Sunday, 25 December 2011

Letter 11 - Merry Christmas!

With working and getting ready to go to Norfolk for Christmas and going to parties and the cinema and having TOOTHACHE, I forgot to think about who to write to this week. However a compliment at my friend's party led me to decide on a lucky victim!

One thing I have noticed with all the eleven writings is that I findest it hardest to write when I know the person slightly. I don't know why that it - I guess for strangers everything you say is novel, and with people you know well, you know what bits of you they're interested in, but acquaintances are a whole different ballgame. I like it though ...

I had a really nice hour this evening, writing while Dr Who was on - family love it, I can't bear it - and just chilling out alone, thinking about highlights of the past year and having a nice festive sloe gin. I really enjoy the time the writing forces me to take out of the hustle and bustle. It is definitely something I need to incorporate into my New Year's Resolutions.

Merry Christmas and have a fantastic and prosperous New Year!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Letter 10

Goodness gracious, ten letters, ten weeks. What a lot of writing. Here's to another 42!

This week I wrote to my dearest Mama! I have been super busy this year and haven't spent half as much time with her as I wanted to. So I wrote a little note an sent a present to just let her know that I love her very much and how much she inspires me. We've planned a trip in the new year to the Scott Polar Resarch Institute in the Spring! I keep saying that we don't thank other people enough in our day-to-day lives and it really is true. So, this week, this is your homework: say thank you to your parents! I am so so so so lucky to have such an amazing one, who has coped admirably with me and my almost-27 years of not-always-the-most sensible ideas. (See below.)

I'm really really busy at the moment and it's been important for me to claim some time for myself. One thing that added to the hectiness was the 'euphonium' I bought off of the old ebay, which needed to be collected from Bristol. It also turned out to be a small tuba. So, I looked forward to a massive long drive to Bristol and back. To soften the blow, I decided to break my trip before I collected my instrument at the Lahloo Pantry which is a totes amaze tea room and tea shop in Bristol that I have been well perving on online. Not only did they stay open late so I could sit down, rest and write my Mum's letter but they were super kind and friendly and so very enthusiastic about their business - late Christmas presents? Go here! Seriously, I actually can't recommend them enough. I've not come across such a novel, kind and accommodating independent business in a really long while.
This is festive notepaper - note the gold pen to match the red and green stationary - that I wrote my thank you letter on! It was accompanied by a DELICIOUS matcha latte - like a latte but made with green tea. I tried to make one at home, but failed. I also had some AWESOME lemon drizzle cake (soz babes, I ate it all).
And this is my finished festive letter, complete with sample of Darjeeling Second Flush for my darling mother! I think the heart-shaped tine gives Lahloo and me both extra points!

Then I bought some Christmas presents*. I enjoyed my array of products and I can definitely say that they are all delicious! I picked up some lovely free postcards that I'm going to use for Postcrossing, to spread the tea love all around the world!

The letter project that I finished this week was the 12 Days of Love Letters where you wrote a letter of support to someone who needs it, for each of the twelve days of Christmas. The organisation as a whole is great, but I would be lying if I said I didn't ultimately find the project quite challenging. Some of the circumstances that people are in, I personally found very upsetting, and also felt very responsible for what I wrote in the letter and how that content might be reacted to. I guess letters that challenge you are perhaps the ones that it is most neccessary to write and those people are the ones who need the most love and support. However, I was out of my depth. I still wrote. I have 12 letters to send. Yet knowing who I might be writing to, for me, personally, I might not participate so deeply again. However, I think everyone should have a go.

We're about to go into Christmas week and I'm determined to keep the writing going. I've not mentioned the Christmas cards I've sent, or the postcards, because they are not extraordinary. But please, this week, do some extraordinary and say thank you to those who raised you. I'm pretty sure they did a very good job!

*actually things that I'll tell myself are presents, but will (not-so-secretly now) keep

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Letter 9

One of the things that has struck me the most since getting involved with Postcrossing and 52 Weeks of Mail is the huge online community that supports letters, post, writing, mail and everything related. One project that has crossed my path is in a site called The World Needs More Love Letters. The site as a whole aims to encourage people to leave notes around offering words of encouragement to people in their daily lives - not a romantic love letter, but one born out of an anonymous platonic love! This Christmas they are running a project called The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing - you can read about it here. Monday 5th December was the first day of the project and the task was to write a letter of support to a person called Nickie who'd been through a difficult time! This is the loving letter decor I chose for Day 1:
I sent a Jasmine Pearls Teapig so she could have a lovely cup of tea and hopefully the hearts will act like a visual embrace for her! I think it's beautiful that there are online communities that come together in this way to support others ... aww

More letters were to two girls whose parents are divorcing. It's very difficult to know what to say when you've never been in that situation yourself, but it reinforced to me the importance of NOT saying "I've been there it gets better", but saying "things are rubbish and that's ok, they will improve". I also won a competition from a company called Botanical Paperworks
They sell cards that are made of paper that is filled with seeds, that you then plant and grow! I'm excited to plant the card they sent to me, and I turned the front of it into a Postcrossing card too!

