We have started getting Christmas cards! To be truthful, there was a handful that sneaked in on 23 December, a distinct wad (after a two-week hiatus in deliveries) on 6 January, and a few more today. It’s surprising how many contain a note saying that the sender has been assured that the card will arrive in time for Christmas…surprising, too, perhaps, that so many have felt the need to seek reassurance on the point.
The last posting date for Christmas to the UK was November 19 here. I’ve sent in my subsequent Listener entries nonetheless but it felt rather futile expecting them to arrive in time for the closing date (not that prizes get sent out if you do win…). If items making the opposite trip are anything to go by then a transit time of two months is not unknown, even outside the seasonal period. Some of this is pandemic-enhanced, of course, but it was always a mean time of around 10 days, with a range between 3 days and 3 months.
I gather too that another competition puzzle has been suffering problems due to staff shortage at the sorting office responsible for the final delivery of entries. That surely is pandemic-related too, and the situation is only likely to recur as the latest variant spreads. It is surely time to consider a far greater use of email options for entries.
It’s curious how often, when you raise this issue, that people shake their heads and say ‘Ah, but what about those without access to email?’. It seems an odd response – let’s just take other activities. Letters to the Editor of the newspaper – they have email options which clearly exclude those not so blessed, don’t they? And the fact that I get my bank statements by email must imply that those without email addresses are reduced to stuffing cash into their mattresses (all those farthings must be lumpy)? As far as I’m aware postal options continue for these operations. But increasingly the email option is being made available to participants.
One consequence is the disappearance of Post Offices. No, we don’t have them any more (they’ve been sold off or turned into banks). If you’re lucky, there’ll be a Post Shop in a pharmacy, dairy (Chambers: a small grocery store serving a local community (NZ)) or other shop, possibly even at your end of town. Outside that shop will be the one remaining postbox in town, which will be emptied most days. Increasingly, postal services are focused on parcels and packages from online orders, and little things like envelopes with stamps – well, we’ll get round to them when we can (deliveries every other day). I used to pass two postboxes on my way to the station – now it’s a fifteen-minute trip out of my way at the Stokes Valley end or a five-minute trip out of my way at the Wellington end.
So I’m turning the question round: ‘What about those without good access to snail mail?’ I have to do more work to find stamps to buy, walk further to post the entry, and then not be able to rely on it getting through by the closing date. Why bother? (Did I mention that they don’t send out prizes when the Fates align and you do succeed?) Next time a newspaper wonders whether the crossword isn’t paying its way in entry numbers, it may be worth wondering whether the switch to email entries should have happened sooner. The cushion of suspended competitions provided by the pandemic won’t last for ever.
It’s not a situation that will affect the Enigmatic Variations series. The puzzle this time is from that series in 2016, and even then there was an email entry option.
We have had a few days this week where the weather warning has been for excessive heat – three consecutive days above 30C, which is really rather out of the ordinary for the Hutt Valley at the start of January. The garden has required some careful attention, but we’ve found time to liberate the plums from their trees, fill a bowl with some rather decent strawberries, and relieve the stream of a lot of compost-worthy silt. We even feel that we’re almost on top of the garden for once. In between that I’ve produced three new barred grids (though they’re all Carte Blanche puzzles of various forms – maybe I’ll write next time about how inspiration comes like buses…) so it’s been a productive seasonal break.
A quiet couple of weeks coming up: just a Times puzzle on 17 January in addition to the Friday Independent appearances. The fact that I have Independent 11,000 (on 14 January) does not mean a plethora of virgins, though there is a rather odd set of connections buried within it.