Thursday, 26 December 2019


It is that time of year where many of us reach out to old friends and family. Some would have sent just a Christmas card and perhaps with no other words other than the season's greetings, as other words may not be needed. Others would have enclosed a summary of the year with news of exam results, hobbies, and trips undertaken. Then, there are those who prefer the electronic means of communication (it doesn't cost a postage stamp or two). I am not a Luddite but I dislike email. The words might not even by your own as predictive text removes the need to think about what to write. Digital Christmas cards (not made out of paper) filled with emoji and/or animated gifs get easily forgotten. Handwriting shows thought and compassion, feeling and emotion. I know there are times the type-written/word-processed missives are the only way for some to correspond, whether due to writing-hand ill-health or a difficult bit of news to be repeated to many, so I do make exceptions.

Letters and cards are easier to treasure. Do you keep all those silly little email greetings, especially ones with URLs to the electronic greetings cards websites - would the message still be there on the website in 20 years time? Would your great great grandchildren be able to see the thoughtfulness of the message, or be able to open the attachment from the century-old email missive? Handwritten letters might not last forever (flood/fire) but wouldn't it be a shame that only scholars/well-educated people would be the only ones to be able to decipher the handwriting?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Do I have my own rules and guidelines for snail mail?

One size does not fit all, but there are a few rules and guidelines I think should be applicable to all. Here are my rules and guidelines:

1) Postage - do not cheat/defraud the postal authorities by using insufficient or invalid postage. A postage stamp can only be used once of sending an item of mail. If it has been postally used but remained unmarked, it is still not valid for postage. 

2) Seeing photos of snail mail on social media can be good for inspiration, discovering new ideas, and show that letter writing is not dead. Please, please do hide/obscure/blur the other person's address. UK postcodes are very specific and with the house number, it is just revealing as leaving the rest of the address. 10 / SW1A 2AA is the minimum needed for one iconic London address with a black front door. 

3) When writing the date, use the name or accepted abbreviation for it, rather than the number. Date conventions differ. 1st February is not the same as Jan. 2nd. 01/02.

4) It does not matter if the letter cannot be finished in one sitting. I don't worry about pausing letterwriting, even after a short time. I do hope to have finished the sentence I am writing if I have to pause. I have started a letter while writing for a friend on a night out. I am usually able to finish a sentence/paragraph when she turns up. 

5) The writing medium does not really matter. Paper meant to be written on, be it lined or blank or dotty or wavy, or with punched holes down the side and used by students to take lecture notes on (a school friend penpal wrote to me during her lessons), or reporter's notebook with pages on a spiral, or even actual letter writing paper. 

Embellishments, stickers, washi tape and whatnot are not vital for a good penpal letter. I do use them myself though, because embellishing brings me joy. I cannot draw so some of the stickers can illustrate for me instead.

It doesn't matter if the letter is written with a fountain pen, dip pen, or ballpoint. I admit I find it easier to use a fountain pen as the ink makes the words flow across the page. 

The words matter!

6) Of course I want to hear from you sooner rather than later. However, response time doesn't bother me. I like to reply to letters between a fortnight and month after receipt, having slowed down from within a fortnight. Life happens. I know some penpals take a month or more to reply, that is fine. Penpalling is supposed to be a hobby and therefore an enjoyable pastime. If pressurised, it can feel like a chore and you could get burnout. InCoWriMos/LetterMo/Write_on, the February or April letter writing projects, can overwhelm people and drown them in correspondence.

7) If you do not keep the letters/envelopes, consider saving the used stamps for charities (as they can raise money from sales to dealers/stamp collectors). There are plenty of charities in the UK raise some funds this way.

8) You can't be penfriends with everybody. Personalities can clash, beliefs can collide, or you just don't click. 

What do you do when you find you cannot write a reply to someone? Is it easier to not say anything? Or do you write to tell them (via snailmail or even via electronic messaging)? I haven't had to make this decision for a while, but I find myself in the category of not saying anything. It may be because I do not feel like writing to them at the time but maybe in the future I will be able to. There is hope. Life happens, stuff happens. Time. Patience. 

