Sunday, 2 September 2012

Letter 47

On holiday this week I made a fantastic discovery in our bed and breakfast room - THEY PROVIDED HEADED NOTEPAPER. Oh yes! I got so excited. I spent quite a lot of my early teens wishing I lived in a time when people routinely used headed notepaper from different addresses. When I got a place at Oxford I was very excited as I'd heard that my college gave people their own notepaper. (I was wrong in this, unfortunately.)

Crab pot Cottage in Famborough came to my final rescue though. Not only did Daz and I get a really lovely last minute room there, but I availed my self of the notepaper and wrote to my Grandpa.

I then got excited in Flamborough village with posting in and Edward VII post-box! I'm sure I'd ever posted in one before #supergeek

Friday, 31 August 2012

Letter 46

Seedy Penpals.

You know I love an online exchange. This one is completely new! The tenet is that you swop some seeds, blog about it and your garden and then swap seeds again in the Spring (I think). To know more ask Carl who runs Seedy Penpals.

I joined because for the first time in all my adult life I'm living a much more permanent home. My boyfriend and I will ultimately move, but not for a few years, so I can try and green my fingers on his much neglected plot. The burden feels heavy on me though. My grandmother was an amazing gardener and I grew up in a whole acre of garden that she and my great-grandparents had created. My childhood seemed to be a long lits of country house gardens and garden centres. (I was only ever interested if there was a pond with fish in or a pet shop.) Sometimes I did try and remember growing marigolds that I got in a McDonalds Happy Meal. I also had my own sink garden, with a hosta, a lavender and some weeds. I did manage to grow some apple trees from pips, but after they were six inches high I don't remember what happened to them. I hated mowing. I hated weeding. The thing I was most interested in to do with the garden, was when I was given a rain gauge and a book to note rainfall in. I did. Comprehensively. Then some the rain gauge snapped. The end.

However I must absorbed some things by sheer osmosis, as I'm quite good with plant names. I'm very good at growing potatoes in bags. (Sometimes not even by design.) The growing side of my interest in herbal medicine has also been pushed forward by studying at Dilston Physic Garden.

Still I am not green-fingered, but I've got good intentions. What I am very good at is buying seeds and never planting them. Here is my seed box, that my brother made me to contain said unplanted seeds:

So Seedy Penpals, I vow to you that all my seeds will be planted and my garden will blossom into a beautiful bower ... once I get rid of all these bloody ornamental strawberries.

My seeds came from Andrew at Acuvital. This is a great blog so go and look. Andrew seems to be further along the path I'm exploring through herbal medicine (obviously because he is an acupuncturist), but all his posts struck different chords with me and we follow a lot of the same people.

Here are the exciting envelopes he sent me:

There is:
  • Cosse Violette - a purple climbing bean - plant direct into sowing site late April/May
  • Verde di Italia - early courgette - sow April/May in small pots and grow undercover until three true leaves form
  • Summer Crookneck - Bent Summer Squash - ditto
  • Dragon Purple Carrot - sow thinly in small shallow drills, 3" apart in dull weather 
  • Tree Cabbage - sow mid to late Spring
  • Albino Beetroot - sow March/April
I'm very excited about all these seeds, particularly as I think they've come from things Andrew has already grown. I'm excited to grow them all in the Spring.

Here is a picture of our garden. Any ideas of where to start? The overgrown dandelions at the front are slowly being cleared away and I think I'll grow Andrew's beans on the trellis by the bins. Should I take that big bush out? Does anyone know what it is?

My seed package went to the founder Carl (no pressure there) and you can read about what he got here.

Letters 35-45

I moved house, my other blog got very busy, I spent a lot of time travelling between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and I didn't post here for a while. Not because I wasn't writing letters, but because I didn't have time to write about writing letters. *Le sigh*

Ten weeks is quite a long time out of a year long project, but, it's also nice because I can still see how much I wrote. Postcards - the old Postcrossing is still carrying on, but more selectively now after a year of sending. I've been trying to remember birthdays and send proper letters and cards. People have had babies! And got married! So I've tried to do all that too.

Writing a letter is still a special thing, but more in a way that I just do it now, rather than having to carve out time from my life. I don't write quite as much as I'd like to, but I don't think anyone ever says "Oh I've spent too much time doing things I enjoy, must do something boring". There are lots of online penpal schemes, home-school letter exchanges, postcard exchanges, food exchanges and I'm sure hundreds more I haven't come across yet! The tangible is still all around us, even on line.

In an ideal blogging world I would have pictures of me sending and happy recipients. I don't. I'm not that twee yet.

I have in these few weeks been receiving a lot of mail from friends. My favourite was this jigsaw-letter from my friend Liz. Genius!

Letter 34

Sometimes when you plan things, every time you think about them you do a little giggle to yourself. This is how I've felt over the last few weeks, planning this particular letter.

