can be easy or difficult or even impossible.
There was one of those "human interest" pieces in the Guardian yesterday. It was about an Irish postman who had managed to deliver a letter with an arcane address. Reading it through I realised the story was not quite as remarkable as it first appeared to be. Nevertheless is was amusing enough to write about delivering a letter to a PhD student from Queen's University to his home village based on nothing much more than his surname, his glasses and his student status at the university. It would be easy enough to do the same here.
But someone else I know is also looking for an old colleague. She has put out messages on Twitter and Facebook and looked at Friends Reunited and no doubt other things. (And, if you happen to be reading this and you know the whereabouts a Diana M Legg ex-army from Northampton please let me know. I will pass it on to my friend so she can invite her to the reunion.)
And the police are still looking for "a man with a suitcase" in an attempt to solve the violent murder of a child. Someone has to know. In all likelihood the person who dumped the suitcase was a stranger to the area. The man with the suitcase was noticed because people didn't know him.
When we lived in rural communities people knew people. They knew where to find each other. The telephone was a "party" line. The Postmaster was also the storekeeper. The switchboard was in the Post Office section of the shop right by the front door. He could tell at a glance whether X was talking to Y. He took messages and passed them on. He wasn't one for listening in but he was also aware of the need for people to be safe. When an elderly man who lived alone didn't answer one morning he told the local policeman who went to investigate and probably saved his life.
The telephone exchange in the next place was much the same. There was a bad accident along one of the roads lined with dairy farms. The farmer who came across it rang the post office and left the contact to emergency services to the postmaster first telling him to "tell A to get his big tractor down there with a tow rope". And A turned up on the tractor with the tow rope.
The last rural community we lived in was on an island. The telephone system was connected to the mainland by an undersea cable. We saw a piece of this cable and it was big. My father could not hold his hands around it. It was also heavy. In the days before satellite communication it was the lifeline between the island and the mainland. The exchange, on the coast, was semi-automatic by then but this did not stop people using the post office to exchange messages.
The island had a doctor but no vet. My father needed to call the doctor one because one of the teachers needed to have his finger stitched following an accident. It was a very nasty cut. My father rang the surgery but got the exchange. The doctor had switched her phone through to the exchange because the receptionist was also the nurse and she was elsewhere.
"I'll let her know. She's out your way seeing to a cow," my father was told.
An hour or so later she turned up at the school having dealt with the cow. She was still dressed for vet work - muddy boots and a khaki cotton coat - but stood in the staff room and put in the necessary stitches abruptly telling the young male teacher not to be "a wimp" when he yelped.
School had finished for the day and I had been sent in to make her a cup of tea. She gave me a stern look, "And you Cat, you will keep your mouth shut."
I did but I still marvelled at the way people were found.