Sunday 11 December 2022

What are your first memories of letter writing?

I can't remember what age I was, but I remember my mother writing letters to her brother in Australia, sending them off in first day covers, and seeing the pretty stamps on the replies.

I remember writing postcards and/or letters home from camps I went on with The Woodcraft Folk (I was an elfin, and later, a pioneer, but didn't venture onwards due to homework and other things). There was an international camp in Loughborough and the elfins went on a trip to a lemonade factory, while the pioneers went down a coal mine. Then, the following year, just before I started secondary school, I went to France with The Woodcraft Folk, and stayed with the group who'd stayed with us at the international camp. I wrote home. 

Penpalling didn't start for me until 3rd year in secondary school. My German teacher was wunderbar. She organised a school exchange with a Gymnasium in Germany. I wanted to go, and those who also wanted to, were paired up with students from the Gymnasium beforehand so we could write letters (auf Deutsch). We had school trips both here and over there: Les Misérables was my favourite trip on this side, but over there, maybe Phantasialand! Weeeeee.

Sometime after the exchange, my French teacher passed round forms for the International Youth Service, for penpals. I ticked a few boxes and received letters. One was from Frédérick from near Toulouse, and another was from Singapore but I got her name wrong. I didn't know it was surname first, but then in public life, some people are referred to by their surnames (e.g. politicians). There were a couple of others, but with all of them, correspondence didn't last long as pressures of homework, and that... 

I moved around for a bit, and that isn't exactly conducive to penpalling, but I did manage to keep up a correspondence with one penpal made through an advertisement I had put in newspapers around the world. Correspondence however slowed down for a while as other things in life have a habit of taking over. That correspondence lasted on and off for almost 25 years before he passed away.

Living in a somewhat rural area, not connected that well with big cities through public transport (no proper railway), and being an outsider here even after 20 years, it feels a lonely place. I have made some friends here and it is nice to see them for a chat, but that isn't always possible/convenient. OK, that may be just an excuse. But penpals are always there for when I write, it doesn't matter if they are asleep, or working, or having fun, or busy... Emails - I could send them but perhaps nowadays, these can be intruding on screen time of some sort or another, and maybe we need to get away from the computer (or other connected screen device). There is still a place for email. I have tried email correspondence but found it demanding - the email impatiently waits to be replied to. One person demanded almost immediate responses to daily emails. 

However, I do also communicate with some penfriends outside of writing letters, be it through forums and discussion threads, or social media. Sometimes, a faster response is required, such as finding out how quickly letters are arriving, as events and circumstance can affect mail delivery (e.g. THAT Icelandic volcano a few years back halting most aviation in the more northern parts of the northern hemisphere, Covid, other natural events,...).

On that note, there is industrial action affecting Royal Mail. I'm on the side of the posties (could they end up on zero hour contracts, self-employed, earning less than current times...) but I do miss days without a delivery. There is quite a backlog of post (parcels prioritised over letters, but only Royal Mail have a monopoly for letter delivery), and there's warnings that Christmas Cards could arrive as late as February. I'm guessing that includes domestic, but hope my international post isn't that delayed - would Royal Mail like to pass on the international mail so it gets it out of their hands and away? However, they've brought forward the last recommended posting dates, with all the international ones passsed. They want us to allow almost 2 weeks for second class post to arrive, when it should take no more than 3 working days. I do have a couple of cards or so left to send overseas, so perhaps as wishing Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year, I should also wish them Happy Valentine's, Happy Birthday, Happy Unbirthday....  and ask them to apply as appropriate! 

Robins on top of a postbox, an envelope partially in the slot. Taken from a Christmas card.

Thursday 1 September 2022

Summer update

Summer weather has arrived in the UK, with sunshine and warm temperatures, I have been able to enjoy the outdoors, from walking well-trodden routes, to gardening closer to home. So much time taken away from letter writing, but I have written bits of letters in the outdoors; overlooking the Irish Sea, or the great Welsh countryside.

I've also been writing letters in cafes, while sipping lovely cups of tea. Something quite civilised in it, deep in conversation with a friend over drinks, even if that penfriend is asleep on the other side of the world. I may look to be sitting on my own, but I am in good company. However, I see people sitting together but they are looking at their smartphone screens rather than taking notice of each other: there's nothing more lonely than being alone in a crowd. 

Over the summer, there has been a lot of misinformation about Royal Mail stamps. 