Lots of other blogs talk a lot about stationary and the joy of nice paper and pens and sitting and writing and keeping things neat. Even making your own envelopes. I haven't had the wherewithal to do that, but a few weeks ago I got the chance to make my own paper at the great Armley Mills. (To be honest, I hijacked the childrens activity.)

What you do if rip up lots of bits of paper, soak them in water, blitz them in a blender, then build up layers of the paste over some gauze. Then drain it a bit and flip the paper off onto lots of dry newspaper and leave it to dry. Those are very loose instructions. You'd be better to look it up properly.

Anyway, my starting bit of scrap paper looked like this:

Yes that's a stranger's drawing of David Bowie. I wonder who will receive this newly made paper?

Basically, you don't need to know the details, but I wrote my beloved and nice poem on this paper and sent it to him. I preceded it with an email that was meant to tease, but in fact what quite ominous. It went something like "Soon you'll understand ..." and a picture of David Bowie's face. Daz said it thought it was a Dear John letter. As if, I know when I'm onto a good thing. The poem, I won't mention, as I imagine my words are a pithy cross of John Betjemin and Ted Hughes - the reality is as far away from that as I am from somewhere very far away indeed.

But it's a love token. Sent from the heart. Awwwww ....

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Letter 33

A while ago I mentioned joining a mix tape project called Tape Recorded Delivery. For their first set of swaps I was too busy to make a CD, but this month I totally found the time.

Part of the exchange is writing a little note explaining the mix. So its writing right? It's exchanging, through letterboxes.

As I made my mix, based on the theme of communication, I was reminded of being much younger and trying to make 'perfect tapes' to convey the most complex of emotions. This one was simpler. The track listing is below, in case you want to listen along to Hazel. I hope its OK. I was undecided as to whether Madonna was too much or not enough?

I feel like I've got quite a lot of thoughts about writing and listening and all that subliminal listening stuff. I've not quite got my head round it all enough, for it to make any sense, or for me to not sound like a self-conscious blogging nob. Anyway, here are some songs, arranged from ways of talking through to longer exchanges. But not that one.

Art Brut - Nag Nag Nag

Gene - Speak to me someone

Micah P Hinson - A call to arms

Kelis - Scream

The Whip - Sirens

Madonna - Papa Don't Preach

Etta James - Tell Mama

The National - Conversation 16

Sigur Ros - Hjartad hamast

Micah P Hinson - Letter to Huntsville

Shearwater - The Hunter's Star

Bjork - Virus

Noise for Pretend - It's oh so quiet

All thoughts are welcome ... the next theme is 'People and Places'. I think I know what my first/last song might be.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Letter 32

The hardest letters to write. The letters we all have to write (usually at quite stressful points in our lives).

Covering letters.

Despite having been applying for jobs for well over a decade now, I still find them so so so so so hard to write. As soon as I look at a computer screen, my mind goes blank and little flippety bobbets squabble around making all rational thought impossible. Hours of agonising and deleting sentences ensue. And that's just the my own address. I find it so hard. So, really this is a call for advice - who can come up with an amazing guide to writing a cover letter - or know where to find one. (Preferably with an English tone ...)

That's not to say lots of friends and supervisors haven't offered to look over things. They have. My beautiful boyfriend reads pretty everything before its sent away. But I still really struggle with the process. Then suddenly its four hours before the deadline and I'm massively rushing it. This does get it done, but not very well.

To be fair on myself, the ones I've done so far have got me some job interviews, so must be OK, but I would love to be someone who chips away for a few days a week before the deadline and then sends the letter around. Application forms I find easier. And I do have a couple of my own insights to share, but I'm hoping someone who has the secret recipe will share ...

My top tips:
  • Rough it out first with a pen and paper, running through all the bullet points you want to make, with the person specification alongside. 
  • Be polite. Better to be too formal than not?
  • Demonstrate that you've researched the organisation. 
I probably know more but its breaking the seal on the composition I guess.

I also imagine its  not a skill that comes easily to everyone, but having spent the last few weeks agonising over various ones, I'd really like to know other people's experiences ...

Wish me luck ....

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Letter 31

This weekend I began my course in Herbal Medicine at Dilston Physic Garden. The course and the group of people I'm with are all massively inspiring. The magic itself really has a very strong force surrounding it - maybe like a rainforest its all those different species rubbing their shoulders so closely means you can almost feel them transpiring.

It made me think about a friend who I've not seen for a few years and how in a lot of ways, she was the first person to open me up to thinking about different ways of living. People affect us across time, maybe you've not spoken for a while, but that doesn't mean that you don't think about them, or that you don't recognise that you are in a place that they have had a hand in bringing you to.

So I thought and write and say so. It made me think how inspiration shouldn't be linear: "you gave me that, I am doing this". But that it should have a much more reflexive action. I gues that's what artistic communities work towards, and maybe why some artists work as partnerships. I don't really know very much about that. I did however feel very humble. To be doing an amazing thing, to tell someone they had a part in sowing the seeds.

So yes, another thank you letter, but of a different sort this time.

