Friday, 3 March 2023

Another Royal Mail betrayal

Well, it appears Royal Fail do not want people to send letters, yet, Royal Mail have the Universal Service Obligation to deliver mail 6 days a week to every address in the UK for the same cost (1st class to arrive next working day, 2nd class within 3 working days). However, there have been days that letters have not been delivered, and a penfriend reported that she hadn't had a postal delivery for over 2 weeks in January, which is no good for her weekly subscription to a television listings magazine with delivery days after the start of the listings. 

There have been postal strikes affecting Royal Mail. I have been supporting these strikes as Royal Mail seems to want to dehumanise the posties, to track them, to perhaps rank them. Royal Mail has the technology to know how long a postie has been in the same place, to see where the postie goes... 

There have been select committee meetings with Royal Mail's CEO. First impression, answers to the questions put to the CEO was akin to trying to get blood out of a stone. From the first meeting in January, it appears RM wants to cut sick pay to the postie, RM has introduced owner-driver posties (are they self-employed? and on insecure contracts), they deny prioritising parcels over letters (b*llocks). From the second meeting in February, there was evidence presented that there was a list of postal workers at a delivery office ranked in terms of speed of their deliveries. The CEO claimed that the PDAs the posties have do not track in real time and claim the PDA data is not being used to discipline staff (but a message from a delivery office manager submitted to the committee disputes this). The Chair of the committee is wonderful! Shame not all politicians are as well-spoken/well-meaning/etc. as him. Below is quoted from the transcript for the February meeting, and links to both meetings can be found at

Q197 Chair: I have to say that I’m not particularly persuaded. There’s a theme to your answers today, gentlemen, which is that we have rogue posters, we have rogue managers, we have isolated incidences, we have got a global pandemic, we have industrial action—it’s everyone else’s fault that there are all of these problems. “Nothing to do with me, guv!” Can you see, based on all of the information we’ve had, why it’s difficult for me to agree with the way you’re presenting your cases today?

So, Royal Fail needs to increase postage prices. Well, the rise is due on the 3rd April 2023. I shall cry, as will other UK-based snailmailers.

1st class. 95p now, will cost £1.10

2nd class. 68p now, will cost 75p

International Standard, aka airmail, first rate is £1.85 but will cost £2.20 (though the weight allowance for worldwide goes up from 20g to 100g, but the 20g-100g rate currently is £2.55, so silver lining perhaps).

International Economy, aka surface mail £1.60 now, goes up to a whopping £2, and all for letters outside of Europe. 

I don't send large letters, but there are large letter rates for domestic mail, and for international mail (both tariffs). 

Silver lining, perhaps, is that international airmail will be again 2 x 1st class. So, less of a need to faff around trying to make up from first class to the international postage rate. 

Read and weep via where you can download the prices. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2023


Picture printing machine found in some shopping centres, and shops.

One of the more popular things enclosed with letters is photographs. The photos may be of the letter writer or even of their family. Or, it could be a picture taken on holiday or in the surrounding area. Maybe it is something funny they've come across. But, perhaps the 6 x 4 (inch) format is too big for letters and may make the letters too heavy or thick. I don't have a working colour printer at the moment, but if I did, I could print some small pictures on the paper I use for letter writing. However, most of the paper I use is A5, and is perhaps not all that printer friendly. 

So, I was pleased to see a photo printing machine in a local supermarket that would allow pictures submitted on various digital media (USB, memory card, plug your device into the machine for image transfer....) to be printed. I can be stingy, so rather than get a small amount printed for a higher cost each, I go for gazillions (well) for the cheaper cost per print. But they come out 6 x 4 or can go for the larger size of 7 x 5. 

Selection of small pictures arranged on a 6 x 4 inch background.

The answer to that lies in making collages. I can select the dimensions, I use 3:2 or 2:3, and in the website I use for making the collages, I can specify how many pictures take up that space. Then, find and insert the images I want printed, save to USB drive... and head to the photo printing machine. The quality comes out quite well. I then have fun cutting/trimming the pictures and then putting double-sided sticky tape so they can be stuck onto the letter paper. 
A piece of paper with a small picture in one corner, and the back of another showing double-sided sticky tape.

