Tuesday, 10 January 2017

InCoWriMo's official site has been updated.

But, I would take what is written with a big pinch of salt.

This is just part of The List. You may need to click the picture to read the wording.
These 28 people (and one crustacean) would love to receive your correspondence!
Don’t let a lack of at-the-ready recipients keep you from accepting the InCoWriMo Challenge. With this list, you don’t even need a personal address book.
All of the names on this list are real, live people (well, almost all the names). I’ve spoken to each personally (trust me) and while they may not be able to respond to the flood of letters that InCoWriMo provokes, they each confess, proclaim, and affirm that they crave your correspondence.
Then, look at one of the names..

The official site is now open to people to add their own address/comments via Disqus, having been updated by Eric who seemingly couldn't be bothered to update the site at all for 2016. For those who took part in 2015 and checked the site regularly, you may recall the site disappearing altogether along with the fountain pen forum.

Monday, 9 January 2017

February creeping up - InCoWriMo-2017 is on the horizon.

It is almost that time of year for the February letter writing frenzy. I will be taking part in InCoWriMo-2017, organised by a snail mail enthusiast I have the pleasure of calling a penfriend, from an InCoWriMo event in the past. InCoWriMo-2017 is for "ordinary" people: I say "ordinary" in a good sense because everyone can take part and send some letters to each other, not just to fountain pen company CEOs and celebrities listed on the InCoWriMo site with currently nowhere for "ordinary" people to sign up. You don't even need a fountain pen to take part, but the project would like you to send a handwritten letter everyday.

A similar project, A Month of Letters Challenge (LetterMo) for sending letters every postal day also allows the use of typewriters. There are little challenges within the main challenge, e.g. posting at a different postbox, using nice stamps, wax seals.

The fountain pen is my weapon of choice, but the gel pen used to be an implement of choice before I rediscovered fountain pens. I am happy to receive letters written in fountain pen, ballpoint, Sharpie, fineliner, even typewritten... 

The paper can be ordinary. In my teenage years, a friend moved out of the area and went to a new school. She wrote letters on refill pad paper during some of her lessons! There are writing pads, lined or plain, white or cream or other colours, perhaps patterned or with a logo. If you are lucky, you could find some nice writing sets, but the ratio of paper to envelopes is often too low. If you have a printer, you can print your own designs (or use one of the many templates available online).

Some people like to decorate the letters with stickers, or washi tape. Some might say this is childish, but someone said that penpalling is only a children's hobby. I am in my 40s and I use stickers and washi/deco tapes. I have received letters with stickers on from people even older than me, and even received a missive from a gentleman in his late 50s on Diddl writing paper. 

I have differentiated between InCoWriMo and InCoWriMo-2017. The original InCoWriMo was updated in February 2015, and then nothing until this month. InCoWriMo did still occur on a fountain pen forum and the original site in the comments section of the 2015 list, for 2016. However, with the original site looking dead in the water, my dear penfriend and snail mail enthusiast took it upon himself to create a new website for InCoWriMo-2107 in October. There are over 60 real people signed up already and the first week of January is only just over. So, it is with pleasure I support InCoWriMo-2017, for real people. 

Letter writing is fun, both the writing and the receiving. I do hope newcomers to InCoWriMo-2017 will enjoy sending and receiving missives. Letters are for life, not just for February and you may find yourself finding new friends - penfriends are real friends too. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

KeptSafe over the holidays, stay safe for 2017!

I was going to be at my mother's for the holidays but did not know when I was going to leave home and when I'd be back. So, with the risk of not being able to get back into the house with mail posted through the front door, I used Royal Mail's KeepSafe service. It worked a treat and this is all the nice post from penpals & correspondents around the world (excluding business post and the Christmas cards from family & non-postal friends) accumulated from the 19th December 2016, arriving today (4th January) 2017. It took me almost 2 hours to go through the post! 

Look at all those lovely stamps. With many more people getting post for the festive holidays than at other times of the year, they get to see more stamps. However, if they do not collect stamps, where do the stamps go? Some end up in the bin, I'm sure, but there is a better solution - send the stamps to charity. I have been trying to compile a list of charities around the world. So far, it has been easy to find charities in the UK accepting stamps (and there are at least two companies you can send stamps in to with the name of a particular charity from a wide variety), but not having as much luck around the world. Oxfam in Canada has a webpage for collecting stamps, but Oxfam in the US doesn't. So, if you know of any charities outside of the UK wanting stamps to raise money, please let me know. 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Christmas Cards

It is the season to be jolly, so I bought Christmas cards from charity shops to send to my penpals around the world. For the greeting, I like the wording similar to either Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, or, Season's Greetings. However, many just have Christmas greetings so that means writing in Happy New Year.

Now, the weight of the cards can be an issue, with some really fancy ones over 20g. This then falls into the 20-100g postage band. No good. So, limited to smaller cards. I bought square cards, some bigger than others. The smaller ones are a good weight and even allow room for a sheet or two of paper for a letter. So, I write my letters and enclose  them with a smallish square Christmas card. I post it, having looked up at the pricing leaflet from Royal Mail I picked up in May, with correct postage. I head over to Twitter but am dismayed when one post office tweeted about a minimum size for international mail. I responded to Royal Mail wondering if my slightly shy of a minimum 14cm on one dimension on the envelopes (supplied with the cards) would still get to Germany and USA. The reply is yes, as long as enough postage has been used but also to check https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/121 - this shows indeed a minimum size.

However, another current Royal Mail link mentions nothing about minimum size: http://www.royalmail.com/personal/international-delivery/international-standard (accessed 9th December 2016)

In the US, there may be a surcharge on square letters as the one dimension falls into non-machineable thingywhatsit (maybe a "which way is up" problem for the machines). I was wondering then whether Royal Mail will head down that route in the future and add a surcharge.

