionaire-arms-dealing slayer, or terrorist chap bent on atrocities. What new doors don’t have is a lovely knocker.
Like a face without a nose, a door without a knocker is a sad thing indeed. The Georgians and Victorians announced their front doors with beaming brass lumps and bumps that demanded authority and appeared to intimidate. There was, of course, no need for the knocker to have become obsolete – it requires no batteries, no engineering or maintenance and in the main can be heard anywhere in the house, if you thump it with the desired degree of aplomb. It also allows the guest to bang out a staccato semaphore of their own in a series of knocks to announce their arrival. I like this. It adds a flamboyant tone to one’s visiting. How often do you stand at someone’s threshold and think : have they heard the bell? Is the bell broken? Have I pressed it strongly enough? Why can’t I hear it? Is it an inner ear infection? WHAT? None of this happens with a lovely knocker. Bash or bang. Stand. Wait. Simples. We have, my friends, lost the art of bangery.
Among the scrumptious knockers from Marylebone last Friday were lions, racing dogs, closed metal fists around brass door knockers and a range of peculiar cats, dogs and eagles. The lions are very popular amongst Georgians, Victorians and BBC costume drama set designers. It’s not too ostentatious but it has that strange thing of the knocker being suspended from an animal’s mouth. And a lion is as thoroughly British as a Unicorn, which would be British (if it wasn’t imaginary). These doors have maintained their nineteenth century letterboxes too, which are minute. Now some of them have been bought by the SuperDooperRich and they’ve manifested their tasteless crassness over everything. Doors are very very flat. Letterboxes are now massive and very low down in the door – massive because of all the marketing crap our mobile phone provider sends us and low down on the door to ensure maximum biting opportunity by Yorkshire terrier or similar undersized dog with an attitude problem that may lurk behind the grand polished door, salivating at the prospect of a Royal Mail nylon-clad leg.
Will letterboxes go the way of music playing equipment? Radios were small in the 1950s, enormous in the 1980s, and have now disintegrated into vile virtual devices, on which the data can suddenly disappear, and before you know it you’ve lost that 1980s Bangles playlist you downloaded whilst drunk on hazlenut liquor several months back. Now we are permanently attached to digital playlists and cannot make one tube journey without them. Visitors to earth would think that homo sapiens is evolving and we now grow white cables out of our ears. Is that the way letterboxes are going to go: massive in the current age but then getting smaller and virtual and require updating? And I know what you’re thinking – “letters will soon be obsolete! Silly Bluebird, so old-fashioned! Email is all we’ll need!” Not so. Ever signed a legal document? Got married ? Got divorced ? Tried to book a burial plot in the local Jewish cemetery? Tried to convince your Lender to give you a mortgage? All the important things in life require real documents and the post. You can’t send a birthday present recorded mail via Hotmail. We need letterboxes, and will be grateful we don’t have to wear them around our necks and take them everywhere with us, as MiLady Iphone has made us do with our email and Facebook accounts. Being permanently wired up to everything once felt like a good idea but six months in from my first I-phone ownership? Well, I just feel I am wearing my letterbox around my neck anyway and may well make the decision to stick all the correspondence back on my front door where it belongs. My technological empowerment has led to a personal disempowerment. It seems all of a sudden, and with much of a muchness, that the blasted world won’t leave me alone. Back to the post box. It can all lie on the front door mat until I’m inclined to deal with it.
No professional door holds ballast without a good knocker. Banging on a black, Marylebone door with a brass knocker makes you feel you are about to enter hallowed legal portals, or at least implies you are dealing with an expensive accountant. In Harley Street, you pay for the ambience and the wealth of Edwardian certitude as much as you pay for the scan of your jacksie. After all, a stranger with their hand up you unmentionables is only ever going to be a stranger with their hand up your unmentionables grappling about looking for ovarian lumps. Does it make it any less undignified if they’re charging you £200 for the privilege? Or that they have beautiful floral displays on the reception desk from Wild Things of Davies Street? Of course not. If I’m being charged exorbitant amounts I want to feel like a wealthy Victorian. I want a door that exudes authority. A black, old letter box with the words “letterbox” painted onto it – indeed, painted so many times of the years that the words now look as if they’re made from blancmange – I want a door that bangs with a resounding thud, implying that my dental problems are soon to be a thing of the past, or that that pesky affadavit will be silently signed off in wood-panelled rooms, not a door that closes eerily, independently, with one of those yukky metal fire doors that close more slowly than any door would in normal circumstances. In a street where people buy new breasts is it too much to ask for a couple of proper knockers occasionally?
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