Yet, not all stamps without the datamatrix code (barcode) will be invalidated. The special issue stamps are fine for the moment, as are Christmas stamps (though they had been for the chop). However, the country definitive stamps (small stamps with symbols/icons associated with the nation, e.g. for Wales, this is the leek, dragon, and daffodil) will go, but new ones with datamatrix codes have been issued to post offices.
Deutsche Post has datamatrix codes on some of their stamps, and I think they look rather good. Definitely not as intrusive/ugly as those Royal Mail have issued.

I'm especially liking the new definitive stamp series, Welt der Briefe, World of Letters. Wow, the ones I've seen so far look great. Perhaps this spells the end of the Flower series. 

Saturday 28 May 2022

Spring update

I know it has been a while since my last post. Spring has sprung in my little corner of the world, and that means that the great outdoors beckoned - not just up in the hills and mountains, or down by the sea, but also the call of the garden. Weeds grow so fast! But the first bloom of dandelions is quite a sight, a wonder, and the bees love them. So, have been out and about more, enjoying some of my other hobbies.

A postbox spotted on a walk

You have to try and live life. A friend has, even though he's experienced so many events, some extremely sad and heartbreaking (the type that never gets forgotten in the public mind, "natural" disaster), some horrendous events caused by other humans (war, he was an army nurse), illness & disease, bereavements... but even with those, he's delivered babies (a midwife), saved lives, stitched up wounds (so as you wouldn't notice - one person he told me he sewed up became a model), volunteered, fostered, cared, photographed people on their happiest days, written stories,...

Living life, rather than just existing, gives me things to talk about in letters. I have also taken my camera out and have had some photos printed in small size so I can affix these in my letters, so am spending less time in front of the computer.

I still love letters. I have a nice friendly snail mail forum, but don't want to be in your face about it. I do sometimes get annoyed at the constant marketing/advertising of things, it puts me off.

Letters via snail mail may not be for everyone (perhaps someone doesn't feel great writing about things to strangers at first, or financial issues as postage stamps can be quite expensive in world where prices of essentials rise, or do not feel comfortable giving out a home address...). We live in a world where prices are going up for the essentials, and although I class snail mail as essential for my mental health, I'm lucky to have already saved up some postage stamps.

Sunday 10 April 2022

Sunday Stamps - Birds

For today's Sunday Stamps theme, Birds, set by See it on a Postcard I have delved through my blog archives and have come across these:

The Taiwan Blue Magpie miniature sheet from 2008. A postcrosser had sent them to me along with a postcard, all because I mentioned that we like stamps and my son also had an interest.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Sunday Stamps - Selvage!

 The blog See it on a Postcard sets the Sunday Stamps theme, and today, it is  se-tenant/selvage so I've chosen selvage!

I bring you James from the Thomas the Tank Engine set! Currently, 66p is second class, but in April, 66p won't be enough to mail a letter.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Sunday Stamps - Ukraine

 Lost for words other than, I look forward to seeing this on post! 

Sunday 13 March 2022

Sunday Stamps - Wildlife

Today's Sunday Stamps theme is wildlife, set by See it on a Postcard so I've chosen a couple of stamps I've received on mail.

There was a stamp issue from Royal Mail with owls, and I think this is one of the nicer issues RM have issued.
I'm also in awe at the bioluminescent life issue from the USPS. I am not sure if I have a complete set on envelopes.

Sunday 6 March 2022

Sunday Stamps - Transportation

See it on a Postcard sets the theme for Sunday Stamps, and today's is Transportation so I've gone a bit loco. 

Royal Mail have issued miniature sheets, Classic Locomotives and here are just three of the sheets (I do have the Welsh one somewhere or perhaps I've used the stamps).
And below a few more trains, although I am not a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine and friends, I still think the stamps are nice! 
I really miss train travel. Maybe can do some this year. I haven't been on a train in very almost 2 years. 

Friday 4 March 2022

So, how was my Month of Letters / International Correspondence Writing Month?

February came to a close on Monday, and I posted over 40 letters in that month. It was a quieter month than in previous years, when I've surprised almost one new person every day for the month. This time, I've been concentrating on replying to letters because I have been behind on answering missives over the last 9 months or so (family member became progressively unwell, and passed away late 2021). However, I did manage to surprise a few new people, half a dozen across the writing projects. I have my address on a couple of the sites, not publicly, and so far, have received post from 14 new people. Post, especially from overseas, can be a bit slow getting here. 

The incoming have been a mix of postcards, wonderful letters, as well as some not as great letters. But that is OK, not everything can be outstanding otherwise there'd be a contradiction and wouldn't stand out. I will start replying to those letters & postcards next week. 

