Monday 4 December 2017

December and Christmas

Where did the time go since my last post?

Last month, I started to send out Christmas cards to my international penpals. 

Trip down memory lane with those toy stamps. I wasn't into reading comics as a child. 

I remember watching the first three Star Wars films as a child. 

I enjoy the music of Pink Floyd. I also like the television series and films based on Agatha Christie's stories. 

 One thing that is annoying me - the majority, I think, of charity Christmas cards are square. In the US, there is a non-machinable surcharge for sending square envelopes. There isn't such surcharge yet for the UK, but there are already problems - which way up? This actually was postmarked on the back and at right-angles to the way up. On the front, sadly the stamp was cancelled with biro..

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Questions on Snail Mail? What are they?

What are the questions and issues on Snail Mail people have? I can think of a few which I'll list below, but what other questions arise for this hobby?

  • How do you keep track of correspondence?
  • How do you store your letters?
  • What do you write in letters?
  • Why do you write letters in a digital age?
  • What are some of the things I can enclose with the letter?
  • Does age and gender matter when seeking out new penpals?
  • What do I do with the used stamps if I am not keeping the envelopes?
  • Do people still write with fountain pens?

Feel free to comment and answer any of these questions. 

Friday 1 September 2017

Royal Mail drops out of the FTSE100

With Royal Mail falling out of the FTSE100 index, I was reading an opinion on a stamp discussion board suggesting that if Royal Mail cancelled (postmarked) stamps used for postage properly, there would not be a trade in used but unmarked no gum/self-adhesive postage stamps. Perhaps eBay sells at least 10 million of these no gummed used but unmarked stamps in a year. First class is 65p. 10 million first class = £6,500,000.  

I had posted before about people reusing as postage used stamps but still see from public posts on Facebook that some people still do this illegal practice. It is fraud and these people who do it are con artists, in my book.  

Came across a news page on a stamp dealer's site :
Operation Gum-Gum. A new generation of people are now unaware of the seriousness of such fraud. In 1989 the police, in association with Royal Mail, started an investigation under the name of "Operation Gum Gum". They built up evidence against a number of people who were buying kiloware, extracting unfranked stamps (and in some cases even cleaning off light postmarks), and selling them on to others. Those who were targeted found it a surprising and scary ordeal. Some individuals were arrested, some of these tried and convicted, and some ended up with prison sentences. For a while this had the predictable effect of stopping commercial activity in stamps without postmarks. 

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I have been away a couple of times helping my mother. I came across a few things while there. The town I live in had a charity shop for Tenovus but I had never heard of it before then. I didn't realise that it was a well established charity, even featuring as a slogan postmark in 1968. 

My mother was a letter writer to friends and family, in the UK as well as overseas (mainly Australia). The letters have been mostly shredded but she kept the stamps on paper. I brought back this many with me. 
My dad liked covers, including first day covers. This is one I have of his - the inauguration of the car ferry between Southampton and Le Havre - 19th July 1964. I don't think I have taken this particular crossing across the Channel, but haven been sailings from Folkestone, Dover and Ramsgate, arriving at Oostende, Zeebrugge, Calais and Boulogne (not respectively). 
He also had penpals (like father like daughter, eh!). I don't know what happened to the letter inside (shredded, perhaps). I looked up the sender's name and discovered an online obituary. This person's special interests had included corresponding with pen pals all over the world!! That sounds like me! I think I would like that in my obituary! 

 So, what have I been doing recently? I have been buying even more stationery. I bought quite a few earlier this year from Paperchase in the sale. I like the jolly and cheerful designs. The main complaint though is that the paper allows you to only write on one side of the sheet, but sometimes that is a good thing as the designs will hide your writing and it won't show through cheap white envelopes. 

This was bought at Birmingham New Street station's Paperchase last month (I was travelling by train - and yes, I did take the opportunity to get some letters written on the train). However, I wouldn't be able to use scented stickers on letters to every penpal (some have allergies & intolerances I wouldn't want to exacerbate).

Tuesday 27 June 2017

No reply

When I last visited my mother, I was looking through things and one of the things I found was a postcard written to me by an overseas penpal. I don't remember the postcard at all, nor even the written words on the back. The postmark is faint, but I think it was posted in 1995. Part of what was written on the back is as follows:

Dear Mia, because you did not write me for long, in my fantasy you've reacted negatively to my last letter. Maybe it sounded blunt, though there was no bad meaning, I assure you. I'm no rude man - I'd be very sorry. Please write me again, and I promise to be more conscientious in my way.

