1 EAGLETON NOTES: Snail Mail

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Saturday, 22 February 2020

Snail Mail

I write a lot of letters and send a lot of birthday and Christmas cards. I like the handwritten word. 

I tend to decorate my envelopes too.
One of my oldest and dearest friends died last year. She had moved to Canada when she was in her early 20s and we had corresponded ever since. I have hundreds of letters from her. There are doubtless some emails also buried somewhere in amongst all the other thousands of personal emails I've sent and received over the years. When she died I was asked to do a eulogy. To jog my memory back 50 or so years I started re-reading the letters. Obviously I only scanned most of them but it was a very comforting few days that I spent with them in front of me.

I also have all the correspondence with my Mum (a wonderful letter writer) when I moved to Lewis in the '70s. The letters I wrote were returned to me when she and Dad gave up their home to go and live with my brother. I'd kept all hers so it was good to have the 'whole picture'.
My brother and I communicate frequently by post.

In 2019 I wrote 290 missives ranging from 10 page letters, to 2 page note-cards: mostly the latter. Then there were all the birthday, get-well, sympathy and Christmas cards: probably totalling nearly a couple of hundred.

So I probably buy around 450 to 500 postage stamps a year. Apart from Christmas cards and some birthday cards to people in the UK all my stamps are First Class or abroad - usually New Zealand or USA. 

This country has an excellent postal service provided by the Royal Mail. Mail is delivered 6 days a week to the door of almost every address in the country at a single uniform rate regardless of location. So a letter posted on the Isle of Wight will be delivered First Class to me on the Isle of Lewis 560 miles (900k)  away in a straight line (764 miles by road) usually the next day for the sum of 70p. It costs the same for me to post a letter to Stornoway 7 miles away. I may be wrong but I don't think anywhere else in the world provides such a universal one-price service regardless of price.

One problem facing the royal mail is the fact that the lucrative low cost services are provided in the cities by competitors who only provide services within relatively small lucrative catchment areas eg within central London. This leaves the Royal Mail providing the high cost services at a price they must also charge in the lucrative areas.

On 23 March Royal Mail will increase their prices yet again. A First Class 20g letter will go up from 70p to 76p a rise of over 8%. 

As we send fewer and fewer letters because we use electronic means of communication for personal and business and as prices increase and contribute to the declining use my question is simply "How much longer will we have a universal letter postal service." If we don't use it we'll lose it.

50 comments:

  1. I love sending cards and notes via snail mail. That means I receive snail mail from friends, which I usually keep. They send such attractive cards and kind messages (hey blog friends and pen pals, you know who you are). The postal service in the USA works well too, as you describe yours does. I like the cards you show here, they look hand painted.

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    1. Terra, it's good to find a fellow scribbler. The 'cards' are pictures I draw and decorate my envelopes with. I shall clarify that. Thank you.

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  2. I can relate to your post. I sent 300-400 pieces of mail a year (letters, postcards, mail art...), mostly abroad. Royal Mail works very well, and so does Correos (the Spanish postal service); last week a letter from England reached me after two and half days of journey.

    I began letterwriting 33 years ago. I can't imagine myself stopping. Sometimes I feel surprised when I realise that most people don't send mail at all. So embedded letters are in my daily life!

    Oh, I almost forgot to say that I know your blog because your brother and I exchange snail mail :)

    Eva

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    1. Hello, Eva. Thank you for visiting. I'm glad that your Correos experience is good. I write to friends who live in Mijas Costa Malaga and it the times have been very variable. It's always really good to know that there are other snail mail missive writers around..

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  3. Receiving a hand-written letter...on paper...by mail I enjoy, but it is not a common, regular occurrence nowadays. I still send birthday and Christmas cards to a few of my close friends, and they do similar to me. (And I enjoy writing letters, too, but these days...I will be honest and admit... when "writing" a letter to send by snail mail...I type it.)

    I find our Australia Post to be very good, too. Although, of course, there are still the whingers who complain, but as far as I am concerned, I've never experienced delays or difficulties with its service.