I think that is it for my rules/guidelines. 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Letters - yours, mine, other people's...

I was mortified recently finding out I had accidentally mixed up letters: one was sent to France but should have gone to Canada, and vice versa. This is a very rare mistake for me and in over 10 years of penpalling, have never mixed up letters to penpals before.

I do not know if the recipients read much of the wrong letters before forwarding them on. They knew of each other anyway, and have exchanged letters before, I believe. The contents of my two mixed up letters were not 'Top Secret' or "For Your Eyes Only" nor were they overly personal nor suggestive in nature. Some letters I do write to close penpals may contain more personal information, not just about me and my family, but questions / comments regarding theirs. I may occasionally talk about other penpals in letters: one recent case is that to a penpal in the UK with family & penpals in Hong Kong - I also have a penpal there so we have written about the political situation. I hope things will work out for the best over there.

I have not finished reading More Letters of Note, yet. I really should. I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of letters compiled by Shaun Usher. It was interesting to spy on written conversations not initially meant for strangers' eyes; a glimpse into the lives/worlds of other people. Do we all like to eavesdrop to a certain extent?

I would have liked to have read the letters my mother's brother wrote to her, in a 40 year correspondence, but she had shredded most of them. I was hoping to find insight into some family history, although I am not all that interested in genealogy (in a time my mother's family did not approve of my father, and possibly some of her ancestors would turn in their graves about it).

So, what of my letters, the ones I have received? I keep them all. I do sometimes look back through them, but not often. Should I digitise them? Have OCR work its magic and make the letters searchable? Should I allow others to read them?

Occasional snippets do get shown to others - maybe on a particular topic of interest to my family or friends (e.g. I showed the picture of a boat a penpal had sent me, to a friend who was a sailor and merchant seaman), or maybe the handwriting. But, I do not show the bits I deem to be "For My Eyes Only" to anyone else.

But, what should happen to my letters when I die? At this time, I don't think I would want them to be destroyed. The letters are kept in their envelopes. If an envelope has a return address other than a PO Box, I don't think it would be fair to sell the envelopes as stamped covers. The stamps could be removed from the envelopes and sent on to charities raising money through kiloware, or to friends/family who are interested in stamp collecting.

But what of the letters themselves? What it matter if they were read after I died? Would it be up to my family what to do with them? Do I bequeath them in a will? Should I leave it up to my family to decide? Would the senders like them back?

As for letters I have sent, I am not sure I would want them returned to me. I relinquished any power over them when I fed them to the post box. They belong to the people I sent them to, and leave it to them to decide what to do with them.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Thoughts on Stamps, postage stamps.

I am a member of a few penpalling groups and sites. Some opinions on a few topics are a little disappointing. Take the indication of payment to convey letters: the postage stamp. Postage is not cheap in some countries, so some people think it is OK to use insufficient postage but use at least one stamp especially on post going to another country as the foreign country's postal service may not charge the recipient to receive underpaid letters. One USPS forever stamp is not enough postage for a letter/postcard from the USA to the UK. 

However, a few others go even more extreme and use already postally used postage stamps for postage. Postally used stamps (cancelled or unmarked) are not valid to use again for postage. There is a woman in Northern Ireland who used Mr Men & Little Miss stamps already postmarked with Mr Tickle's arm from the special first day of issue cancellation mark and claimed it was brand new, on letters at least a year later.

Here's a postmarked potato, but she claims the mark is from a misplaced sticker. She, and other stamp re-users/thieves/fraudsters gives this hobby a bad name.

It is not just commemorative stamps, but also the ordinary 1st and 2nd class stamps. A couple who were selling used stamps on ebay for re-use were jailed earlier this year. It might not seem like stealing - the price of a genuine valid postage stamp may cost less than a packet of peanuts, but it is still theft and it is not fair on the postal services or those who use genuinely valid postage stamps for postage. 

