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. http://s-mail.proboards.com/thread/557/first-letter 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?