    Among my memorabilia I have letters and cards from my late brother, Graham, as well as some from my late mother and grandmother. I've a briefcase full of letters written by Randall, my now late ex-husband. I have read them all, and I intend going through them again soon...but, at the moment, it is too soon after his passing for me to do so. Reading letters from the past can be very emotional.

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    1. Lee, I had a spell of typing some of my snail mail letters particularly to one person who was hard of sight because I could increase the font size. One reason I write letters is that a few of my older friends in New Zealand do not use computers. Re-discovering all my fountain pens over the last few years has been wonderful.

      I've been trying to clear out the boxes of old letters. It's hard but reading through them can be a bit of a roller-coaster at times.

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  4. I used to be prolific in letter writing! Then I returned to teaching and all my writing was focused on students.

    I should pick up stationery packed away, and send some letters.

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    1. Susan, I'm sure you'd enjoy it and I've met very few people who don't actually love receiving a handwritten missive.

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  5. Oh dear I fail miserably when it comes to snail mail except for Christmas cards. I'm an email junkie.I reckon hand written letters will become valuable antiques one day. I still have the last letter my dad wrote to me before he died. Well done you.

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    1. Diane, play the Glad Game. You didn't have boxes and boxes of correspondence to dispose of when you moved. Well that may not be correct but it will be if you ever move again.

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  6. You have a commendable record with all the letters you have written. And then you kept all the letters you received. What a record! Mail delivery? It's history.

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    1. Red, I sincerely hope that you are wrong: for my lifetime anyway.

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  7. I can't remember when I last wrote a letter. People forget that for folk in remote areas the Postie can be their only human contact for days at a time. For that alone it is a grand institution.

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    1. Adrian in New Zealand the Rural Delivery Service is invaluable but has been cut down and cut down. I know of people in very remote areas where the RDS actually went up to the house (they usually stop at the box at the road/access lane end) of old people with the milk and so on. As you said it was often their main contact with the outside world. It was also a bit of reassurance if anything went wrong.

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  8. I still have hundreds of letters from my late friend Jock Veitch (see his SMH obit). As as journalist he was a great writer, and I can still read through his mail much as I would a novel. Since the advent of Email, I now rarely write letters.

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  9. Your decorated envelopes are really lovely!

    Australia Post delivers a standard size letter anywhere in Australia for $1.10. They used to do next day delivery in and between main centres but were suffering a decline in sales and the guaranteed delivery times have been extended. It's still a great service, pretty much anything arrives within a week and some areas are very remote

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    1. Thank you, Kylie. As you say, given the distances and the very small communities involved in many places, that's a pretty good service.

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  10. I am guilty of resorting to email for everything. It is instant and cheaper. I only send Christmas and Birthday cards nowadays and my handwriting has deteriorated as a result of lack of practice.
    Our local Mail service has had to make cuts recently so we only have a 5 day delivery service, and our mail tends to be just bills these days.
    If we order goods online 90% of the time it comes by courier rather than Royal Mail parcel service.

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    1. JayCee, I think it is a great shame that we crave instancy. Having said that I will never use a second class stamp for an ordinary letter. Living on Lewis most of my parcels from Amazon come via a courier which pays Royal Mail to deliver it. Some things come via our excellent carrier (who now has a virtual monopoly on the remaining small parcels.)

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  11. I love receiving a letter (hand-written or typed, I don't mind), and I write many myself, to family friends, and pen-friends, I still have letters dating back 50 years which can bring back instant memories in a way an email never could (having said that I do use emails regularly). I also love to read published letters, which, it has been pointed out, will be a literary genre that will die out with the use of email. Then there is the possible effect on stamp collectors which has just occurred to me - no letters, no need for stamps. Sorry, just thinking randomly now, But I will continue to write letters and hopefully receive them for the rest of my life.

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    1. Thank you, Northriding, for your comments. I think emails have their place and I, too, use them a lot. However letters convey a completely different ambience to a message. I have a 'thank you' note on my kitchen window ledge which is beautifully written and brings joy to me every time I read it. Random thoughts are often the most interesting.