On another spectrum, many postal authorities produce not only definitive (ordinary) stamps, they also produce commemorative (special issue) stamps and these are equally postally valid. Unfortunately, the majority of smaller post offices in the United Kingdom do not sell the commemorative stamps other than the Christmas 1st and 2nd class (and also large) stamps. The larger post offices should, at least on day of issue, have the special issue stamps although they may be a delay at the counter if they are still in the safe. Also. the special issue stamps can be bought from the postal service's website.

One opinion I came across was, "If they are special stamps, why use them on letters?" BECAUSE THEY ARE POSTAGE STAMPS, is what I wanted to reply. The postage rate is still the same for definitive (ordinary) stamps as it is for commemorative (special) stamps. This person goes on to say that she keeps the special stamps well away from the stamps she uses for penpal letters.

The stamps commemorative, remember or celebrate various themes. Why deny a penpal who is a Harry Potter or a Marvel fan of the joys of seeing these conveying letters to them?

Not into modern culture? Try history, monarchs and the royal family are common on many countries' postage stamps. There are many stamps depicting Queen Elizabeth II. The UK has had issues celebrating her significant birthdays and anniversaries of her accession.
Then, there are celebrations of places around the country. Here, I have R for Roman Baths, for a two-part issue, A to Z of The United Kingdom. I think I have visited 12 out of the 26 places depicted.

Stamps add to the whole penpalling experience. I enjoy going to the post office. I miss my retired sub-postmaster who almost always had a smile on his face and a story to tell. While waiting in the queue, there is chance for conversation with others. Stamps are about connecting with people.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

April has been #sow_on rather than #write_on

February is long gone, but I have some letters written to me in February still to reply to. For most of February and all of March, I was away from home. I received a couple of batches of letters to keep me going, but returned home to even more letters! The better weather means there are other calls on my time, namely gardening. I have been busy sowing seeds, digging up weeds, talking to bees and ladybirds and spiders and woodlice...

February itself was a success. I surprised lots of people on the InCoWriMo-2019 website, and was also surprised to receive over a third of replies to those letters.

One slight dilemma I have is that I have no idea of the order the letters arrived in while I was away. I could take educated guess from the postmark (if any), and letter date (if any) as I have a good idea of roughly how long a letter takes to get to me. However, I think I might just do pot luck, see how I feel.

I had a huge pile of letters I replied to for filing away. My current storage solution is to store the letters from one person in one (or more) plastic bags. Not all that romantic. Maybe I could find some fabric and use ribbon or thicker threads to wrap them up.

I have contemplated scanning in the letters received. I did scan in a few from my teenage years but wonder and ponder what file format and folder system to use. How future-proof would these digitised letters be?