Who do you have an inspirational relationship with?

My newest inspirational relationship is with Dilston Physic Garden. Go. Please. It's beautiful. 

Entering through the Shinto Gate

And all the herbs were before me ...
The Chamomile Lawn

Mugwort Leaf - the first herb we encountered - nervine, emmenagogue, diuretuc, diaphoretic and tonic properties

The view from my tent. Some grey wagtails visited in the morning.

Rape through a budding hedge AKA my evening walk

Monday, 21 May 2012

Letter 30

This week my letter writing has been an emergency! As you might be aware, I'm part of the foodie penpals network. Lots of us follow each other on the twitter and it was to my dismay that I saw that Nicky hadn't received a package and she didn't think her pal was sending one at all! Oh no, the non-gender specific brotherhood can't have that, so I emailed Nicky to offer to send her a little package to make up for others slacking off. (I just don't like people to be disappointed.)

Nicky very kindly sent me a present in return (too kind really)which came in the shape of some seaweed foods. I really love seaweed. It's delicious and really easy to cook with, so I was well chuffed. Here is a picture of what I got in my under-the-radar penpal package:

There are lots of ways of getting involved with mail. One part of foodie penpals that I really enjoy, is writing the letter that goes with the package, explaining the foods, explaining what I've been doing to put it all together and why. It's another way of reaching out to people, seeing what others want to share and sharing the things you love with others. (My hibiscus phase is at a height now, so a couple of people have seen it now.)

Generosity comes in all shapes and sizes. From a packet of seaweed to giving the last pennies in your bank to charity ... Time is of course, precious to us all, but using it in a purposeful way can really make a difference.*

If you want to become a foodie penpal go here!

*Carrie Bradshaw brain again.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Letter 29

After over six months of concertedly writing and sending a letter every week, it seems to me that letter-writing is almost an automatic part of my life. And I think that's a nice thing.

One of the newest developments with my family life is that my Grandpa has just moved into a residential home permanently. With all occassions like this it is positive and negative in turns. He has demetia and neither me or my Mum live nearby so he needs to be somewhere where he will be safe. It is a big change to make and you can't help but feel you're not doing enough, even if you know that you are. But discussion of care for the elderly and how families cope with demetia is not for here. If you want to watch a really good documentary about it, look to the latest Louis Theroux.

What I have been trying to do is write to my Grandpa each week, simply saying what I've been doing, asking how he is and trying to keep him up-to-date. As the weeks roll by, I think that maybe I'm doing this for me, rather than for him. Is it because I feel less guilty if I write that I've not got enough spare cash to drive down and visit as often as I'd like. Probably. But I do know that he likes to show people letters and cards that he receives, and he gets pleasure from that interaction. And that's the main thing.

I guess my point this week is that it is not neccessarily the reading of the letter that is important, but the communication in other ways it then inspires.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Letter 28


That's a letter that no one wishes to write and no one wishes to receive. A little while ago I was trying to think of the types of letter that everyone will write during their lifetime. Thank you letters, cover letters for jobs and perhaps letters of condolence were high on my list.

Grief, you would think was universal, so therefore writing to show someone that you care *should* come naturally. However, I certainly found it difficult to find and use all the right words. I wanted to give a lot of thought to what I was going to write (as you may have realised someone I knew passed away) and did something I've never done before. I bought a self-help book.

'The Art of Condolence' is a book I saw in the second hand bookshop down the road from me several weeks ago. I ummed and ahhed and left it on the shelf. More recently I returned to see if it was still there. Apart from collections of letters, it was the first book I'd seen that focussed on how to write letters. Very specific letters - a whole chapter is dedicated on what to write on the death of an Aids victim (the book was published in the US in 1991). It is written by two grief counsellors and is much more sensible in its approach than I expected it to be - although some of the sample letters are bizarre. Or they might just be American.

After reading 'The Art of Condolence' and thinking long and hard about what to say, I came up with a summary of all my research and thoughts, so when writing a letter of condolence, here's my top few tips:

  1. Acknowledge the loss. The simple structure of 'I was really sorry to hear ...' gets the elephant out of the way. It's also honest, you can follow it up with 'I shall miss them' or if you didn't know them 'from everything you've said it sounds like they'll be missed very much.
  2. I think writing about a special time or conversation you had with the deceased is a good thing to move on to. After my Grandma died, for ages I couldn't remember anything at all as to how she was like. Putting a little sentence down of they said this and I always remembered it, is special.
  3. A practical offer, a gift or something specific is good. It's no good saying 'Ring if you need anything' as, well if you're like me, you'll think I can manage fine. I would be much more likely to do something about shall we meet in six weeks. A treat, like gift vouchers, can buoy people up.
Also remember, that it's OK if you start writing and then find it too difficult to finish. That doesn't mean you are a bad or careless friend, just that you find it hard to discuss. That's fine. Everyone is different. Telephone. Pop round.

