Property: On the road to nowhere

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The Independent Online
HAVING won 14th prize in the Fount Of All Knowledge Losers Lotto I found myself in Brussels last week. I make no comment other than to say trains leave the city. I was not in the best of moods when I arrived and matters only worsened when I discovered I was due to visit number 4398 Rue de la Strasse. It was with a degree of trepidation that I invited my multi-lingual but blind cab driver to take me to my destination.

"Don't spare the horses," I urged the visually challenged linguist as I settled back for a tour of Sprout City.

To my absolute surprise my driver was back in contact within 15 minutes.

"Earth to passenger," he chuckled in Flemish as he careered towards a bus stop.

"What was the number, 4,000...?"

"398," I added.

"Eer ve ur," he announced proudly.

I did not believe him. He had stopped on an inner city version of the M25. Cars and lorries hurtled down this three-lane dual carriageway at great speed as I surveyed the landscape.

My lack of trust was misguided. At 90 kph this blind cabbie had delivered me without a second thought to an address which in most countries would have been the telephone number.

Why was it, I wondered, that Britain is the only country in the world where having the full address of a house is actually a hindrance to locating it. The New York grid system may be impersonal but it is efficient. Who cares that if 4398 6th Avenue is a remote address as long as you know that the intersection is East 24th Street. In Washington DC the grid system combines numbers with letters. So Lincoln follows Kennedy, and Georgia follows Florida. Washington DC is also zoned with a high degree of logic. North West is diagonally opposed to South East.

This logic appears to have eluded London street planners.

It is well known that W1 is the West End of London. It makes sense that the next area going West is W2. But why does W2 run into W12 or W10 or W14 when in fact it runs into W6? W6 then becomes W4 and it is only when you are about to leave London that you alight upon W3.

This is very confusing for home buyers whose only reasonable conclusion from a W postcode is that you will not be invited to accept a walk-on part in EastEnders.

There is little inter-relationship between street names. Occasionally you will find clusters of commonality. Sycamore Street, Oak Avenue, Pine Grove and Nelson Mandela Crescent.

Even the numbering conventions have been overridden. It used to be odds on one side of the street and evens on the other.

Modern numbering systems are selected by the same machine which chooses their winning lottery numbers. This means that chances of you working out where you are stand at 17 million-to-one against.

The numbering in my street is extremely complex. My postman simply delivers all the letters at random and allows us to exchange them with the rightful owner at the weekly neighbourhood watch meeting. It is bad for urgent deliveries but good for improving cordiality among neighbours.

I will shortly be introducing a new system of personalised addresses which ensures that when you move you take your old address with you.

It has flaws. However, it will only be when our system collapses completely that any real improvement in the address system of this country will be effected.