The most unlikely Olympic artwork of the summer has to be the postbox that was illegally painted gold in Lymington, where Ben Ainslie lives.
Did you see the story? A local man was so disappointed to hear no postbox was to be painted gold in Lymington to mark the triumph of the most successful sailor in Olympic history that he did the job himself. He was arrested. But show mercy, for it was the Post Office that came up with the notion of painting boxes gold in the first place.
In a plan perhaps reminiscent of Krusty the Klown’s Los Angeles Olympics give-away in a vintage episode of The Simpsons, the Post Office vowed to paint a postbox gold for every British victory in the 2012 Games. Krusty promised free meals at his fast-food outlet Krusty Burger for every American Olympic victory, but lost millions when the USSR pulled out and America hit a gold rush. Similarly, our postal providers probably expected to be gilding a couple of postboxes here and there – but instead, their map of gold boxes shows a constellation of customised mail inlets all over Britain.
A decision to give Ainslie a gold postbox in Cornwall, where he grew up, and not in Lymington, where he lives, prompted the Olympic postal paint outlaw. And perhaps the postal service has set a dangerous precedent here. You give people an idea …
British postboxes have been painted red since 1874. Like our old-style red telephone boxes used to be, they are a renowned national image. Is this the beginning of the end for that red uniformity? The point of the gold postboxes is that they represent a unique variant on a rigid formula. But now, everyone wants a gold postbox. Places that have been honoured want to keep their temporary festive postbox as a timeless memorial – Manchester is already asking for its gold letter receptacle on Albert Square to stay that way as a permanent reminder of cycling success.
Red just won’t cut it anymore. Those poor towns on the map that have no gold postboxes are surely shamed, as places where no sporting legends are nurtured, where no one’s been busy training on the fields of this green and pleasant land.
Green and pleasant? Perhaps the grass should also be painted gold in places that have raised Olympic heroes. Park keepers of Britain, where is your patriotism?
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