That's it. There's a lot more detailed advice available and there are lots of examples of how to do it online, but I think the important thing is that it comes from your heart.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Letter 27

This week I decided on two things. One was to get back to my having a coffee in some peace and quiet and making space for myself manner. The other was to combine my other blog with this one. You will soon see ...

The first goal, I went to the cafe at the end of my road and had tea and a teacake. For breakfast. Yeah, luxury!

The secind was to write to my Auntie Sheila for Lincolnshire offal recipes, sepcifically how to make the top of her Pig's Fry go crunchy and sticky. This is because I am on a year-long quest of eating meat in more sustainable fashion. So offal it is. I'm writing about it here. I won't have a regular cut of meat until January next year. This knowledge has mostly made me fixated on bacon. In the words on Gandalf "None shall pass" and I'll be unable to enjoy it for many more months.

The upside is that I love black pudding and kidneys and liver and my diet is a lot of adventurous. I have also eaten a lot of slow cooked stew. This is a good thing. I like stew. I've got also got more people talking about offal in my circle of friends and I know a few people have tried some more things/bought liver instead of steak as a result. I think that is a good thing. Liver has bare loads of nutrients in it. So yes, the offal and the letter-writing have come together. I really want to collect more regional offal recipes before (to be frank) the people who habitually cook it pop off this mortal coil. So my intention is to write to Women's Institutes, because I'm sure they like letters and I'm sure they like offal. That didn't happen this week, but it will do soon!

Lastly, I have a sad thing to report. As you see above I like to write on multi-coloured A5 paper from Paperchase. I usually buy five sheets at a time to keep my supplies topped up. In there the other day the guy at the counter asked me what I was going to do with them - I said I was going to write letters. Then he said with great novelty in his voice "you must be the last person in the world to write letters" - I thought that was very sad - he clearly hadn't had a letter in a long time! I know I'm not the last person, not even the penultimate person, and that is a GOOD THING TOO.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Letter 26

Well. Here we are. Half way through this project. Hooray!

To celebrate, I joined an organisation that promotes the art of letter-writing - the Letter Writers Alliance! You get a badge and a membership card and the twelve-year-old inside me was super excited at being in a group again. When I was younger I joined the Royal Mail Penpals Club and that was very exciting!

You can see all their wondrous work here. They run a penpal exchange, and also a letter exchange, and I'm sure a host more projects. Including a ravelry one. That one is quite exciting to me as I love crocheting, but find it hard to find the time to just make things for myself. If I have a goal, then I can get going with a bit more determination. I'm probably going to sign up for all the projects, just to see what else I can achieve in the other half of this project!

What have I learnt so far?

Letter-writing is good for the soul, but can induce a certain amount of navel-gazing.

Sometimes, the letter-writing is more about the writer than the reader.

Everyone loves post.

In lots of ways, the internet is fueling the hand-written, physical exchange of writing and sending parcels. This is through things like 52 Weeks of Mail, Postcrossing, Foodie Penpals, and I'm sure loads of other sites and exchanges! If you know of any you think I'd like, please let me know!

My letter this week was a letter to a friend, for their birthday! A letter is a present in itself (of course). I would say, I'm going to try and write letters to all my friends for their birthdays, but I know this to be an undertaking I shouldn't even really think about. Mostly because I know the intention won't last. A couple of years ago, I had the intention to send all my friends framed photos for all their birthdays. I think I got to the end of January with that. Then I stopped, not purposefully, just due to time pressures and all of that! It's understandable. I do wish I was the sort of person that could follow that through. But I am following this through. So that's ok.

On the subject of navel-gazing, this song has been stuck in my head:

Hypnotic, don't you think?

Letter 25

I've been a bit apprehensive about approaching the half-way point of my Letters Through the Year project. I started to feel that all letters that I write are a bit the same, and though the intention is good. The format of 'Dear ...' doesn't vary.

Why am I thinking this though? I'm sure years ago people only worried about the content of their letters, not the lay-out and design. The fear that a letter by itself isn't exciting enough. Whatever these fears are, and whatever motivates them, I do firmly believe that experimentation is a good thing. So this week I experimented and produced by first photo-letter.

My version of this photo-letter phenomenon that I have invented just now, is that for each day of the week, you take a picture, print it out and then write on the back of it how that day was. I guess it's part letter, part-diary. I'm not sure I got it quite right, and I got very busy so some days got written all at once. Also, sometimes the back of photos is quite hard to write on. Certainly not Basildon Bond paper, but I think it sort of gives a different dynamic to the letter. I'll publish the photos, when I know the letter has arrived, because I don't want to spoil the surprise for the recipient. It's the sort of thing I would like to receive, so I'm sure other people would like it too.

For me, and as we've discussed before, the writer does get something from the process of creating the letter, it made me realise how very busy and how all over the place my weeks can be. I think I need to slow down. In a way it was slightly self-defeating as I was so busy printing pictures, I didn't have time to indulge in what I try to do which is to sit down and have a cup of tea out somewhere and cogitate.