The alternate inco site with the year in the url  is no longer available. Sometimes good things have to come to an end. I do miss some of the blog posts and comments on there though. 

Sunday 20 February 2022

Sunday Stamps - N

Today's Sunday Stamps set by See it on a Postcard is N. So, I've chosen stamps shown on some outgoing mail in the theme of Nature, OK, a music stamp sneaked in but nature loves music too. 

Sunday 13 February 2022

Sunday Stamps - Love / Hearts

 As Valentine's Day approaches, time to celebrate Love and Hearts on stamps, a theme set by a blog See it on a Postcard

The US Postal Service loves stamps and loves issuing love on stamps. So, here is a small selection I have received on letters. 
I don't have a huge choice of Royal Mail issued stamps for the theme, the best I could find was this one celebrating Shakespeare. 
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs

Sunday 6 February 2022

Sunday Stamps - Winter Sports

Well, the Winter Olympics have started, and I remembered that there are stamps with the games and sports on them. Today's theme is Winter Sports, set by See it on a Postcard
I've watched a few ends of Curling, and think it could be interesting to try. Quite a bit of skill. Fascinated by the way they glide and sweep on the ice. Never played myself but did play some lawn bowls in town several years ago. 

Then, there's the lenticular Alpine Skiing stamps from Finland issued in 2008. I think I have received them all one way or another on Postcrossing postcards. I have never been skiing. Although the hills/mountains near where I live do get snow, in recent years not usually enough for skiing. There are some dry ski slopes within 30 miles though. 

Saturday 29 January 2022

February Letters - 2022 edition

Want to take part in Incowrimo but can't manage a whole letter-a-day to send? Maybe you could compromise and do this challenge instead. It doesn't matter if you can't do it every day. The main thing is to enjoy writing letters/postcards.

28 challenges for this month, one for each day. When writing a letter, please answer the question or use the writing prompt or do the task for that day, or just pick one you fancy doing (or at random).

  • 1st: Write a sentence with your non-dominant hand
  • 2nd: What flower(s) have you noticed blooming outside recently?
  • 3rd: Writing prompt: books
  • 4th: What is the weather like?
  • 5th: Will you be watching/following the Winter Olympics?
  • 6th: Have you learned/tried to learn any musical instruments?
  • 7th: When did you send your first ever email?
  • 8th: What are the best 3 things about where you live?
  • 9th: What are your three favourite films/tv series?
  • 10th: If you could write a book about anyone, who would you write about and what would its title be?
  • 11th: Write a sentence backwards
  • 12th: Doodle some eyes
  • 13th: What was the last book you started to read but decided not to finish?
  • 14th: Have you written Valentine's cards to pets (or even received one from a pet)?
  • 15th: What was the last board game you played?
  • 16th: What is a favourite quote from fiction?
  • 17th: What has made you smile recently?
  • 18th: What outdoor activities do you like doing?
  • 19th: What is your favourite season
  • 20th: Would you join clubs/societies for your hobbies?
  • 21st: Have you ever written letters to your future self?
  • 22nd: Do you volunteer or raise money for good causes?
  • 23rd: What can you hear/see around you while you write today's letter/postcard?
  • 24th: What museums/attractions in your area would you want to visit?
  • 25th: What was the strangest/oddest thing you did in 2021?
  • 26th: Do you like doing crosswords/sudoku or other puzzles?
  • 27th: Writing prompt: music
  • 28th: Do you keep a diary or journal or scrapbook?

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Another February is almost upon us.

As another February looms, it heralds in a couple of letter writing projects I've talked about before: A Month of Letters, and International Correspondence Writing Month. These projects draw in people new to letter writing, as well as seasoned correspondents. So, how should someone new go about writing the first letters for either of these projects?

One size does not fit all, and you must find your own way. Finding what works for you can take trial and error. What do you want from these projects? If you aren't looking for long term correspondents and you don't want to take up a position of their penpal, perhaps do not write a CV-style letter all about yourself/your family/your pets: you don't speak all this when you have an ephemeral conversation at a bus stop, on a train, or in the queue at a supermarket checkout. 

Handcraft (or type) your letters uniquely. OK, you will need perhaps to tell the person you are writing to your name, and if you want a response, your postal (or email) address. Anything else is fluid. A letter is a gift of time and energy, but if you send the same letter to everyone it may not reveal enthusiasm, sincerity and passion a good letter has.

