Posted in Art & Craft, Life, Love and Laughter, Writing

Snail Mail

It may come as no surprise that I like to write.  It is after all the reason why I set up a blog, and although I may not be a very prolific blogger, I write ‘stuff’ all the time.  My flat and my Onedrive are full to bursting with little notes, musings, observations and general mutterings from my Scattered Brain, hoping that, like those miscellaneous bits in that special kitchen drawer, they will be useful for something someday – if only I can find them when I need them.

But I miss the act of holding a pen in my hand and actually physically writing. At school when I was 10 – which was a while ago, but not that far back in the dim and distant past (I’ve not reached my half century just yet, thank you very much) we were taught handwriting.  Do they still do that now?  We had to have fountain pens and jars of Quink ink to refill them.  Then we would spend classes writing in our best handwriting on specially lined paper to get the curls and the flicks in just the right places, which may surprise you if you were to see my handwriting these days.

letters

It’s probably because of these lessons that I have this romantic (but completely impractical) image in my head of myself as a writer, not with an old style typewriter, or banging away at a keyboard, but as a scribe, quill in hand, sitting in my library, scratching amazing anecdotes and awe inspiring work onto parchment, sporting ink stained fingers on my leather-topped oak desk which is littered with paperweights, inkwells, blotters and wax stamps.

Quill and letter opener
Quill and letter opener

Well I have an ink well, a couple of quills and  wax stamps too.  No blotter, oak desk or library yet though. Instead an old kitchen table and a pad of blotting paper work just fine.

I  spend a great deal of my time at a computer of one sort or another.  PC, laptop, tablet, phone or even the TV, and I realise that social media is a massively important part of getting to know others in the writing community.  It is not my strong point, getting to know people, and especially online, but I do try with Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

So I decided to look for Pen Friends again.  Did you know that writing letters is now called Snail Mail?  Back in my day it was just called mail. A quick Pinterest search for Snail Mail ideas and the amount of stuff on there is gob smacking.  Since when did writing letters become such an art form, so expensive and so competitive?  What exactly is washi tape anyway??

I had a few pen pals when I was a teenager, and some of them are still Facebook friends 30 years later, but we don’t write anymore.  To be honest, we don’t even chat on Facebook now.  We just like and share each others posts, which is quite sad really.  I think I need to get in touch and see if they want to write again.

I found an online pen pal finder, which seemed to be legit, had great reviews and did their due diligence when it came to handling personal information.  It was also free – a bonus for a skint would-be-writer – but also has the option to upgrade for a small fee. Everything is checked and verified by real people and no one gets your address unless you say so.

Letter box
Letter box and paperweight

There is an option for you to decide how you want to correspond with people.  Snail Mail, Email, Postcards, Pocket Letters, Mail-Art, Parcel Exchange, Candy Swap, Travel Buddies.  I had no idea what half of these were, so I just plumped for snail mail and postcards.

In the last two months I have been in contact with three ladies. One each from Canada, Kenya and Germany. You can filter the people you are looking for by age, language, country, interests, gender etc., if you want to.

I received my first letter at Christmas and I have to say there is nothing quite like a little parcel from another continent dropping through your letterbox to cheer up your day.  Diane had included all kinds of little gifts, a postcard and enamel badges, nail stickers, maps of her town and photo’s of her with her kids as well as a lovely long letter telling me all about herself.  We are both really excited to get to know each other better and we seem to have hit it off really well, with common interests and outlook on life.

Ready to post
Ready to post

But I can now remember why it’s called snail mail.  It can take a month to receive a reply to your letters, by the time it takes to get there, for them to find time to sit and write and for the postage back again, so patience is definitely a virtue. There is no instant gratification of the ping on your phone.  But that makes it all the more exciting when they do arrive. And you can also write to more and more people and stagger when you write, that way you may have a more even flow of letters in return.  You just need to keep on top of the writing and finding things to write about.  And tracking what you’ve said to each friend is a task all of it’s own. For now, I think 3 is enough to get me back into the letter writing habit.

I did succumb to buying some washi tape and lovely stationery.  The tape is easy and cheap to buy, stationery and address books less so.  But they are out there, and there are plenty of online suppliers to suit all tastes and pockets – but I was trying to buy local and avoid the screen again.  I even picked up a stationery set in a charity shop for 50p. I love a bargain.

The biggest expense is probably the postage, but the contents can be as extravagant and fancy as you like.  Mine are not very fancy at all, but I do like to tart them up a little bit and include a few tit-bits to make them more interesting.  Photo’s are also great.  It’s good to put a face to a name.

I don’t write letters with a quill yet.  It’s extremely messy and untidy in the hands of this amateur, instead I use a fountain pen filled by cartridge rather than ink bottle.  And I don’t make my own envelopes and little knick-knacks to go inside them as Pinterest might have me do.  Nice as they are, life, I feel, is too short and I am really not that artistic.  They would look like something a 5-year old made for Mother’s Day, and although the thought is what counts, I’m not sure a 40 something lady in Kenya wants to keep that crap on her fridge.

Writing letters is a great excuse to talk about yourself.  It is also an interesting and uplifting way for us introverts to get to know new people, to find out about other lives and cultures, and it’s a perfect excuse to sit at your desk (oak or otherwise) and write.

writing
The wax stamp we bought for our wedding invitations now being used on my snail mail
Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Outdoors, pembrokeshire, Pets

The Unlucky Chicken

There was an old chicken named Gertie

Whose feet were incredibly dirty.