The point is, I changed the format, broke out of the box and hopefully wrote a nice thing for someone to receive. What this space for the reaction!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Letter 24

Letter 24 is hidden at the back of this pile of post! This week I sent a letter to a hospital. That was exciting, it's been a very long time since I wrote Ward X on an envelope. My Grandpa is in the hospital at the moment, but is fine, just waiting for the next step. I wrote a cheerful note to let him know I was thinking of him even though I hadn't been able to visit.

The pile also includes an application letter for a course I want to go on across the summer in herbal medicine at Dilston Physic Garden. And then there is of course, the usual Postcrossing crop! The cards reflect the geography of where I've been recently pretty well: York for my birthday; Boston for Pa Allen; Scarborough and Filey just for fun the other week. I can see that and you can see that, but I don't explain that on the back of the cards. That for me, the cards form a group, since I tend to write a few at a time. It makes you think about all the links between people.

Another card I got today reminded me about the things people share. Letters can often become confessional as what you write pours out and feelings order themselves against biro on paper. A postcard came today that told me a secret from a person - they'd not ever been kissed romantically. I fall prey to this too (not the unkissing) where I'll write a card to a stranger and well not tell a secret, but say something that is probably not suitable postcard discussion - someone in the Netherlands doesn't want to know about the price of a cup of PG Tips (not even Yorkshire) at the hospital. With the secret, is the revelation for them, or me?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Letter 23

Perhaps I've reached some sort of judicious level or critical mass where I've now written so many letters, I seem to get a new one each week. This is very exciting. This week I got a letter from ... LONDONTOWN. This was very exciting as it was from my friend Jen, who has not just been travelling but now has a new job. That means GOSSIP. And I do really like gossip of the non-salicious, inter-personal type.

This week as well I was also good and carved some time out of what became a lot of hospital-visiting, to sit and drink some tea and write a proper reply. Addressing pertinent questions raised by the very wise Jen. One of those was did I think I'd still do this (and my other blog offalygood) if the internet hadn't been invented. It made me think about the nature of blogging and bloggers (of which I reckon I propbably ought to count myself). Are we all attention-seeking self-publicists?

Well, I do know for 52 Weeks of Mail, if there was no internet I wouldn't have heard about this scheme on the postcrossing, so would I still have thought to sit and write a letter a week for a year? Maybe not, but since I was a chain letter pest at the age of 11 and wrote to the same penpal for a decade, probably I would have made some sort of postal resolution. If you've read before, sometimes it's difficult to write about the letter-writing because it's so intimate, but as I said to Jen, I don't want to have a diary-blog, so it's a delicate balance to tread.

There are more letter-projects up my sleeve, since I was getting fretful that I felt I was a repetitive letter-writer now, but then I realised I'd stopped reading the Mitford Sisters' letters. Why? (Bear with me.) Because they have got a bit repetitive and there are only so many times you can read that Diana has headaches or that Nancy is moving house. I'm going to presevere, now I've realised what I've done, but it did give me hope that perhaps a lot of letter-writing is repetitive, not just for the writer, but maybe the reader too?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Letter 22


Stamps! If you love post, then you'll probably care a little bit about stamps because they get your post to its destination. Or not. Not if you are in Filey and forget to put a stamp on some letters that you wrote. Not if the stamps were next to the letters, but you didn't stick them on. (Cruel world, they were even self-adhesive!)

So this week is more about letters lost (probably) than letters received. How do you feel when you know post has gone astray? Personally I feel awful. Last July was the first time I hadn't moved house in the summer for 8 years - housemates, uni, moving cities, it all adds up - so it's no surprise that over the years I've had a few telephone calls saying "Did you get x, because I sent it to y - oh you don't live there any more?" This was especially tricky with the tax disc for my car a few years ago. A couple of presents have gone astray, so I'm sorry if you sent me a thing and I didn't say thank you. It probably got eaten by the Mail gremlins.

With my situation, what should I do? Refund the postage to the recipient? Write again, this time stamping-firmly? Intercept (with some sort of space and time prism) the letters and stamp them myself? All difficult questions!

This week was also full of a couple of new post projects. One is called foodie penpals, the other is a music swopping project called Tape Recorded Delivery. These are exciting postal times and I shall definitely remember to stamp!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Letter 21

Continuing with my theme of writing letters back. This week I received a letter from CAMBODIA! Yes, from a long way away. It smelt of Cambodia I think. I imagined a lot of jungle. And my friend Paul struggling with a machete through it in order to pass the letter to a waiting messenger boy who would then run to Pnomh Penh, pausing to leap rivers and fight tigers in order to post it to me. That's because Paul told me there was only one post-box in Cambodia. Only one! I was shocked.

Anywho, I wrote back with a suitable sense of urgency because Paul is coing back to England at the end of the month, and I wanted the letter to arrive in time. I never used to get actual letters in the post, so it is very exciting to get them now. I also got a thank you letter from my friend who had a birthday recently. That was lovely. But I felt a bit bad, as I didn't do them for my birthday :( and now it's a month on ... maybe Unbirthday thank you letter? Would that work? Unthank you letters? Hmmmm ... I think that concept needs some further thought.