I did write back. I can't recall the bluntness. I have kept (almost?) all of my letters so maybe I should look through them to find the reason. I do know it was not a request for marriage, love, intimate relationship, or money.

I haven't written back to everyone I have received letters from. I sometimes wonder why my letters did not get replied to. Maybe a couple got lost in the post but that would not account for all that yielded no reply. Possibilities I can think of:

- My/Their letters are boring

- They can't read my handwriting - I have adapted my writing especially to those where English is not a first language. Some handwriting styles take a little longer to decipher than others, even if neat too. I'm planning to do a blogpost on handwriting and intend to show the written dates and the greetings/salutations from my received letters.

- There's no click, connection or sharing of interests, although I take this to mean "I don't like you." I don't  place much importance into having many common interests/hobbies. As well as friendship, letters are a voyage of discovery I have looked up things mentioned in letters to find out more.

- Time and money. For a while, life's events meant I was busy and had other priorities. Money may be an issue for some, especially if they've been made redundant or have incurred an unexpected costly bill.

- Wrong end of the stick. Some might want more than penfriendship, but this is not reciprocated. One letter I received in the 1990s was from a couple who wanted me to write about my, wink wink, fantasies. I was 'young' and not comfortable with writing and exploring intimacies.

- Mentioned on the forum, one reason for stopping writing was because a penpal had forgotten a birthday. I know I miss penpals' birthdays, and I don't always say "Happy Birthday" when Facebook reminds me.

- Gifts and extras - one correspondent ceased to write to me when I would not send a photo of myself back. I do sometimes enclose things with letters, such as postcards, photos (mostly not of myself), and newspaper clippings. I do not expect extras in return. There should be no obligation to send gifts, even if something has been posted to you.

Are there any other reasons? 

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Letters home to Mother

I have been reading letters from Roald Dahl to his mother in the book, Love From Boy edited by Donald Sturrock. He wrote often: while at boarding school, working in East Africa, and his time in the RAF in the first couple of years of World War Two (as far as I got as I draft this blog post). His early letters weren't always truthful while at boarding school and were possibly under thread of being read by the schoolmasters perhaps watching over his shoulder as the letter was written. In adulthood in East Africa, he wrote about gambling, and drinking lots and lots plus some of the language used included swearing. In the RAF came in Iraq, he wrote about bodily functions - men worried about being bitten on the balls by scorpions while squatting over the toilet bucket and were relieved after inspection to have been a meal for yet another bloody sand fly. 

This has gotten me wondering what subjects do you broach in letters to your parents? I have only written a few letters to my mother and in no way did I broach the subject of intimate relations or even periods. My mother's eyes aren't fully wonderful nor are here hands thrilled to have arthritis, so reading and writing letters isn't easy for her. Do people still write to their parents? My mother has a habit of telephoning when I am in the bathroom or up to my elbows in washing up water. Telephones need both parties to be available at the same time - that's why I like letters, because you both read/write in your own time. E-mail is an option but for my mother, she isn't interested in the technology these days. I barely read/write emails myself these days. So, for her, it is the telephone that connects us but we don't speak about those taboo subjects.

Edit - I have now finished the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A bit of one letter especially made me laugh:

There is a large bridge near my house, which was designed by Theodore Roosevelt, and on each corner there is an enormous bronze statue of a bison. Now someone has painted the prominent personal organs of these bison bright red, so that everyone who crosses the bridge stops and roars with laughter. It is a very fine sight and I don't know who's going to take the paint off. You can't really have a fireman or someone leaning a ladder against the animal, ascending it and solemnly scraping the paint off the penises. A crowd would gather and laugh at him, and photographers from a bawdy newspaper would get a wonderful photograph. 

Monday 6 March 2017

March malaise

February was fun and frantic with the daily letter writing frenzy... but now that is over, the buzz has finally left me feeling a bit melancholy now it is over for another year. Mail will still arrive written in February (it hasn't been a whole week yet) and there are letters awaiting a response from me. I have slowed down my replies but I will continue with them (they still give me joy and happiness but I need to be in the mood / frame of mind to write the letters).

On the social media side of things, it has gone all but quiet. I wonder how many of those who put their address up on the official InCoWriMo website checked the Disqus comments regularly. Not a great percentage, I would say. On InCoWriMo-2017, there are still some addresses up until no later than November 1st (although mine is no longer displayed). 