I'm also really enjoying using my nice fountain pen! I always use biros and pencils at work and it's so easy to forget the joy of using a lovely pen to write some lovely words. I also love this pen as it's the one my lovely mother bought me to use at university. It's very special to me. This week is a week of letters and next week will be too, however I have missed writing to someone I know to tell them my news and how much I value them. Hopefully next week, I'll continue with the 12 Days of Love Letters and also be able to find time to write a lovely letter too!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Letter 8

This week I don't have a "letter goal". I feel a little bit lost. However I do have some things I've been meaning to send to people, so this week is, I guess, more letters week, than letter week.

The first missive is to a lady in Spain, who wanted to pal up for this project. I've sent a card that relates to my childhood *sob* and how places can shape you, even if you don't live there. The card is of the church I went to growing up in Lincolnshire - St Swithun's, Bicker.

I'm not sure if a Spanish lady wants a picture of a local church, but there you go! I think people like to learn the details about other people's lives through letters. Especially now letters are rarer, it seems like extra effort ought to be made with the aesthetics as well as the story.

This week also saw the start of Lucy's Christmas Card Bonanza, in order to catch the last worldwide post! I had a very festive time drinking fake mulled wine, watching The Snowman and writing the cards ...  Let the festive period commence!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Letter 7

This week I wrote to my grandfather, who I have always called Pa Allen.

I was very lucky to grow up in an extended family that included my maternal grandparents, my mum, my aunt, uncle and their son, Ben. That doesn't include the dozens of people, who due to the quality of rural life in Lincolnshire, are pretty much parents too. I have very little choice in this, as a very early boyfriend discovered on a date to the local pub. Man after man came up to ensure that my honour was being protected - after each I was questioned as to if they were my Dad - blithely I kept saying "no" which was true as none of them were. My date got quite flustered about this. Perhaps I should have informed my poor date that it would take an Act of God for my father to walk through the doors, being deceased n that.

However I love Pa Allen very much. He's a unique person. He looks quite like a Werthers Originals Grandpa, but his mind is on quite another plain than that of toffees. Firstly because he has always had his mind on "higher things" such as Churchill and the Spalding Gentlemen's Society. Secondly because he has had a number of strokes now, so the vagueness with material life that was always inherent has got vaguer. Last Christmas he wore two pairs of trousers for a week ... why? Because he'd forgotten you had to take a pair off before putting another pair on! So there are lots of things to take into account when writing to him.

Normally I try to send him postcards from whatever thing I happen to be doing, if I've gone to a place, or done something out of the ordinary. Postcards have less writing. A letter is neccessarily longer. I try to write in shorter sentences, and I try to tell him things he'd find interesting. I told him about my recent Numismatic work and the second hand bookshop I went to on holiday. I'm not sure if he can still read properly, so I try to make my hand writing clear (very difficult for me). We'll see.

Like all relatives I know he worries about me a lot, so all troubles are LEFT OUT OF THE LETTER. I don't want to write to burden him, even though I have disgusting flu which is forcing me to not work. Stupid flu. He shouldn't know that. We also have very different day to day lives and it's hard me to catch him at home to speak in the evenings. We had a good spell where he rang at 7 each morning, but I'm not a lark and wasn't at my most conversational.

To make sure he knows it's from me, I'm going to add some photos, just as a little clue you see. I'm also going to write properly more often, then he'll be used to it.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Letter 6

Without sounding too much like X-factor, this week was Love Letter Week.

I have never written a love letter as an adult. I remember some early teen lovenotes at school that signed off with "time for tubby bye-bye". The sender shall remain nameless. I've never loved someone enough to want to sit down and write out how and why I love them so much.
If you know me at all, you'll know I like to do some research - write just from the heart, pah! A complex set of research must be done. Last week when me and the beloved were on holiday in Northumberland we went to Barter Books in Alnwick and I got (amongst other things within my ten pound budget) the Oxford Book of Letters. What surprised me was the actual paucity of love letters in there. There was one from the wife of John Adams (future American president) which whined at him to write longer letters despite the fact he was fighting in the revolution. It is also told him how he was running his campaigns wrong and what he ought to do instead. Interfering wife. In a much more saucy way were the letters between Nelson and Emma Hamilton, where he longs for her body (she cannot imagine how much). He also says he misses their little girl. It's both cute and a bit risque!

With failings in the research I turned to stationary. PINK I thought, is clearly the stationary colour of love. I bought a baby pink A4 sheet, a pink metallic envelope and a hot pink fountain pen. Then I went to Maison Blanc thinking that French=love surely, anyway it is quite near work. I sat down and bemused the waitress by then writing this very important missive.