Another important thing I did this week was to tody my room. This relates to letters as I found all the presents I've collected to send to people and then lost under detritus and washing. Now I have a pile of packages that are waiting for accompanying letters and money for posting!

However, what I am excited for is when my friend RockSalt gets Foodie Penpals up and running in the UK (it only is in the US and Canada at the moment). I well like snacks and I like post. To be fair, who doesn't like snacks and post? If you'd like to be part of it then drop RockSalt an email. If you're lucky, you might even get to be my partner!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Letter 20

"By return of post" - what an amazing phrase! I love it when they say it in period dramas ... Definite images of a bygone era. Luckily this week I had a letter written to me, to which I could reply. It was very exciting, because A) it was a birthday letter (but not at all like the Ted Hughes poetry volume) B) I had something to write about this week.

However, before I get on to that, I must say that all in all it was an amazing week for Post. I won a couple of competitions, and therefore got sent prizes! Thank you very much to all the senders!
  1. My friend, the amazing RockSalt, let me enter a competition to win some Kung Fu Panda Cupcake Cases. I love Kung Fu Panda - the first film got me through some sad times. Also KungFu alliterates with Kidney and I think Kidney cupcakes are the way forward. 
  2. There's an amzing company in Bristol called Lahloo who sell the best teas in England. They are much better than Imperial Teas of Lincoln, for example. I won their valentines day recipe competition (a recipe for veal heart) and won some tea and macaroons. Annoyingly, I've put the macaroons in a "safe place" - it's safe from everyone, including me :( But in all seriousness they are a lovely company, super friendly, super ethical and their products are amazing. Please put some things from their website on your wish list because they're grrrrrrrrrrrreat. I can recommend personally the Smoky Tea, the White Rose, the Sencha, the Sobacha and the Chamomile! So get drinking!
  3. I do another 'interest' where I made the decision to eat only offal for a year. It's an ethical decision and you can read about it here. I got some blood online recently and for Pancake Day made blood pancakes and wrote about it on said blog and when I told them they sent me some black pudding skins and seasoning for free! They are called Tong Master and will cater to all your sausage requirements! I like the fact that it's run by someone who's been a butcher for over forty years.

Overall, I would say I was a very lucky lady. Then I got a super letter from a friend a first wrote to after Christmas. I love her letters and I saved it to have with a coffee when I was out. I then went out for time to myself to write back.

That was pretty exciting as I've not managed to set the writing time aside as much as I wanted to. I really do enjoy it. Often when you're talking and watching things you're not really taking it in, but I guess because letters are rarer now, you do digest what's said. A chance remark can give you loads of different ideas. But I am trying. I went for a massage after my letter writing session. And I bought some Health Foods. One was dark chocolate rice cakes - how healthy is that? Um, not that much?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Letter 19

Last week I was clearly disheartened about the writing of the letters. This week I wrote a letter that I don't really feel like I should discuss. Someone I know is poorly and I wanted to write a letter to take their mind (a little) off how shit hospitals are. I hope I succeeded. I used all the skills I taught myself with the 12 Days of Love Letter Writing Project. That's all I really want to say. I did use very brightly coloured paper too.

These are the letter-writing related birthday gifts I got. Aren't they awesome? I am now the Queen of ALL THE STAMPS and will never run out. I had also had my eye on that Paperchase letter-writing pack for a few months, kept picking it up and then putting it down again with a sigh of "oh I can't afford it really". So I'm very glad I got it. I'm also going to experiment and see if the tiny cards will travel with Royal Mail. Maybe they'll get their own Tiny Postman. Like the Jolly Postman when he goes up the beanstalk? Perhaps all the postcards and letter-writing is in fact my Auntie Pam's fault for buying me that book when I was three.

Letter 18

I was determined last week, to get back to taking some time out and sitting down and writing to someone. I set my mind to visit the 52 Weeks of Mail page and write a letter to the first address I found. That address was a school that was collecting USA States postcards. They weren't really looking for letters. Or for things from the UK. But since the address was there, and I had a new Yorkshire card, I figured there was some sort cosmic meeting there.

A postcard, is not a letter, however. So who to write to? I know I've got a lot of family and friends, and NOW I can think of millions of people to write to, but at that time, my mind was a blank. SO I turned to my old trusty Postcrossing cards.

I don't do it, but I think if people send you a card with their address on, they are hoping for a return, so I think it's fair game to send them something. So Imran Siddique in Pakistan hopefully will soon receive my letter thanking him for the beautiful card he sent me, introducing myself and really talking quite large amounts of rubbish. This was definitely a letter for the sake of writing letters, not a letter to a person with a purpose. Does that make it a bad letter? Is any letter bad? (Apart from Bills, they are bad!)