Friday, 22 February 2019

February, letters, offline, thoughts

A slogan I used on a soapbox a few years ago was- Think Global, Act Local. I would love to act local in the purchasing of the nice postage stamps, but with post offices in villages being a side-venture to convenience stores / corner shops, to get the nice stamps I may have to travel miles, or buy online. The high street is declining, mine mainly has charity shops, cheapo discount stores, cafes, bookmakers. There is a post office but as one who wants to buy more than just a few stamps from the special issues, they sometimes won’t let me buy as much as I want or they’ve already sold out.
For stationery purposes, the stores on my high street don’t have much choice of jolly nice papers and paraphernalia. No chance of wax seals, nor a wide range of washi tape, nor colourful sparkly fountain pen inks available, so I do buy some things online. I want to support the local area, but should I go without if not available locally?
For friendships, I turned to snail mail. Where I live, I am still considered an outsider, even with the in-laws, and I have been here for nearly 20 years. People ignore me more often than not, in person. This place can get very isolated, lonely. I am quite shy too, so hurrah for the internet and discussion boards.
This February, I haven’t been online as much as I usually would. I have taken the time offline to write many letters, having picked strangers to write to from the website. March,  I hope will be a month of replies. Letter writing is for life, not just for February, but letter writing may not suit everybody.
I can’t really compare this year with previous years. I have a different outlook on the project from when I first started in 2013 or so. When I restarted penpalling in 2007, I was looking for commonality, same/similar interests and perhaps women with families. It didn’t really get me anywhere, and none of those initial correspondents stood the test of time. I started to expand my horizon, having joined other snail mail websites, Postcrossing, among others. I celebrated over 10 years of correspondence with a couple of penfriends. Lettermo and InCoWriMo opened my eyes wider, and I reached successfully to new penpals. Perhaps what I look for in a penpal has changed.
I don’t see snail mail as an obligation. I would like to reply to letters within a fortnight to a month of receipt, but if life/circumstance delays that, then I try not to stress. Snail mail is supposed to be fun and a relaxing hobby. Friendships should not feel like a chore. While I would like replies to the February surprise letters I have written, and yes, I may still feel disappointed if there are no surprises or replies waiting for me through the letterbox, I know there is life to be led. I do intend to reply to all letters I receive although there are some circumstances, obvious perhaps, when I would not reply.
This has taken a few hours to create, and it is eating into my letter writing time.

Monday, 4 February 2019

InCoWriMo-2019 - 3rd February thoughts

It is international correspondence writing month. A month full of me handwriting letters to send around the world, some to penpals, and some to strangers. This year, I have been selecting people from a number randomly generated and looked up in the nearest book / magazine. When one magazine failed to yield anything of note to search the address book for, I chose another book. I picked up More Letters of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher, to use for one letter. Will my letters be letters of note in years to come? I don't know, but don't mind if they aren't, that is, if they bring joy or a moment of happiness to the people I send them to.

Some people see the main goal of InCoWriMo-2019 as writing one-off notes/letters for 28 days. Maybe some participants would write a very short missive less than the Twitter character allowance, with writing the postal address taking more time. Size of letter shouldn't really matter, if the quality of what is written is excellent. Sometimes, it only takes a few words to make someone's day. Just "Happy InCoWriMo" doesn't cut it for me, it doesn't show much thought whether handwritten or not.

I do not see this month as a month of one-off correspondence. I see it as a month of reaching out to people, connecting with the world. Good letters can bring compassion, happiness, joy, contentment, peace, love, friendship, hope, knowledge, laughter, companionship.... They tell stories, anecdotes, jokes, and reveal genuineness, sincerity, merit, thoughtfulness, and emotion of the letter writers. There is something magical about it all. I may sit here in solitude, but with your letters in on my table, I am however in the company of friends.

Edited to add: 

The blog over on Goulet Pens has 28 suggestions, one a day, to write to. They include family, friends whether current or even from a long time ago, people in your life... If you are new to letter writing, then I think the suggestions there is a good way to get started. You already personally know most of the people you will write to.

The February letter writing projects are not about the receiving of mail. Many letters written through this month, and also first letters to prospective penpals via snail mail profile sites and penpal groups will be unrequited. For some, a letter is seen as a gift, a true gift that does not expect reciprocation. While I see the month as a way to connect with people, I do hope for replies but I know I cannot be a penfriend to everybody. "A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence but also as a work of art." - H. Walpole. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Picking who to write to in February from The List

The address book/list over on a handwritten letter every day website is long. Very long. 

Who do you pick to write to? 

  • Do you choose names, and or countries? 
  • Perhaps pick someone with the same first name as you, or from a city of the same name.... 
For something more "random", how about grabbing the nearest printed book or magazine, and turning to page ????? then do a CTRL+F on the address list looking for the names/words mentioned on that page? The magazine or book used may well be a good topic for conversation in the letter you then write. On different days, you might have different books / magazines closest to you. What page???? Well, leave that for you to work out - perhaps ask a family member or friend or ... for a number. More than one CTRL+F search result? Then you could use your discretion. 