Friday, 17 February 2023

Mid-incowrimo musings.

 We are just over half way through the month and I've received over a dozen surprises, but have only surprised about half-a-dozen so far. It can be hard to pick people to write to. Sometimes in past years, I have picked people by their address - perhaps part of it sounds a little amusing, or raises questions - is the view from North Scenic Highway picturesque? I hope life in Bland isn't bland or dull. 

But then, what to write? LetterMo and Incowrimo do not have long term correspondence as their main aim, though these letters can yield long lasting penfriendship. So, if the aim more one-off/occasional correspondence, why send introduction / CV-style letters that just focus on the writer? You are not applying for a job / business arrangement, but could be looking for penfriendship. 

The artist author Susan Branch said that she remembers being told to never use the word I in the first sentence. Occasionally, I have forgotten that and started with, "I'm writing to you from [not my usual writing place]," instead of a, "Thank you for your letter," if I'm writing a reply, or, "Hello, how are you?" Sounds easy to put the other person first. 

The Eastgate Clock in Chester, England.

So, what now? On the Incowrimo site, I posted 5 not-all-that-serious questions (one about clocks, one about ducks) and I've already received some answers with stories to them that warm the heart. Little snippets and insights to life, funny tales. So please, just jump write right in and write, perhaps use the kind of prompts in guided journals to convey who you are. No letter should be the same in LetterMo / Incowrimo but perhaps should elicit joy, laughter, mindfulness. You want to brighten the recipient's day. 


Thursday, 19 January 2023

February Letters - 2023 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: What was the last fiction book you read?
  • 2nd: Doodle the weather
  • 3rd: What was the last game/sport you played?
  • 4th: What book(s) are you currently reading?
  • 5th: What was the last film/play you saw in the cinema/theatre?
  • 6th: What is your favourite hot beverage?
  • 7th: Do you have any houseplants?
  • 8th: Do you collect anything?
  • 9th: What has made you smile recently?
  • 10th: What was the strangest/oddest thing to happen to you in 2022?
  • 11th: Write a sentence with your non-dominant hand
  • 12th: Writing prompt: local geography
  • 13th: What languages have you learned (including ones you've learned in school)?
  • 14th: What sort of picture(s) do you have hanging on your walls?
  • 15th: What was the last decision you made with a coin toss (or via random number generator)?
  • 16th: Share an interesting quote.
  • 17th: What outdoor activities do you enjoy?
  • 18th: Do you do any arts and crafts?
  • 19th: What was the last museum you visited?
  • 20th: Write a sentence backwards
  • 21st: What sport(s) do you like to watch?
  • 22nd: Do you belong to any clubs/societies for your hobbies?
  • 23rd: Where did you go for family holidays when you were young?
  • 24th: What are the closest orange, red, and yellow items to you?
  • 25th: When was the last time you got wet in the rain and where were you going?
  • 26th: What was the last music album on vinyl/cd/cassette you bought?
  • 27th: Have you played bar billiards, pool, billiards, snooker or darts?
  • 28th: Do you send postcards while you're on vacation or from somewhere on a day out?

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Royal Mail hit by ransomware - international outgoing affected

 It has been a week since Royal Mail reported a cyber incident affecting their International Export Services. For me, I thought this would only mean parcels, as due to Brexit, all parcels heading out of the UK would need a CN22 or CN23 customs declaration form affixed, and postcards & letters don't require customs declarations. So, I posted a letter to a penpal in the US on 12th January bearing a new postage stamp celebrating Iron Maiden - sorry R.C., it'll be a while before my letter should arrive. International outgoing mail problems started on the 10th (and public notified on the 11th). So, everything is affected - no outgoing letters, postcards (bah humbug for UK-based Postcrossers), parcels... for the time being. The cause wasn't reported in their service updates, but elsewhere, it was announced as ransomware. It doesn't look like a ransom has been paid, but I wouldn't expect them to confirm if they've paid one if they decide to pay. 