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  12. I have to say I do like your illustrated envelopes. I share letter writing and cards and drawings with my friend, who is currently teaching in Scotland as you know, and letter writing is very special to both of us. She has moved around the world and we have always written to each other, and incidentally, both of us illustrate the envelopes. I have always made a point of writing so that she knows she is not forgotten. I buy stamps regularly and they are as important to me as tea in the cupboard. I never run out.

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    1. Rachel, we keep finding things which we have in common which are quite diverse. I find that very interesting.

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  13. On a side note about writing letters---
    I was shocked to discover that for some years (most) US schools no longer teach cursive writing because it is presumed that most will use only electronic devices for communication. How will they ever be able to read the flowing cursive of old family letters, historical documents or 'read' the emotion of hand-written letters that sometimes clearly comes through just by looking at the the hand-writing? No real signature for official documents? Might as well mark an X.

    Evidently my niece's parents have been reading them my hand-written notes sent to them all these years (they are in their late teens). However, on the plus side, I've recently heard that some school systems are now reversing the trend and resuming the practice of teaching cursive. Ah well, trends in teaching--the ever swinging pendulum. Or perhaps I'm just showing my age.

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    1. Mary, that is absolutely amazing. The idea of not being able to use cursive writing is so alien to me that that had never even occurred to me that it was a possibility. I wonder if it's the same in the UK. One thing I do know is that banks stopped checking signatures on cheques many years ago.

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    2. My kids, in their early twenties, were taught a simplified cursive but struggle to read an old style cursive!

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    3. Kylie, I'm astounded at just how much I did not know about modern teaching.

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  14. I've had pen-friends since I was around ten years old. I'm still in touch with one of the very first ones with whom I first connected through an ad in a comics magazine. Since many years she is physically unable to write at all herself (has to have an assistant help her). Myself, after a neck/arm injury some twenty years ago I was unable to hold a pen with my right hand for quite a long time. Could hardly even write my name. I actually practiced learning to write a bit with my left hand. Never quite reached calligraphy style, though! Gradually, slowly, I've gone back to preferring my right hand again. (The past few years, postcrossing postcards has been good practice!) But my days of writing long letters by hand are definitely over. With most friends it's computerized communication these days - and postcards in between. :) - Here, a first class stamp within Sweden now costs SEK 11 = £0,87 ($1,13). For anywhere abroad, it's double. Post delivery 5 days a week since way back (in my childhood it was 6 days, but that was a long time ago). Normal travelling time has also more recently changed to two days rather than one. Letterboxes also no longer get emptied on Sundays, and the boxes closest to me get emptied as early as 9 am (Mo-Fri). Now Postnord wants to cut delivery service to 3 days a week. I suspect that sooner or later it will come to that - even if I try to do my bit by still sending quite a few postcards...

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    1. Monica, it seems to be pretty much the same everywhere where there is or used to be a very highly developed postal service. Things progress and things change. 'Twas ever thus. Your writing is very legible - moreso than mine I think. You've done remarkably well.

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    2. Graham, over the years I think my handwriting has become a sort of mix between the cursive writing I once learned in school back in the 1960s, and 'printing'. It's also more like what they started teaching in our schools from the mid 1970s onward, I think. What they teach nowadays I'm not really sure - but I doubt very much it's the old joined up style. I shall have to send you a sample some time - if I can still remember how to do it! ;)

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  15. The decorated envelopes must be a delight to receive, not to mention the letter within. I cannot even remember the last time I wrote or received any handwritten correspondence. A dying art.

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    1. Jules, I hope people enjoy them. I only started drawing in the last year. Until then I had problems even drawing a cartoon cat's face. Then my brother suggested that I copy things - but upside down. I tried that and progressed from there. I haven't progressed very far but at least I can decorate envelopes! Oddly, given what you say, I would have put you into the letter writing/card sending category.

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  16. I love snail mail so much I've dedicated precious cottage real estate to it: my vintage typewriter, my collection of hand-made quill feather pens, my fountain pen, my calligraphy pens... I love the feeling of ink flowing onto paper. I love the rat-a-tat-tat of the typewriter making background music to my creative thoughts. It hurts my heart to hear that students in school are no longer being taught long-hand script. I hope that the artistic children of today have enough curiosity to seek out the art form that is cursive and calligraphic writing, and learn it themselves. It's sad to see it fade away.

