When the post man came a calling

10 07 2010

When I had first moved to Toa Payoh as a boy of 3, I was a little too young to get out of the confines of the three room flat that we moved into on my own. And in between playing with my toy soldiers and building blocks, or peering out through the usually opened front door at life beyond the flat, I would look forward to the arrival of the post man. That always was able to break the monotony of the day, as the usually smiling post man, his bag of mail to be delivered slung over his shoulders, would always announce his arrival with a greeting and a loud “boy, here’s the mail”. Those were the days when the post man would come a calling, six days a week, bringing mail right to the doorstep of every home, whether landed or not. We didn’t have to look for a post box to have our letters posted as well, being able to have mail to be posted collected with the coming of the post man. If the  door was closed, the doors of all flats then had been fitted with a slot for letters and the newspaper to be delivered through. Those were the days before a bill, the Post Office (Amendment) Rules, passed in 1971 made it easier for the post man, faced with the prospect of delivering mail to the doors of the numerous flats that were being moved into with the rapid increase in high rise apartment blocks that were being built, by having all high rise residential and commercial buildings install post boxes on the ground floors by 1973. Existing buildings were to be retrofitted with post boxes and initially, this encountered a fair bit of resistance, by many who were used to the convenience of having mail delivered to the doorstep.

Second generation letter boxes. Prior to legislation in 1971, the post man went door-to-door. Letter boxes were installed on the ground floors of HDB flats after 1971 and existing blocks of flats were retrofitted with letter boxes similar to these.

The first letter boxes that were installed weren’t perfect to start with. While they were provided with locks, the slots were not fitted with one way swinging shutter that now we see commonly, and the absence of this allowed mail to be stolen, mostly by young children for the stamps. These were improved by the time most of the existing HDB flats were retrofitted in the mid 1970s and the type seen in the photograph were then the most common, which were a lot more secure. Still, acts of mischief were quite common, and HDB flat dwellers often found insects, toads and bits of rubbish mixed with the mail that came each afternoon. These days when I guess it would be hard to imagine not picking up mail from the letter boxes on the ground floor, we do get a lot of rubbish too, not of the kind described here, but the many flyers that are put in which ends up littering the void decks and lifts.