As a child I had a fascination with receiving post. Those were pre-internet days and there were only four television channels – entertainment was somewhat thin on the ground. In order to be receiving lots of mail addressed to me I used to gather magazines likely to contain cut-out-and-post coupons, ‘Please rush me my colour 45-page patio awnings brochure.’
If you’ve only ever Googled to find out more information about a business then you’ll probably find the method laughably prehistoric; Write your address on a little piece of paper, put it in a little envelope, stick a second-class stamp on it, take it to the post box, wait for ‘up to 14 days’, and eventually receive the requested brochure in return. How the world functioned with any sort of efficiency I’ll never know. Don’t even get me started on rotary-dial phones… just Google them. Eventually it got self-perpetuating and I no longer needed to send coupons off to any more businesses. As soon a Which? magazine had my address an army of lumberjacks were sent into a rainforest somewhere to produce the pulp necessary to manufacture the quantities of junk mail being sent to me. There were only so many timeshares in the Algarve that a 12-year-old boy could consider investing in. I started returning them unopened en-masse and eventually the flood dried up.
The enjoyment I gain from receiving post has never quite left me. My mailbox is usually a fifty-fifty split between speculative pre-filled credit card applications and menus from Domino’s. Neither of those excite me, but I do enjoy receiving handwritten postcards and letters. The majority of people seem to find that writing something by hand is a bit of a hassle, I guess that most of us today can type far speedier than write. That said, a visit to Paperchase reassures me that I’m not alone in my liking for paper-based communications; it also allows me to mingle with others who share my debilitating condition – stationery addiction. I carry a pencil case with a dozen different biros, pencils and highlighters yet there never seem to be enough. I often buy notepads and use ten or twenty pages before spotting another pad that I like better and moving on. I almost wet myself when I discovered I could buy Post-It notes in luminous colours.
So, how do I satisfy my need for a stuffed mailbox these days? At the beginning of this year I joined Postcrossing.com. The site randomly chooses the postal address of another member for me to send a postcard to. Once my card has been received it is registered by the recipient and my address is then released to someone else in the world who will then send me a card. Once I register their card on the site they will be given another address to send a card to, and so forth. The more trusted I become to actually send my postcards to the addresses I’m given, the greater the number I am allowed to send; and in turn the more I will receive in return. At the moment I can have up to eleven cards traveling at any one time. During the past year I have received almost one-hundred postcards from random strangers around the world. I prefer quirky cards. I enjoy getting promotional cards for art gallery openings, music festivals, or just event flyers – I find them to be more unusual and less contrived than the traditional tourist cards. Others cross the line into downright bizarre, I received a card from Japan which was a Photoshopped photograph of a disabled-toilet.
Another peculiar card showed a cross-section of a soil-sample from the region where the sender resided. Some are rather heartfelt such as the widow who found the sending and receiving of postcards to be her window on the world; or the Chinese girl who went to effort of sending me a silk handkerchief. I like to give as good as I get, so I shunned shop-bought cards and began to get postcards printed from my own photographs. Someone in China who requested a ‘traditional British scene’ now has a picture of Ipswich’s Drum & Monkey pub (photographed in the rain) stuck to their fridge. This achievement alone makes my peculiar little hobby worthwhile. It also gives me a good reason to continue purchasing packets of pens that I otherwise wouldn’t need.