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    1. Marcheline, we shall start up the Snail Mailers Society for devotees of letter writing.

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  17. Once The Royal Mail, The BBC and The NHS were the reliable cornerstones of our society but their very foundations are now being undermined. The organisations that seek to fill the gaps are all far less trustworthy and far more self-interested.

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    1. I agree with you, YP, although Royal Mail is also suffering from the fact that we just don't use it enough now.

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  18. Back in the past (60s), Mum & I would go to London, with my working Dad in the car, for the shops. We would post a PostCard to my Grandmother around 9am in Oxford Street letting her know we would be with her later in the day. Her second post before 1pm giving plenty of notice of our arrival in N 15.

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    1. Yes, Potty, I can well remember two deliveries and two collections a day. It seems like a long time ago. There may still be places with two collections but not in rural areas so far as I am aware.

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  19. Finding a handwritten letter or postcard from a relative or friend (and some I my fellow bloggers definitely are among the latter) is one of the nicest, most pleasant surprises. Of course, receiving snail mail is closely connected with sending - and that is something I find relatively difficult myself. My handwriting is very bad, and I find it more exhausting than I think it should be. Maybe I need more practise, but typing is just so effortlessly quick and allows me to express my thoughts in a much more fluent way than my clumsy scribbling.
    Anyone who receives anything handwritten from me: Please know that however short the message, it has required a particular effort and was done with love/friendship and respect.

    Graham, you wrote "I may be wrong but I don't think anywhere else in the world provides such a universal one-price service regardless of price."
    The German Postal Service (Deutsche Post) is the same. Inside Germany, no matter whether I send something to a few streets away from my house or up North where my friend lives 800 km away from me, postage is the same and only depends on the size and weight of what I am sending.
    Also, within Europe, there is a "Zone 1" that includes most member states as well as (for now) the UK. Everything outside Europe is divided into zones that vary in cost according to distance. A Christmas card sent to the USA requires more and different stamps than one that is sent to, say, Sweden.

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    1. Meike, I understand your preference for typing for lots of reasons. One reason I still type very long emails to friends is that I can insert thoughts that come to me later on. I can also insert pictures. So I do use emails a lot. However, I do like the discipline that handwriting needs because it makes me concentrate: something at which I am very bad.

      I know that many countries have a one-price service and ours is very similar internationally to yours as well. [I should have said 'one price service regardless of distance' by the way]. However when I was in Spain and in New Zealand the service was not 'to the door' but, in Spain where I was, it was to a postal office box in the nearest town. In New Zealand it is to the building in towns but to a post box on the main road in rural areas. In our case that was over a kilometre from the house. I think something like that may have to come eventually in the UK .

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    2. Nowadays, it is very odd not to have the postal service 'to the door' in Spain (provided that your house has a legal address).

      What we don't have any more is a "postcard rate" neither "2nd class" choice.

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  20. What an homage to the handwritten letter, Graham.

    I still write a lot by hand, pencil/pen on paper, for my personal use. Notes to self. My eyes only. Stacks and stacks of notebooks. Letters? Not so much.

    Letter writing was drummed out of me at an early age. My mother made me write drafts (say, when writing to my beloved grandmother) which she then would vet and, naturally, correct. Some years later (in my teens) my father told me that my handwriting resembled that of Hitler's. I related his observation to one of my teachers. Said teacher laughed. "Tell your father" he said, "that Hitler's writing fell to the RIGHT" (whereas mine is upright with a slight leaning to the left; it's also rather large, expansive, unlike Hitler's). Needless to say that when I do write to my parents I TYPE the letter, addressing them as mother and father at the top handwritten, and signing off handwritten. The rest is Times Roman or some such. Great result, don't you think?

    Anyway, I have a million, and then some, postcards and letters sent to me by my dear dear (maternal) grandparents now dead, my aunts and uncles, my (much younger) siblings. Treasured. My brother in particular sent hilarious ones in his youth, penned when in class. Maths lessons most likely.