There have been stories elsewhere of people being quite overwhelmed with the quantity of letters received, but others not so lucky.. I wrote a few surprises and have received more besides. Some of the surprises were random - scrolling up and down the address book with eyes closed until I stopped then chose an address from those shown. Others I had chosen because I'd seen comments there/elsewhere/Instagram.

As for the first letters themselves, there is a variety, and of varying interest. In the past, I have received letters I would say were exceptionally boring, but I still thanked the person for the letter. Perhaps they hadn't written letters in a very long time so didn't know what to write. I was amongst them when I restarted penpalling in 2007/8. I guess my letters could have been incredibly boring as not all of them even yielded a reply (they can't all have gotten lost).   The first letter is currently being discussed on the forum. and I hope to write a blog post in the coming weeks about it. 

Elsewhere, there has been heated debate, possibly now deleted, about the sending of the SAME first letter (variation only with the appropriate recipient name in the greetings and salutation, and date) no matter who they are sending to. There are also people who send the SAME continuing letters to people no matter who they are with no response to items raised by those getting the reply. I like to call these NEWSLETTERS although others refer to them as FORM letters. Form letters are more often-than-not typed (copy and paste, or just fill in the form to add a name & date), and so many people do not want typed correspondence for fear it is not written especially for them. 

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Updated - What can you write about in letters?

One of the questions I have been asked by non-letter writers is, "What do you write about in letters?" My answer is almost anything and everything, although it depends on who it is you are writing to. Topics generally avoided are - Religion (faith can be personal, and may also be divisive), Politics (some politicians this year have said things I think are hurtful, racist, sexist or just plain silly), and Sex (yes please ;) -  I drafted the original of this blog post on paper and drew the wink however my drawing looks evil). However, anything else is generally fine. Talk about roast turkey should be kept at a minimum with vegetarians, and should also avoid telling them about your child's dissection of a sheep's heart in science class at school (some brought in cooked or frozen hearts...). Make sure the letter is not all about you. This may be difficult for the first letter you send to a new penpal - I will cover this in a separate post soon.

Speaking of days, it doesn't matter if you can't finish a letter in a single sitting/day. I tend to write the new date when I continue on a different day, even if it is just after midnight. It is a good idea, especially if you write internationally, the name of the month and not its number - today's date is 01/03/17. In the UK, this means 1st March 2017, however, elsewhere it may be read as January 3rd 2017. 

You can talk about family - sometimes, they can be annoying. You can pick your friends, pick your nose but can't pick your family. Penpals can be great listeners - there's time to think and craft responses. Have we all, in speech, said something possibly hurtful without thinking? We may be able to offer advice and suggestions, or just provide a shoulder. It might not be good to keep things bottled up inside, however not every penpal would want to hear about your woes. There'll be close penpals, friendly penpals, acquaintances who are correspondents, akin to friendship in the 3D world (I didn't want to use "real world" because to me, penfriendship is still real friendship).

Some letters I've received have had me in fits of laughter. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine! You could admit to doing silly things - I once put sugar on my chips (fries) instead of into my cuppa (at least salt didn't go into the wrong place). Some people write diary letters but that's OK in moderation. What happens to you on a particular day can be of interest to your penpals but they don't need to know every detail of your day. The sometimes silly Five Questions.... challenge over on A World of Snail Mail can be cathartic, and maybe take you down memory lane. Now, which leg did I put in my trousers this morning?

Monday 27 February 2017

Day 27

The 27th day of February and the month is almost over. I have been participating in writing a handwritten letter ever day (well, sometimes more than one) over at and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. My name and address even made it on the shortlist of real people, most I hope would be down to earth, genuine people.

Don't get me wrong, but although A Month of Letters (LetterMo) and also International Correspondence Writing Month are worthy projects, I no longer feel they are for me. You get more points writing to a government representative than you do replying to a letter someone has taken the time and effort to write & send to you for LetterMo. Whereas InCoWriMo's shortlist of people include CEOs of pen companies and the like, plus a few celebrities. Also, although there is a place for putting your address, the Disqus system of comments isn't easy to navigate (although it does give you notifications if someone has replied to your comment). I did notice that neither of the two people who've updated the site have replied to any of the comments/queries posted.

