returning to pen and paper


When earlier this year we returned to the UK, after living in South Africa for a million years, I was more heart sore than I let on about leaving my girls behind. And despite them being young women, one married, one about to be, both happy, that wasn’t enough to allow me an easy “leave”.  Even before boarding the plane I was wondering how on earth we would be able to stay in touch. How would we be able to deal with not having our treasured meet up for shopping and dinner nights, or go to a movie, or visit a winery in the glorious Cape?  Even an opportunity to sit outside a changing room as they tried on clothes was going to be missed. Even harder would be the “are you home, popping round” calls.

Of course we have Skype and email and Whatsapp, which have been fantastic, and are the three things I wish had been available to me when leaving the UK for SA in the 1980s. Back then it was about pen to paper, email quality to keep the weight and cost down. Red and blue edged envelopes. Licking small, blue, airmail stickers, whose glue would leave you pulling a face, and wishing there was an easier way to communicate!

air mail envelope

And then it struck me. Why not write to them? I like writing. I can throw a few words together. Let’s give this a go. It could be good, just what I need.  And it is.


Once a week, often Monday morning, I take hold of my pen, sit in a quiet spot, and write. Not pages and pages. Instead I fill a blank card, the sort you buy in a bookshop with beautiful photo images, often purchased from places we’ve visited, or a card that caught the eye at the supermarket. It’s enough space to have a nice chat, without rambling. If there is a little more to say, and space allows, the back is also used. I tell them about what we’ve been doing, what we are planning, and even things I’ve seen which had me chuckling – a lady outside her house, covered in what looked like ash, shaking herself off while yelling at her children to go to their room was one such chuckle moment.


Writing to them somehow makes me feel as if I’m chatting directly to them, more so than taping at a keyboard. And while we continue to electronically communicate regularly, the writing to them is treasured. As is the moment I hand over the colourful envelope at my local post office. For it’s at that point I know what I’ve said is on it’s way. And as I walk away, I’m already planning my next card purchase, but never the content. That only happens on Monday morning when there is time to reflect on the last seven days.

I’ve lost count of how many cards have been written, but I’m guessing 8 to each of them so far. The aim being for them to receive a letter/card a week. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they get 2 at once. But so far so good. The SA postal system has not let me down.

And then there is a magical moment when I receive a card back. I held one in my hands today and beamed.

And as I did, I hoped they both do the same when they receive mine.











14 thoughts on “returning to pen and paper

  1. I imagine the wrench was worse for you than it was for the kids. That whole ”letting go ” thing.
    Yet, remember when we left Ingerlund way back when? I’ll bet there was not much of a backward glance to those waving ”T’raa!”
    Not for me at any rate,as my trip was supposed to be only for 12 months and was one big adventure. Meanwhile, 30 plus years later!

    We communicate with my wife’s family in Portugal every day via Google. My BIL for example, is a continental truck driver and while we work here in the office or kitchen we get to ”drive ”with him,

    It’s fantastic. We have been all over Europe and my daughter even helps him out sometimes via Google maps when he gets lost occasionally or if his GPS conks out. I’ll be honest, I adore modern forms of communication.
    But my folks and family were never ones for computers so I generally only speak to them on the phone.
    As for the art of penmanship, I am a bit like Col. I have a Doctors handwriting!

    1. must be honest my leaving the UK wasn’t the best, but yes with the old internet it is so much easier to stay in contact with my girls these days. The letter writing is an extension of the regularly quick catch ups. Plus I get the chance to scour the walls of cards available, seeking something fun and or quirky. And it seems I join you and Col with the Doc’s handwriting, mine is not all that good after too many years of keyboard tapping

  2. i had a friend who for years would send random postcards from where she was… sadly we have lost touch but you are right i loved that even if she backed itup with faster forms of communication

  3. Shirley Bradbiry

    I’ve slways thought writing a letter is a more personal touch I write to a cousin who lived up North have done for many years and look forward to receiving her news about the family. It is a bit of a shame that emails and texting seems to have taken over . I can understand Ruth what it must be like the separation with the girls not being able to pop round and see them, living in another country,

  4. I’d have a problem – through lack of practice, my handwriting has become even more illegible than it always was! Lovely to get and keep such correspondence, though. People who scan and put them on memory stick before putting them in the recycling bin should be afflicted with an infestation of fleas or something.

  5. Khaya Ronkainen

    Such a lovely way to communicate with your girls, Ruth! I miss writing and receiving handwritten letters or even cards. 😊

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