So, I have a bunch of under 140mm square Christmas cards to get through. There is no reported minimum size for domestic mail. So, I can use for them.

What a jolly scene. I have sneaked a few of the into 7 inch by 5 inch envelopes and this is under the 20g.

I bought also smaller cards to fit into the C6 (roughly 6 inch by 4 inch) envelopes. However, these ones I have to write in the New Year greeting. This size or even lightweight cards to fit into the C6 envelopes are rare.

So, I thought, if I have to write in Happy New Year, why not go for blank cards. I came across some nice folded gift tags and thought - they'd do for festive cards. I can then place more emphasis on the letter... size doesn't matter (it is the thought that counts?) and I can write my own greeting.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

My old letters

On a recent visit to my mother's to help her sort through boxes in the garage, I came across a couple of folders with my old correspondence in. After leaving university, I decided I wanted to make new friends and thought again about penpals (I had a few through the youth penpal service or whatever it was called, through my school). I came across a free ads paper and in it, there was a form for writing adverts to be shown in their sister papers overseas. There was a penpal section. I found the draft of my advert: 
Female, 21, wishing to make new friends. Loves photography, nature, travel, cacti and Star Trek.
I placed the ad, with my postal address (I'm not at the same address now) in various papers - New Zealand, some in Europe, some in the US and Canada. I had forgotten how many replies I had actually received. I am not sure I wrote to everyone who had sent a letter. I know most of that correspondence was not successful. I still have most of the letters, although most of the envelopes had the paper with stamps torn off. I also back then had drafted replies, some typewritten with many typos. One draft reply said:

I like nuts. Some people say I am a weirdo, or nutcase. I prefer to be a lunatic...
I am pondering why most of the correspondence had been unsuccessful. One comment I had attached to one letter was that it was from a religious nutcase (the letter contained only religion, nothing personal about the writer, no hobbies, no weather). Other letters asked for photos of myself. I think that this may have put me off - what does a person's appearance have to do with penpalling. OK, it may be good to put a face to a name, so some letters came with photos (no, the people were fully clothed). Another reason for failed correspondence - I think I had found a new boyfriend and didn't find much time for my postal pals of either gender. I did keep one correspondence going but the amount of letters exchanged slowed down when I had a toddler (now correspondence is just a note with a Christmas card), but I don't know what made that correspondence special to last so long. 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

To the Letter, and Remembrance

Now, almost 3 years later, I have finished To the Letter by Simon Garfield. I read the book slowly and marked many pages with highlighter tabs to note particularly interesting bits - some repeated below. 

I love the correspondence between Bessie Moore and Christopher Barker written while he was in the army during World War II. I will have to get Simon Garfield's book, My Dear Bessie which has more of the letters in than To the Letter. However, from To the Letter, I was able to garner wonder and emotion from these letters, for they contain humour, passion and concern:

"I am hanging on to the old old theory that no news is good news."

"Thanks for the letter, old-timer,I am sending this by Air Mail because it will have enough dull stuff in it to sink a Merchant ship." 

"How can I tell you I want to implant myself; how my lips need to meet your flesh everywhere, to kiss your hair, your ears, your lips......."

" 'How do I feel?' - such a large question sweetheart, oh such a large question! So difficult for me to tell you."

So, what do letters mean? More snippets from the book:

According to Emily Dickinson - "A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend." 

Katherine Mansfield wrote to a friend, "This is not a letter but my arms around you for a brief moment."

Ted Hughes describes letter-writing as "excellent training for conversation with the world."

"Without letters we risk losing sight of our history, or at least its nuance."

"Is a hand-held, ink-written letter more valuable to our sense of self and worth on the planet than something sent to a fortress of cables in the Midwest that likes to call itself a 'cloud'?"

A friend recommended The Why Factor, a radio programme broadcast on BBC World Service, and available online. One of the episodes was called Letters - broadcast a couple of years ago and had extracts of letters (including some between Bessie and Christopher). The programme spoke to John Steinbeck's son, Thomas about letters and letter-writing. From this episode, I do feel that letter-writing is a kind of armour against embarrassment for you can write words you may find difficulty in saying face-to-face. Also, I believe I am able to reveal myself more with ink on paper for I am a shy gal. 

We are coming up to 2 years shy for the centenary of the end of World War I. I have been to see the Weeping Window at Caernarfon Castle. 

One of the things I came across from doing citizen science was a project on the War Diaries of the British Army on the Western Front. The handwriting of the soldiers was neat although I was not used to all the handwriting styles used so took me a little while for me to decipher. The soldiers would have also sent many many letters home.

Their families grateful for every little bit of news from afar, even if it is about the weather. I wonder how many of these soldiers' families have kept these letters from World War I or even World War II (such as the family of Bessie and Christopher). Would the children of today be able to read them for many schools have discouraged or not taught joined up or cursive handwriting. Social and family history risk being lost. Will emails written today be treasured by generations to come?

Monday, 10 October 2016

Attracting people to the world of snail mail

I expect that many who read my blog have an interest in snailmail, letters, or even stamps, so I may be preaching to the converted about the joys of letterwriting and snailmail. But if you are not amongst the converted, did you experience the joys of snailmail as a child, with penpals? I was talking a while back with someone about letters and was told it was a childish hobby - you probably wouldn't call Prince Charles childish for all those letters he wrote, the black spider memos. What can we do to persuade people to come (back) and experience the pleasure of letters? Do projects such as InCoWriMo and LetterMo help (although these both take place in February)? Does anyone have an ideas? Do you see other people writing letters?