A small border war in Middle England

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The Independent Online

The late Hans Keller had an almost religious belief in classical music - indeed, if Barry Fantoni is to be believed, it was a religious belief. "I have a theory," Fantoni once theorised to me, "that when Hans Keller lost his belief in God, he looked round for someone else to worship and found Beethoven."

And on the one occasion that I met Hans Keller, over a dinner table, I found not only his knowledge of music overwhelming but, even more, his rigour of thought daunting. Would you believe that we clashed swords over the subject of postcodes, and that he effortlessly defeated me?

"I think these new postcodes are another bureaucratic layer of nonsense," I said. "I don't think I'll bother to use mine."

"You are absolutely wrong," said Keller. It is the first really sensible thing the British have done for years in domestic geography. For hundreds of years you have had crazy addresses and now at last they have been sorted out. It is also typical of you British to pour scorn on a sensible innovation."

He was right, of course, and although I learned nothing about music from him, I have always used my postcode in his honour. But now something is going to happen which Mr Keller could not have foreseen. I may be changing my postcode without moving house.

When I first moved to my home near Bath, I was quite pleased to find that we were just over the border in Wiltshire, safely away from the rather smug cloud of self-satisfaction that hangs (seldom justifiably) over Bath. But our postman told me we would have to live with Bath.

"Don't, whatever you do, put Wiltshire on your address," he told us. "Yes, I know you live in Wilts. But your post gets sorted in Bath. If you put Wilts on your address, your letters will go to Bradford-on-Avon, then get redirected to Bath, and will take ages to get to you. Don't ask why. Just do what I say."

So I gave out my address as Bath, BA3 etc, and my post has arrived, most of the time. But now, apparently, Bath feels that it is sorting too much West Country post and wants to pass a lot of the local stuff on to Bradford- on-Avon, including our post, and if that happens, it seems, we may have to change to a postcode area beginning BA15.

Well, the fuss in the area has been wonderful. Local villages such as Freshford and Hinton Charterhouse have organised petitions pleading to be allowed to stay in BA3, or, if they have to change, at least go to posh BA2, but not BA15 or any such rural area!

It seems, amazingly, that house prices may be affected by your postcode, and a change of postcode may bring the price of your house down, even though it's still exactly the same house in exactly the same position. Worse still, it might affect your house insurance. I hadn't realised that insurance companies charge higher premiums to people who live in postal areas with more crime. Therefore, if you change postcode, you might join an area with a lot more burglaries...

There is also, though this is not so openly expressed, an element of snobbery. Freshford and Hinton Charterhouse are in Somerset or, as the area is now snappily entitled, BANES, or Bath And North East Somerset. We, a couple of miles away, are in Wiltshire. A lot of people would rather be associated with Bath and Somerset and are dreadfully afraid that if their letters get sorted in Bradford-on-Avon they will have to strike "Bath" off their letter-headings, which will lower the tone frightfully and - in the case of hotels - could even have a bad effect on the volume of business.

I see it somewhat differently. I am happy to be in Wiltshire, for which I feel the puppyish affection of a newcomer, and I have always somewhat resented having had to put "Bath" on my address, and omit Wiltshire.

"I have been forced to have a foreign address for years," I told a lady from Hinton Charterhouse the other day. "If our letters go to Bradford, I shall be home at last!"

She looked at me queerly.

"Maybe," she said, "but that doesn't help us in Hinton. We like BA3 and we want to stay there!"

Only Beethoven knows what Hans Keller would have thought of the British after hearing such a conversation.