I think the contents are private - sorry! But I tried to explain all the things that make me love Daz the most. Sometimes a bit listy, which I think is down to my inexperience in love-letter-writing, but it was excellent to sit down and think about how much I love my realtionship. So I implore you, write your beloved a love letter this week. I often take those closest to me for granted and maybe we should all take some time out to say thank you for being who you are right next to me.

If your partner is a dick, you should dump them and write a love letter to a stranger instead.

Love Letter Writing 101

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Letter 5

This week, is THANK YOU week.

I try to say thank you to people as often as I can. 'Thank you for being my friend', 'Thank you for holding that door open' and silent thank yous all the time for the oppurtunities I'm lucky to enjoy. Sometimes, things happen out of the blue that make you super grateful for the kindness of other people ...

I've only discovered Etsy relatively recently. Anyone who knows me would expect wild abandon buying beautiful things from all the talented people (such as my friend Katie's shop). However I have been relatively restrained. One thing I did buy and love is a yellow scarf with pea pods on it! You can see it to the left. Yellow, white polka dots and the greenest of pea pods. It is the happiest headscarf in Leeds! In the same shop, were a set of cat plates, which I had in my basket for months, thinking I love them, but can I really? Can I?

Well what should happen, but they arrived on my doorstep. To be honest, I was super confused - did I pay for them in my sleep? Has my card been stolen and they are delivering the things of my dreams to me in my sleep? Are the leprechauns bringing cat plates instead of pots of gold? No ... something more extraordinary happened. The lovely Leslie of PicklesandMaynard saw I had them in my basket for ages and in this capitalisitc, egocentric, selfish society of ours - she just posted them because she suspected I liked them. How beautiful is that? I thanked Leslie online at the time, but always wanted to do more. So here is the more ... I sent my second 52 Weeks of Mail package. To say thank you for my beautiful gift, hoping that one of these goodies at least will strike a chord with her, and that as a whole it will show how very grateful I am!

I was lucky to be able to carve out the time this week and have a peppermint tea in the Corn Exchange - I chose there at the suggestion of my friend Steph. Central Leeds isn't that amazing for cafes, but she said it was generally quieter there, and it was. A really nice Oasis where I could spread all my crap out, write and cogitate. It also feels a bit like being inside a Zepellin!

Nothing beats saying thank you to a stranger from inside an airship!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Letter 4

After writing to a stranger last week, I thought this week I would continue, mostly because I got a lovely card from Nara, Japan, through Postcrossing. The lady included her address on the card and I got a lovely warmth from her, so I thought, YES - you receive a letter!

I started writing on Wednesday this week, talking about my life. I did feel slightly guilty about sending a letter rather than postcards, so I included a couple of recycled ones: a vintage one of Edinburgh and one I received in a letter/stamp exchange with a girl in Russia. I hope she likes them. I also added a sample from Neals Yard Remedies and since it is nearly Christmas a festive badge. I then remembered Christmas isn't that popular in Japan (being shinto n all), so explained it. I also did a quite invlolved description of a lecture I attended - perhaps too complex for a Japanese lady I don't know. (Anyway Rory Naismith did do an excellent lecture at the Winton Institute in Oxford, where I just finished my internship.)

I finished writing on Friday on holiday with my gentleman in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

This has been a recent trend of not having enough time to write as long a letter as I would like, so the last two were written in two parts. I think this is OK, but was not part of the deal so this week I am going to make a CONCERTED EFFORT to write my letter in one go. I did love using this nice writing paper. I bought it in Tong Garden Centre a couple of years ago and have used it for thank you letters and also occassionaly for work at NYR when people have requested a sample or some infomation, I've sent a little note on this paper. The paper has rosemary in the bottom corner and the backs of the envelopes have ALL the herbs. And I do love herbs: sage, rosemary, chives, chamomile, rosemary and tansy!

For the first time this week, I thought about the posting of the letter - have things gone too far you may ask? Probably. However, that didn't stop me buying the postage in the postoffice, but then insisting to Daz that we found "a pretty postbox". The recipient is unlikely to wonder where I posted her letter - I did explain about 52 Weeks of Mail in the letter, but I'm not sure she'll follow up and look here. If you do ... Hello Noriko! This is me posting your letter in Alnwick, Northumberland. The postbox says V R which means it was built in the reign of Queen Victoria ...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Letter 3

This week I had a request from a lady from Postcrossing to be written to for this project. At first I was unsure because I couldn't decide if this project would be to just write to people I know, re-establishing communications, or whether it could be a penfriend project as well. In the end I thought in for a penny, in for a pound ... Post brings me a lot of pleasure ...