To increase her allure

She’d a fine pedicure

And now she’s fantastically flirty.

She wasn’t called Gertie as it happens.  Her name was Scrat.  Do you remember Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age movies?  He never has any luck, seems to always get himself into bother, and is obsessed with hoarding one single acorn.

Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company.
Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company. Here she is trying to look at me through her bad eye.

We named our Scrat after Ice Age Scrat because she was an unlucky but likeable little chicken.  When we first collected her, she could barely walk because her feet were completely encased in rock hard chicken poo. She had great big solid balls of the stuff on each of her toes.  It took a lot of soaking her feet in warm water to finally get them clean, but then she could run around just as well as the others.  Almost.

scrat fruitsalad
Helping herself to fruit salad

Scrat was accident prone.  She had somehow lost the sight in one eye before we collected her, but we don’t think she’d cottoned on to this fact.  She would get all excited and go hurtling around like a headless, well, like a headless chicken, only to crash headfirst into walls or trees or other chickens.  If you threw food for her from the wrong side she couldn’t see it, and by the time she’d worked out that she needed to turn around, the other chickens had often scoffed the lot.

She was the very definition of bottom of the pecking order in our little flock, bullied by all the girls, especially Tikka, who was a gobby little madam.  Even Kentucky the cockerel wasn’t as enamoured of her as he was the others.

dustbath cloche
Scrat and Kentucky destroying the seedlings in my cloche
scrat and dustbath
Scrat assessing the damage

But, after a little settling in period,  she laid just as well as any of our ladies,  she was soon in great condition, she was curious, she was silly and she loved people. The main reason we picked her up in the first place was because she ran straight to us, so she was easy to catch.  (and the dirty feet helped.)

She was always first to greet you in the mornings.  She was the one that sussed out where the back door was and would often wander into the kitchen.  She was the one standing outside the kitchen window, just in case you felt the urge to throw out a few scraps, or under the bird table in case the wild birds dropped anything.  She was the one that didn’t mind being picked up and stroked.  She almost lost her head or a toe every time she dived in front of the spade because she’d seen a grub or a worm.  She was the one that would come running up to you as soon as you stepped out of the house, head held to one side so she could see you from her good eye.

kentucky looking out for his girls
Scrat in the centre with Gertrude and Beatrice and Kentucky looking out for his girls.

She was a clutz, she was a danger to herself, she was accident prone, and we never worked out if she was very brave or just very stupid.  But her self-preservation skills seemed to be paying off, she trusted us and she was by far our favourite.

Our first five chickens came from a barn and had never stepped outside before.  Next we rescued a couple of ex-battery hens, who were in a worse state.  But watching them take their first steps on grass and grow in confidence and feathers was an absolute joy.

tikka

Times have changed and we don’t keep chickens anymore, we don’t have the lifestyle that would allow us to keep them right now.

But, if you do have the opportunity, the resources and the desire to keep chickens, I can absolutely recommend it.  They are such characters with quite individual personalities, and they are a joy to have around.   And the eggs are a delicious bonus!

eggs

Posted in Books, Life, Love and Laughter

Book Review – The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I have never written a book review before, but this blogging lark is all about new experiences, so here goes.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I picked up ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ from the Central Library in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and with moving house and general busyness I have only just managed to finish it. Why did I pick it up? Well as with most books I choose, I liked the cover. I know, I know – but it was soooo pretty. Blue covers seem to do it every time, but this one also had an oriental style painting of a cat on the front. It was a winner from the off.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the story of Satoru who rescues a stray cat and then takes him around Japan in his van to visit his friends, but we don’t why know until later in the book. I tried to finish it on the bus tonight but I knew I was about to cry, so I had to wait until I got home and then blubbed away to my hearts content.

It’s a gentle, warm story that you just can’t put down (unless you are about to embarrass yourself on the Number 82) and tells of friendship and companionship between Satoru and his cat Nana, but also between him and his childhood and university friends as well. Satoru has had a hard time, but he is never seen to complain or bemoan his lot in life, and the writer doesn’t dwell on it either. He is a truly gentle, kind soul and the story depicts that perfectly. The humour comes mostly from Nana’s side of the story, looking into the strange human world that he has chosen to live in. Anyone who loves cats will know that you do begin to wonder who adopted who. Did Satoru adopt a cat, or did Nana adopt a lonely young man?

It is also a great introduction to a country I know very little about. From the changing seasons, to the diverse landscapes and the understated customs, it is an interesting and evocative read.

The author Hiro Arikawa lives in Tokyo and her book is a massive hit in Japan. It was translated from the original Japanese by Philip Gabriel and has since become an international hit too – and rightly so. In Japan the story has now been made into a film.

I was half way through the book before it occurred to me that the cover I love so much shows a picture of a black cat, but Nana is a white cat with a black tail. When I reached the end of the story I found out why. The painting is a work entitled ‘Man and the World’ painted by Shuai Liu, a Chinese painter with cerebral palsy. They simply fell in love with the picture, so used it for the cover. It obviously worked on me. The internal artwork was created by Yoco Nagamiya.

If you’re a cat lover, you will love this book. If you’re not a cat lover, you will also love this book. At just 247 pages long it is a truly lovely short novel that will find it’s way into your soul. Buy it, borrow it, gift it, but absolutely, definitely read it.