To be honest, I don't really mind. I was having a letter writers block week, and the worst that can happen is that it will be read, and binned. I hope not, but likewise I don't think it will have been a massive illumination. I just needed to write a letter. So that perhaps means that this project is starting lose its way if I'm sending unsolicited letters to strangers ... I hope not!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Letter 17

Every time we see a post-box I feel the need to comment to my boyfriend in a urrr-urrr voice "That's a nice postbox" or "ooh I didn't know there was one There". Post offices cause higher levels of excitement, as I will WALK RIGHT PAST ONE when I move in with him in the summer. My bus stop is about 10m shy of one but often when playing the when-will-the-bus-come game, that 10m is integral to the win/lose catchthebus/dropthebus continuum.

I was going to say that Letter 17 week was a fail week, but then I sat and thought about it. I sent mail. I sent Postcrossing. I SENT BIRTHDAY CARDS. I didn't sit and right a full letter, but I feel that posting and sending things has become quite day-to-day for me. And that is a really good thing. Last week was also especially busy (what with having food poisoning, then my birthday and all) so I feel, to be honest, pretty smug that despite all that I did quite a lot of posting.

It's good when resolutions that you adopt become part of everyday life. That also showed in my birthday presents, where I got some ace paper and SOME STAMPS! Excellent presents indeed.

If you believe in things happening for a reason, you may see some links in this. Last week I didn't right a well long missive. Last week I found a novel that I'd been reading about communications sent in a script in China that only women could read, that had been lost for months. The book is called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and one thing I like is how it talks about the elegance of the written word, and how writing to each other cements closeness in a different way to other ways of expressing yourself. (That old ruby I hear you cry!)

I lost and I found, what should we think about that? Other than I'm superbusy and careless with possessions I mean ...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Letter 16

This week, two things occurred. One, I almost got to letter saturation level. Two, I ran out of stamp money.

Never fear, however, I managed to pull a letter out of the bag. Well, actually, no, I wrote a short note to be posted, updating a relative on what I got with my Christmas money. A thank you note extension if you will. Really, people have sent longer texts. But this is on a card with an envelope and everything. Not very long though. Who said letters had to be long? Certainly some of my Mitford Sisters letters (yes, I am still reading that) are very short, but then some of them wrote pretty much daily. Right glad am I that it's not 365 Days of Mail!

The second of the failings was a monetary one. Stamps cost money, and they add up. I ran out of stamps and money in my purse. There are four kinds of stamp I regularly use:
  • Worldwide postcard (less than 20g in weight) - 76p
  • European letter/postcard (less than 60g) - 68p
  • English first class - 46p
  • English second class 36p
For everything that falls outside those, I go to the Post & Drop machine in the St John's Centre. Nice to hang out in the post office queues. I do object to the fact that the machines don't sell either second class stamps, or the world postcard ones, but we don't live in a perfect world, do we?

The stampless situation will soon be rectified, but I do now have a backlog of postcards to send, letters to post and a package as well. It adds up to a minimum spend of £7.63. The lesson I ought to be learning is to choose a less expensive hobby. The lesson I'm really learning is to put stamps above food on any shopping list. Or to get a contact at the Royal Mail. Do you think the Queen gets free stamps?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Letter 15

This week was the turn of writing to somone not quite so familiar/unfamiliar as myself. A few years ago I set myself the task of remembering everyone's birthday and sending them a card. I failed after February, but with that haunting me like a tiny wimpy ghost, I wrote to a friend I've not seen for a while, who has just had a birthday. Enough clues though!

What struck me with this writings is the details that you choose to put in whether consciously or unconsciously. I'm rubbish at thinking about what people would actually like to know, so jabber about stuff so it mostly becomes a "did you know I did this?" list. My list included tuba, ape language and colonic irrigation. Make of that what you will ...

In a recent letter exchange with a friend, we discussed how sometimes when you write to people you can feel much closer to them than you do if you see them everyday locally. I don't think that sense of written closeness goes away, and like old slippers, friends slip into old jokes.

I've talked before about intensity in war letters. A while ago I read Bomber Boys which quotes a couple of letters from one bomber crew member to his girl. He'd met her once at a dance and then they wrote, then they met and he proposed. She declined. The lady in question then spoke about how she felt like a crutch to him and fancied someone else, but couldn't not reply. I gave my copy away else I'd tell you the pages to look at. The point I'm trying to question is whether the relationships you create with the written word feel more real than they are. Does distance make you closer? (I understand my unrequited WW2 love story is perhaps not the best starting point.) Nowadays - how old does that sound - I guess we have a much greater reliance on the written word than we realise. How many people text rather than phone? Those competitions that Stephen Fry judges about the most beautiful tweet.

Hidden behind new technology, we're all just writing letters all the time.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Letter 14

This week, I wrote a letter to myself.

The people at More Love Letters are creating a love letter time capsule to yourself. You write off with your letter to you, enclose a stamp and then in a year's time it will wing it's way back to you. So you can judge the waffle for yourself.

