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.