This week's letter has been posted to Canada now. It did feel quite strange to be writing to someone I don't know - what do you talk about? What do you mention? What do you leave out? This week was super busy as it was half-term and there were "Educational Trips" planned (btw I would definitely recommend the National Coal Mining Museum) so the letter turned into more of a diary of the start of the week. I find letter-writing can help you crystallise what you're thinking, and because it is a reflective activity, sometimes the brain has whirred and what you write can even surprise you.

It did also give me a chance to use some amazing TAPIR stationary I got in Japan 18 months ago. Tapirs are my favorite animal, and no one does amazing cute stationary like Japanese shops do ...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Letter 2

Today was a FAILDAY (with a small success).

Bad news in the morning followed by that upset feeling that is very difficult to shake - where all problems and questions seem insurmountable and unanswerable and you may as well give up and begin a lifetime's hibernation. I hate feeling like that and dig myself further into the hole by saying things to myself like "I shouldn't be like this, I'm normally so upbeat" and so on. It's not very healthy. Luckily it doesn't actually happen very often and generally I cog along doing all the things and generally having a lovely life.

To this end, I did indeed fulfill last week's ambition and GO TO A CAFE to WRITE A LETTER. I took the last couple of hours of Failday and turned them right around (if you say that in a Dolly Parton voice, it sounds pretty good). The cafe I went to was called Jacobs and Field and is near where I'm part-time living in Oxford. I think they make all their own things and the staff are nice and polite and the coffee is good!
Part of this journey in letter-writing is to ensure that I take a bit of time for myself out each week. Coffee, cake and some new stationary (...sssh!) really helped to bring my day up a level. Below is a coconut and cherry cake, the writing necessities and a PEN THAT SMELLS OF WATERMELON ...
It is however the pen that smells, not the ink, which means your fingers then smell of synthetic watermelon. 

In terms of content (this isn't just a description of cafes what I have been to), last week I got a surprise letter from my godfather in Australia, so it seemed providential that this week I should write back. I love my Australian family very much. Weeks ago I printed a few pictures to send, so they are tucked in here too. (Last Christmas I included a photo with all of my thank you letters - I never heard anything, but I hope it was a good idea...)

I also thought a lot this week about letters I shouldn't write. Last week would have been an important day for someone no longer with us and for various reasons I had an urge to write a letter not born from fondness and love and having shared fun, but one to express disappointment (don't worry Mark, not to you) and a lot of negative feeling.

I am glad I didn't write such a letter. It would not have been a sharing, but an outpouring, and that's not the point. Letters, though they can stand alone in your hands, are inevitably part of a dialogue and should not (I think) fall back to soliloquy. Writer and recipient. Past and present. Oxford notepaper and watermelon-scented fingers ... small successes.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Letter 1

This is the first week of '52 Weeks of Mail'. What sort of a start did I get off to? Not what I intended ...

Part of my intention in doing this was to carve a bit of time out of my busy life to sit down, have a beverage, write a letter and contemplate. This was meant to happen on a Sunday or a Monday. It is now 00:35 on Thursday morning and I've just wrapped a PARCEL intended for the recipient. So posting is late this week. And I wrote the actual letter last night in bed at a very similar time. Ooooops!

However, the parcel is TOTES AMAZE and contains: a copy of the BFG, some Mars Bars and an inflatable. Who could this be for, you wonder? The recipient lives in the tropics and famously likes strong tea and once gave me a picture of Yoko Ono's front bottom (or was it her boobs?). When the parcel arrives, the identity will be revealed - perhaps? I'm not sure about it all really. Would you want someone writing about what they had written to you? It's gone a bit Bradshaw this late at night ...

I did very much enjoy writing the letter, and even though its composition didn't take place in the surroundings or with the stationary I wanted, it was fun. Next week, nevertheless, I am going to go somewhere glam and write on PROPER WRITING PAPER. Maybe even with a fountain pen?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Wind's in the East ...

I'm about to start a new project and I think it'll be interesting to share.

52 Weeks of Mail is an idea set up by Etsy to encourage people to write more letters:

Basically you make a pledge to yourself to sit and write one letter a week to anyone for a whole year. You choose who you write to and what you write about. No one has to reply to you. There's no online tracking system. There's no spell checker. It's about your relationships with people and with the written word.

I love sending postcards ( and try to write, but most letters I write are thank you notes after birthdays and Christmas. This will encourage me to sit and take time to keep people in the loop! I have so many amazing friends and a wonderful family all around the world and I want this to help me keep in touch with them. (Liking a status does not a friendship make.)

Personally, I always find Autumn is the season that inspires the most changes in me. Last Autumn I took up running and tried (and failed) at a raw food diet. This autumn I'm having colonic irrigation (even I can't mess up being flushed) and doing this. Another reason is to encourage me to take time out of my hectic life to sit and be still. By taking time to write you a letter, I'll also be taking time for myself ...