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

3 more sleeps to go for InCoWriMo-2019

February is almost here, woo hoo, the shortest month on Earth. Why am I looking forward to February? Well, it is a month of handwriting letters every day. For those wanting to use typewriters, manual clunky thunky things, then the project for you is A Month of Letters (handwritten letters also allowed there).  The basic premise is to write a letter every (postal) day. This can be to family, to friends, to strangers (both sites have addresses available to send to), a mixture.  

To write a letter, I first need some ink, I mean, drink - a nice cup of tea.

A little longer and it'll be ready for milk. I like my loose-leaf tea. This duck tea-infuser is one of the better ones.

Also needed is a pen and paper. It doesn't have to be plain paper. It doesn't have to be airmail paper for international mail. The jolly envelope was part of a letter writing set from Paperchase.

Who to write to? If I have a letter I want to reply to that moment, I will do. I have ongoing correspondence with penfriends, some even from 4 or 5 years back through the old InCoWriMo site. The February projects can lead to long term / committed penfriendships, but not every letter will lead on to years of penfriendship. 

What if I wanted to write to someone new, I could look at the incowrimo-2019 address book. The list is long, and I could go scrolling up and down, stopping at random, and pick an address on screen. Or, I could look for countries or keywords in the address. CTRL+F is your friend. Last year, I chose some addresses with trees of some sort in them. I haven't decided what I'll search for this time. Also, I may pick a few people from the comments they have left on the website.

Once the letter is written, and addressed. I'll need stamps. These Game of Thrones stamps came out in January 2018 and I used some of them during February last year. For international mail, other stamps were needed in addition to these 1st class stamps.

I've skipped what to write in the letter. That is a subject up to you, but what I've gleaned from experience, and from others is that it should be written with genuine interest in the person you are sending to, perhaps with stories, anecdotes, and is a conversation you are having with the person you are writing to. 

Friday, 25 January 2019

InCoWriMo-2019 preparation in progress.

 Although I still have a few letters to reply to, February means I will be on a letter writing binge so I need to prepare.

  • My pens have been cleaned (mostly) and inked. 
  • I have sorted out various writing papers I think I want to use up, also restocking my letter writing-travel-kit. 
  • I have selected some decorative tapes and stickers to carry about with me too.
  • I live in a touristy area and so raided the attractions leaflets, mostly produced for last year, so I could cut out the maps. I'll include one in some of my surprise letters, well, that is the plan.
  • I need to find my glue roller so I can affix the aforementioned maps to the letter paper when needed.
  • I have postage stamps to hand. I must go in search of Airmail labels.
I think that is about it for now. Is there anything I am missing? I will leave picking who to write to for later as people are still signing up, and signing up closes at the end of January for InCoWriMo-2019. and

Monday, 7 January 2019

It is 2019! Where does the time go?

A question asked elsewhere was how many letters did you write in 2018? I didn't actually count but I reckon over 300 letters. I did however keep a record of when letters/postcards came in, and when I posted mail too so I could tot the numbers up. I did not mind the question though. 

I did used to give monthly stats but stopped because it may not be fair to say, "Look at me, look how many letters I write, look how much money I have spent on postage stamps, look how many penpals I have got!" Besides, perhaps I do not want to admit/realise how much money I spend on postage (or even how much stationery I bought last year - at least most of it was in the sales)! One of my penpals has over 150 other penfriends. Some might say that she is a penpal collector, and how can her letters be unique? Her letters are unique, and the ones to me are written just for me.

I could say how many different people I have written to in the past year, but I won't do that. With the likes of Facebook and the possibility of showing others how many "friends" you have on there, and Twitter & Instagram with followers, penpalling is not a popularity contest. It doesn't matter how many penpals you or I have. For me, it is the quality of the letter, the connection that I find is more important than quantity / popularity. For personal reference, though, it may be informative. 

What I might do when February has started & finished for 2019, is to count up the number of surprise letters received and sent through InCoWriMo-2019.