    It's a lovely lovely post, Graham, you wrote there. What price a letter? Can I have one with a drawing of yours? Do they still do "charge postage on receipt of letter"?

    U

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    1. Ursula, I was blessed with parents who helped me, guided me, but always let me be who I was, warts and all. I remember having to sit down and write all my thank you letters but I can't imagine my Mother vetting them. Nowadays I notice how few people say thank you in any written form. Assuming, that is, that they say thank you. I have stopped sending presents to some who never even acknowledged them.

      As for a letter, I would happily send you one. You can send me details via the contact form in the blog's sidebar. I had completely forgotten that there used to be a "charge postage on receipt of letter" facility. I'm sure that it won't exist now.

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  21. I think less people that ever before are sending letters, what with the invention of social networking, the internet and emails which are quicker and easier. It's a shame though, I remember as a child sending letters to cousins and feeling thrilled when I opened up the letterbox to find one addressed to me, sad that this gift has dwindled.

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    1. Amy, I think you are right. Like you I remember the thrill of getting letters from relatives in far flung places like Australia and Canada. In 'those days' I remember that at busy times one would have to book a phone call at a certain time. The operator would ring at that time and connect you. Now I can pick up my cellphone and speak to anyone anywhere in the world - almost. I can see why letters get fewer and fewer. We live in times of 'instant gratification'.

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  22. Morning from a wet and windy Yorkshire, no snow settling on the ground here but a few flurries whizzing past the window just now.

    I love to receive your hand embellished envelopes (and the enclosed notecards). The post lady has commented on them too so it obviously brightens her day when she sees one. My handwriting has never been brilliant but it now resembles a spider crawling across the page and as my mind races along faster than my hand can get the words onto the paper I too prefer to type my letters. I can add or delete at will and also know it is legible for the recipient.

    I always send thank you cards, and hand made birthday and Christmas cards but now, due to the cost of postage, I send less than I ever have done. If I can hand deliver or meet up with friends and swap cards then that is what we do. A meet up and a card exchange, whats not to like.

    Keep well and busy and spring will soon be with us.... ever the optimist aren't I?

    Regards Beverley

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    1. Beverley it's been a relatively good day here with no wind and no rain and quite a lot of sun but cold. I went over to Uig to visit olf friends and it was a lovely drive.

      Your cards are lovely and so much work goes into the too.

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  23. I just remembered a funny episode about phone calls from my past. I went down to Cornwall to work in around 1967/8. Mum and dad didn't have a phone at home so every Saturday evening I would telephone from my flat to the phone box in the street of shops closest to my parent's house in Yorkshire. They would be there waiting at the pre arranged time. Sometimes the line was engaged and I deduced that someone else had popped into the box before mum and dad. I would wait and try again in five minutes as no one would stay on the line for very long when you had to keep feeding the box with money and pressing the button. One particular evening my dad had ridden round to the phone box on my push bike, I've no idea why as mum would have been walking there on her own. About 2 hours later mum said to dad, "Jack, where's Beverley's bike"? He looked stunned for a minute then said "Oh, blxxdy hell, I've left it round at the phone box". As dad didn't like walking much mum quickly walked back to the phone box and there was my bike still leaning against the wall outside. Mum had to push it back home as no way would she have got on to ride it back. In this day and age the bike would have been long gone if you left it propped up on a main road unattended for 2 hours would't it?

    Hope this has given you a smile on a wet Tuesday morning.


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    1. Beverley, I've been out most of the day so have only just read this and yes, it has given me smile. However I can just imagine if my Dad had left the bike there would be no way Mum would have gone for it if he hadn't liked walking. Actually Dad was a keen cyclist and both were very keen walkers.

      When I came to live on Lewis we had one of the very few phones in our village. People used it as a public phone. The last straw came late one night when we were in bed and someone rang and asked to speak to a not-so-near neighbour. Was it urgent? "Oh no. I just want a chat." Use of our phone suddenly ceased. People had got the message loud and clear.

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