An Iron Maiden postage stamp, £1.85 value

Royal Mail's parcel competitors must be laughing and rubbing their hands with glee at all the extra business that could come their way.. So much is exported from the UK and quite a bit of that in small packages was sent via Royal Mail. Royal Mail's parent group rebranded themselves last year as International Distributions Services. How's that working out?!  L.O.L. !!! 

Royal Mail have no competition on the ordinary letter / postcard delivery front. They are required by law for 6 days delivery a week, and cover all UK addresses (I suppose weather/tide exceptions happen in the highlands, and islands). My hobby relies solely on Royal Mail being able to do their job. Without a postal service, this snail mail hobby of mine cannot survive. The only other choice is to quit snail mail and correspond directly with people only through electronic means - that is not a prospect I would relish: I love the texture and feel of paper; the flow of ink writing words across the page; the stickers & washi tape I use to decorate the missives; the postage stamps I use for postage and see on replies; the offline-ness of the hobby; a few moments of calm while I write.....

When that Icelandic volcano erupted a few years back bringing to a halt practically all air traffic in the northern part of the globe, Royal Mail sought other means to get post overseas. There's ferries from quite a few locations on the UK coast, and then there's the Channel Tunnel. Mail to continental Europe didn't seem to be delayed much. They made the effort to get capacity for shipping across the Atlantic. This time, with the cyber incident, they don't seem to be a in a particular hurry to sort it out (from what I can see).

I do hope post will be moving again abroad before February starts, when there are the letter postal projects of INternational COrrespondence WRIting MOnth (InCoWriMo), and A Month of Letters (LetterMo). I'm signed up and all on the latter, but am undecided about InCoWriMo as I write this. 

Mail is still making its way to the UK. This week, I've had letters from Canada, and from MN/USA. 

[edit 18th January 2023 - letters and postcards, those that don't need customs declarations, can be sent abroad, from 7pm today]

Sunday, 1 January 2023

Musings for the new year, 2023

Snail Mail, the sending of letters through the post may seem outdated in the digital & internet age, but there are people finding doing this offline activity enjoyable, and stress-reducing. The analogue nature, the wait for the response adds to the relaxing nature of the hobby. Letters can demand to be answered but usually there is not the urgency that emails command. 

How do we attract new people to the hobby, when there is a cost of living crisis? As I type, to send a regular letter within the UK costs 68p with a second class stamp. What else can you get for 68p? The cost of stationery used for a letter can be mere pennies. You don’t need expensive paper, nor costly pens to write a letter. You don’t need to use papers specifically designed for letters, though when I have bought such sets (paper with matching envelopes), the ratio of sheets to envelopes is wrong for my requirements (2 pages of A5 is not enough, and these writing set sheets are mostly decorated on one side, and/or perhaps the other side is not suitable for writing on). Then, there are notecards, but for longer missives, paper needs to be added in. 

Maybe letter writing is an excuse for some people to use their fountain pens. It was someone associated with the fountain pen industry who started the February letter writing project called InCoWriMo, where participants write a letter every day in the month. A way to practise penmanship, cursive handwriting, or even calligraphy. The latter is more of an art form rather than a flow of words. 

But this can give the impression letter writing is a snobby hobby! I have received letters written with fountain pens worth over £1000. Does that make those letters worth more than ones written with cheap ballpoint or gel pens? No. It is the words / content of the letter that matters to me, but if writing with a nice pen brings joy to the writer… I’m all for that. 

How do you find penpals? There are various penpalling sites out there, both more traditional sites, and places on social media. I have tried a few, with very much a mixed success. One size does not fit all. My way of snailmailing may not suit everyone. It may also take you time to find your style as well. Friendships take time, and may not work for everyone. How many people in your classes at school would you refer to as good friends then, and how many of them now? 

When I started this blog, there were several more snailmail blogs. Now, there aren't that many regularly updated. A shame. Everything seems to be on Instagram, with pretty pictures, rather than words and something to read & engage the mind. I'm tired of the algorithms social media use making it harder to see what I want to see and so I missed out on many posts by penfriends & other snailmail people I was following. Pictures, images, instant gratification. And as for the birdplace, well... that is another kettle of fish.

Snailmail is not an elite hobby.