Seriously, though, it was really interesting to sit and think about what encouragement I wanted to give back to myself. This year I am going to achieve a lot. I feel excited and focused, but ambitions can not succeed and I know that I tend to beat myself up if I don't manage all the things I strive for. So hopefully next year, a bit of condolence from me, won't be necessary - but if it is it's there.

It's also exciting to think about all the other things I'm doing: my offal eating, this letter writing, my numismatics, my herbal studies, my running, my tuba playing. Hopefully I'll realise all my ambitions with all these different things. It was really good to look ahead and think, yes, I'm on my way. Well I hope so.

The guess to take away is that it's good to take some time and really think about what you want to achieve. And also to think about how it's OK if all those tings don't happen. You are still special and wonderful, just very very busy.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Letter 13

This week I have mostly been writing ... THANK YOU LETTERS!
I had a fantastic day on Monday, which I took (in my mind) as a DAY OFF. So I ensconced myself with a pot of Wild Rose tea off of Lahloo, some Tunnocks snacks (och aye) and my lovely Emma Bridgewater spotty cup! I used a variety of notepapers and notecards and envelopes and pens and stickers and stamps. I indulged myself with every stationary vice known to man.

I also wrote to all the people who gave me lovely Christmas presents, caught them up with what's been going on in the past year and tried to make future plans to see people that I love. It was a brilliant way to spend a day, really consolidating relationships and giving out a lot of positive energy through writing. Last year I sent photos with all of my thank you letters, but I wasn't that organised this year for everyone. Also I have spent so much money of postage this year I feel like I'm keeping Royal Mail afloat.
I also used the day to catch up with things I promised to send in the post and not managed. I sent some insomnia herbal remedies to ladies I know, a bit of the old Postcrossing and a couple of letters to do with my work at Neals Yard. Unfortunately I've now used up all my letter paper with herbs on. Oh, what shall I do now? Luckily I have some suitable cards with roses on.

I love taking the time out to say thank you for people, but on Monday I felt like I was the lucky one. It was great to lollygag around in my pyjamas drink tea, eat biscuits and write to all the people. However, now I've done my thank you letters, Christmas is officially over ...

Luckily my birthday is soon - top gift tip: STAMPS!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Letter 12

Post-Christmas, driving, working, Dazmas, meant that again the letter writing time slipped through my fingers. Sunday arrived and I didn't even have a thought of anyone to write to. However, one of my Postcrossing cards had a return address on, so I though "ah-ha FATE" and spent a lovely hour writing to a person called Christina from Dresden, Germany.

I enjoyed the return of writing to a stranger. I explained about the 52 Weeks project and talked about Christmas and New Year. I find that by writing about things that have happened to me, I can definitely remember them better. I wish I was, but know I am not, a human google. Nothing, however, would make me forget the bed and breakfast we stayed in on New Year's Eve - Myrtle Grove -  the lady who ran it was interesting, but her dog did wee in front of us at breakfast, but she gave us a blackcurrant bush as an apology. Who can say fairer than that? I sent Christina the card, just in case she'd like to stay in Hebden Bridge one day. I also taught her the phrase "mad as a box of frogs".

This coming week, my letters are mostly going to be thank you letters - I got amazing Christmas presents. I'm going to try and make time to write a special letter too.

Lately, as a background to all the letter-writing, I've been reading two very different collections of letters. The first I found at my Mum's house on Christmas Day is called Letters from Two World Wars (you can buy it here) and aims to record all the different attitudes to war. I studied war poetry at A-Level and so many of these letters are just as affecting. I hope they are used to teach literature and history in schools now!

One that is hearbreakingly beautiful* goes:

"... when we marched done it [the thunderstorm] cleared away for a warm still summer night; still that, except for the sniper's rifles, and the rattle of machine guns ...a sweet smell of wet earth and wet grass after the rain, and since I could not sleep I wandered out among the ghostly cherry trees all in white and watched the ghostly star-shells falling north and south ... a nightingale began to sing ... it was so strange to stand there and listen, for the song seemed to come even more clearly and sweetly in the quiet intervals between the bursts of firing ... you felt that the nightingale's song were the only real thing which would remain when all the rest was long past and forgotten. It is such an old song too ... I stood there and thought of all the men and women who had listened to that song, just as ... after Tom was killed I found myself thinking perpetually of all the men who had been killed in battle - Hector and Achilles and all the heroes long ago, who were once so strong and active and are now so quiet. Gradually the night wore on, until the day began to break, and I could see clearly the daisies and buttercups in the long grass about my feet. Then I gathered my platoon together, and marched back past the silent farms to our billets. There was a beautiful sunrise and I went to sleep content ..."

I'll wrote about some more at a later date. Others are not as haunting, but no less affecting. The other collection I am reading is The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters (you can buy it here), but I'll leave discussion of that for another post ...

Happy New Year!

*p.28, written 5th May 1915 by Second Lieutenant A. D. Gillespie