I find this sort of letter below is just so boring:

Hello! My name is Jennifer. I live in Newport. I have a partner called Rhys and four children - their names are Cai (10), Eirian (7), Bethan (5) and Owain (2). We have three cats, one is a tabby called Simon,  the ginger tom is called Goofy,  and the black cat is Jetson. I like ice-skating, hill walking, darts and quilting. We go on holiday every year to Weston-Super-Mare and visit my grandmother, Jean. I am a 43 and my partner is 45. We met on New Year's Eve 12 years ago in the pub. He likes doing DIY, wood turning and supports Cardiff City. I go to bingo with my neighbour once a month. Write back soon xxx.

I'm afraid that sort of missive doesn't inspire me to reply. It doesn't engage with the recipient. I've received a few of that type of letter, and well, finding it almost impossible to write a reply on occasion (but I have managed to thank them electronically when I haven't been able to respond via letter).

Sometimes I do look up the town/city on a map - to see its rough location. I am hopeless at US geography, so even knowing if some town is near the sea, inland, north/south/east/west may help me write a letter. 

Now, what if Jennifer in Newport was writing to someone in Toledo, OR/USA who has mentioned hiking in their request for correspondence:

Hi there Kathy,

My name is Jennifer and I live in Newport, not the Newport in Oregon not too far from you but one in Wales, UK. My partner is a Welshman called Rhys, but I come from Bath in England originally. We have four children and have given them Welsh names - Cai (10), Eirian (7), Bethan (5) and Owain. The home is ruled by three felines. One of my hobbies is hill walking and I like to go walking in the Brecon Beacons at least once a month. I see from an online map that you've got some interesting scenery nearby. Where do you like to go walking/hiking? Another hobby is quilting. Rhys likes DIY and furniture making. He surprised me last birthday with a handmade sewing table. He is a big football (soccer) fan but likes most sports too. He even stayed up to watch the Super Bowl. I don't want to overwhelm you in first letter, so I will end here. I hope this finds you well. Write back when you can. xxx

A few more words (add better layout on paper with paragraphs/spacing) but not revealing as many hobbies/information, maybe not much more time/effort but there is something to draw you in. A question. A friendliness. Which letter would Kathy prefer? 

Penpal letters should be ongoing conversations. Questions should be asked but not too many - you do not want it to be an interrogation or inquisition.

You could enclose extras, such as a postcard of your area, a map/leaflet for your area, even a photograph (not necessarily of yourself/family), a bookmark... 

Postal services at the moment aren't all running a full speed operation. Post can be slow. Patience is needed for this hobby. Check your postal authority's service news page for updates. 

Sunday 23 January 2022

Sunday Stamps - Flags

 For Sunday Stamps, the theme set by See it on a Postcard is maps, flags. 

So, I bring you the one and only Y Ddraig Goch, the Welsh flag; the best there is! Cymru am byth!

Sunday 16 January 2022

Sunday Stamps - Writers/Composers

Sunday Stamps is set by the blog See it on a Postcard and today's theme is Writers, Composers, so I bring you a mix.
I have not read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works, but have heard/seen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. This stamp was one of 10 commemorating 10 Eminent Britons back in 2009.
Next up is Benjamin Britten, a composer and pianist. This stamp was one of 10 commemorating 10 Great Britons in 2013.
These stamps, Hollywood Composers, I found in an antiques store, a whole sheet for less than face value at the then exchange rate. I bought it, and started enclosing a few stamps to a couple of US penpals for them to use (to me or to anyone else, or even to scrapbook/journal). 

Sunday 9 January 2022

Sunday Stamps - Blue

The theme for Sunday Stamps is set by See it on a Postcard, and this time, the theme is blue.

A Postcrossing friend wanted to thank me for some information and had this postcard sent to me with a special postmark cancellation.
Also via Postcrossing, I received many postcards from Thailand, and on this one, was a stamp made with Thai Silk. Other nations have issued fabric stamps. 

Sunday 2 January 2022

Sunday Stamps - New / Recent

 See it on a Postcard sets the themes for Sunday Stamps. Today's is new / recent stamps, so first I'm bringing you one of my favourite issues of 2021 from Royal Mail.

I think this is a well designed miniature sheet, issued in August 2021. I haven't used any from the miniature sheet, I don't think. Maybe an electric bill payment could be sent in with the 2nd class stamp!
The DC Comics stamps are another recent issue, from September 2021 and I have been using some of these stamps on outgoing mail.
I don't show much received post these days so I thought I'd show an envelope from the US received last month. All three stamps had been issued last year, the Raven Story, a Japanese American soldier in WWII, and a Heritage Breeds stamp with a Milking Devon Cow.