I’m off to lie in the sun (I hope) for a week. Flying this afternoon. And I’m humming The Beatles into myself. ‘Send me a postcard, Drop me a line, Stating point of view, Indicate precisely what you mean to say, Yours sincerely, Wasting away.” Remember? From the song, ‘When I’m 64’. Sending postcards has become a thing of the past. We don’t do it much anymore. I have a card box at home, and in it are a bunch of unsent postcards; some that I brought back from Canada last year and some from Glastonbury, scenes of the Tor at sunset. I even have some unsent but written cards, where I fell at the last hurdle of finding stamps. I rather like the unsent ones; one to my mother-in-law with an account of a walking holiday in Northumberland reminding me of some details I might otherwise have forgotten.
It’s unusual to have your own postcards or letters to mull over – usually you might keep a few you’ve received from other people. Faded, and stuck to the fridge with magnets, so much a part of the furniture that you barely notice them anymore. But have a read at them and remind yourself, they’ll make you smile. You might also have collected a few old cards over the years where you know neither the sender nor recipient. Old postcards are collectable – as much for what is written on them as for the scene that is printed on the front. Yes, it is lovely to find an old postcard from the thirties or forties in a junk shop, or old bookshop depicting a town or scene you know, but isn’t it even more interesting to turn it over and see what is written on the reverse? Invariably the writing will be in a beautiful cursive hand with just two or three lines for the address. “Dear Sadie, Sad to say it has rained most of today day, but I managed a donkey ride on the beach this evening when it sky brightened. Breakfast’s awfully good, so big I can hardly manage lunch. Do come next year, you would love it. Nellie x.” Yes, for the most part we write such inconsequential things on postcards, but they are, nonetheless, lovely to receive. Postcards are a reassurance that whoever is away from home is enjoying themselves, but not to the point that you at home have been forgotten.
Nowadays the old fashioned postcard has been almost entirely abandoned by texts, a quick email, whatsapp message, and uploading photos onto the social media platform of your choice. Yet I believe that when confronted with a blank sheet, or a card, one thinks differently, and writes something more personal and heartfelt, even if it is even only a few words. Better still, if you’re on holiday, or have time on your hands, isn’t that the perfect time to write a letter? One person who inspires me to write is the late Alistair Cooke. His first ‘Letter From America’ (each was a fascinating insight into American life, politics and culture, read by himself) was broadcast on BBC radio on 24 March 1946. The series was initially commissioned only 13 of his letters but ended up running for a further 58 years (so there is now an archive of 2,869 letters) ending only in March 2004 when he was 95 years old. He died just a couple of weeks after his last broadcast. Millions of people across the world had lost that personal letter they received so regularly. And I would fancy my odds at a bet that Alistair Cooke penned a few postcards in his day!