I have received many lovely letters and cards. I absolutely adore this particular postcard of the jellyfishie things. I have a soft spot for invertebrates and love the beauty in their simplicity. I have already replied to this surprise, and have many others still to reply to. It is only fair to respond (although I suspect the CEOs on the InCoWriMo shortlist might not respond to all the letters they've received, and one who was listed was Prince Albert the Duke of Edinburgh definitely won't be replying, but the name was corrected in January). 
I expect there'll be a few more items on their way to me, and may indeed arrive in March. I will still respond to them.

I have also been surprising a few new people too, picking names/addresses out of the air to write to at the weekends. This past weekend, I only wrote 2 surprises, but I could write surprises tonight and tomorrow! 

During the week, I have been replying to letters, both to surprise letters and to ongoing correspondence.

Something I treated myself to was the Flow Book for Paper Lovers. Actually, 2 issues, one arrived last month. I am thoroughly impressed with this even though not everything in it is suitable for snail-mailing. 

I am planning a future post about whether these February projects are a good thing - do they prompt letter writing in the other months of the year? Are they a bit too competitive (the points system on LetterMo)? Is it a bit too arbitrary, with targets and quotas? Is it over-hyped? Perhaps they rekindle your love of snail mail you had in your younger days. Would you recommend them to your "real-life" friends, family and work-colleagues? On my forum there's a poll, and also other discussion about this.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Day 6

With over 300 people signing up on website, how do you choose who to write to for InCoWriMo-2017?

There are a few people from exotic places such as Suriname, Mexico, Serbia, New Zealand... I could write to people whose addresses have intrigue.

There are many streets named after people - first names, surnames or even their full names.

Then, there are roads with nature in mind - hill, creek, woodland, valley. Do deer go down the path and lane?

There's roads with names of buildings, e.g. church, station, also other places - Sheffield, Dallas, Newport, although none yet who live on a London Road.

As for place names, many are not unique. I didn't realise there was a Whitby in Canada, but this isn't the Whitby of Dracula-fame. As I write, 3 people have signed up from Plymouth - one is in the UK, and the other two are in different states of the US. I wonder if they will write to each other.

The weekend of the 4th & 5th of February saw me scrolling through the address book and at speed. I was selecting an address from what was on screen when the scrolling stopped. I wrote 4 letters over the weekend and these have now been posted.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Does penpal gender matter?

Earlier this month, I read from cover to cover the National Geographic's special issue for January 2017 on the Gender Revolution. I had never read any of their magazines from cover to cover, so this is a first! I found this issue so illuminating. Only in the last 25 or so years have I become aware of other sexualities/genders. 

The humanist Gene Roddenberry was a great influence on my teenage and young adult years. There was one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation introducing the Trill to the crew of the Enterprise. One Trill fell in love with Dr. Beverly Crusher and they had a romance. He was injured and he was dying but the symbiont inside needed a new body to act as host. However, it was too long a wait for a new Trill host to arrive but an interim solution became available - transplant the symbiont into Picard's No. 1 - Will Riker. This worked for a while and the romance continued with the dear doctor. When the new Trill host arrived and the symbiont transplanted, I recall the look of utter horror/disgust on Crusher's face when she sees the Trill is female. The Trill female still had the feelings of romance for the doctor, but Beverly felt uncomfortable. 

Continuing, Deep Space 9 has a Trill officer - Jadzia Dax. She meets one of her symbiont's past host's spouse's symbiont's new host and the love was still there; the two symbionts still loved each other even though their respective hosts were female. This showed me that there is more to love/attraction than the outward appearance.

So, what has this got to do with letter writing?

Traditional online penpal ads/profiles often state that they only want  female penpals. Some of these go on to add, "out of respect for my husband." I looked up the definition for respect - due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others. How does having a male penpal go against the right of others? If I rewrite and infer... "Because of my husband's wishes, I am not allowed to make friends with men, as he thinks I will want to throw my body at them, have affairs with them." I wonder then how this husband would cope with his wife having a lesbian penpal; would he fear she'd tempt her away and corrupt her? And would he have opinions on transgenders who were female or who are now female, or what about those who are intersex, examples - 1) a model has come out recently as intersex, having been born with undescended testicles, and the testes removed when she was 10, and 2) a writer and film maker grew a beard and had a period aged 12. So, would you discriminate on grounds of gender or sexuality? Should spouses (or even parents) dictate who you should be friends with?

The word I like is prefer. This allows you to keep an open mind. I did prefer to write to females 20 years ago, but I did also have some male penpals and I was pleasantly surprised. 

The February letter writing projects can give the freedom to write to new people, to discover the world. 

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.