Penpals, books & volunteers

When the first lockdown hit, I wanted to find useful new hobbies to fill my time. I was still working from home during the week but there was plenty of evening and weekend time to do some good for myself and others.

Travelling along the coast I spotted the iconic 1930’s building that is the Blind Veterans centre. Returning home, I quickly logged on and volunteered for their befrienders programme online. I’ve some experience in this as I was a volunteer befriender when I lived in East London, for an age charity. Every week I’d have tea and cherry bakewell cake with a true cockney called Doll. She’d regale me with stories of the east end during her childhood, the second world war and later as a widowed mother of one.

One of my favourite stories was about a small plane that whizzed past, pushing a young Doll back into a building when she was walking down the road to buy some milk. She described this small plane like machine with no pilot. Her and other curious locals followed it down to where it’d crashed. One day I looked this up and it turns out it was the first doodlebug bomb dropped in London by the Nazi’s.

Doll also volunteered during the war at the Bryant and May factory building sewing uniforms. She told me they’d write notes with their names and addresses and sew them into the pockets and then get a penpal. Her friend went on to marry her navy sailor-boy penpal.

Unfortunately, the blind veterans said they couldn’t take on any new volunteers during lockdown. At the time I was also doing my best to expand my mind with books and was reading William Whitecloud’s The Magician’s Way, which really made me feel full to the brim with enthusiasm for life and the future. It’s about manifesting what you want and talks about alchemy and magic – two words that always attract me like a magpie to a jewel. It is a jewel of a book too; I highly recommend it.

Late one night, you know – the witching hour when you have all those sudden great ideas – I remembered how I’d enjoyed having penpals when I was a child. There was no internet then and we had the wondrous joy of handwriting letters, adding in gifts of photos and stickers and then waiting weeks for a reply.

I wrote to a girl in Ireland my Nana had got me for a penfriend, she was a distant cousin. I remember her photo, long naturally ringleted golden hair and clear blue eyes. She was funny and seemed much more worldly than me, I was in awe of her. My second penfriend I’d got through by school French teacher, he was a French boy living in Paris. We wrote in English as I was terrible at French. I’d had to tell him at great length one letter how disappointed we were in New Zealand with the French, because of the devastating Rainbow Warrior bombing. It was all anybody was talking about at the time. It still fills me with sadness thinking of it now. If you don’t know; two really bad-at-their-job French secret agents planted bombs on the Greenpeace ship called Rainbow Warrior and sank it. Everywhere these “secret” agents had been they’d been spotted by members of the New Zealand public as suspicious.

Later my French penfriend did military service and sent me a marriage proposal by post, he said his mother was sorting everything out for us and I could come live with them in Paris and plan the wedding with her. This came as a great shock to me as I had no idea we were more than friends. I’d never even had a boyfriend, they were more innocent times. I didn’t marry him if you’re wondering but I do hope he’s doing well in his life – we lost touch many years ago.

I had nostalgic notions of finding interesting foreign penfriends again who enjoyed the romance of snail mail as I do. Upon investigating it’s pretty much all email and online now, undeterred I signed up to an international penpal site, set up a profile and waited. I didn’t wait long, I got a few responses and started lively email exchanges with a Texan, an inter-cambio exchange with a Madrilenian (his English being far superior to my Spanish) and a sincere but funny veteran in a British seaside town. The Texan working on an oilrig was quite flirty but engaging – turned out to be a scammer, as soon as he asked me to help him buy amazon vouchers for his kids, I stopped corresponding. I should have known he wasn’t real when he couldn’t converse on any Texan subject’s I wanted to learn more about.

The British vet I’ve been writing with for many months now, one of his jokes is that he fought a landmine and the landmine won but you should see the landmine. He’s blind, highly functioning and busy writing a book. I’ve been helping him with editing. I suddenly came to the realisation the other day that Mr Whitecloud was right, I got want I’d put out I wanted – to befriend a blind veteran, it just didn’t happen how I’d expected so I hadn’t even noticed.

I’m waiting for my other wishes to come true now; I do believe in magic but it can obviously manifest in unexpected ways so I better stay alert 😉

Published by JoJo

Confessional writer, starting over at 50 - I promise you brutal honestly with a few laughs along the way.

9 thoughts on “Penpals, books & volunteers

  1. What a lovely post. I feel in a much better mood now after reading that hopeful and cheerful saga and I’m ready to face the coming weeks, months, years even? of lock-down in a more accepting manner. Like a lot of well-over-the-hill people I worry too much. No family in this country, four friends died this year leaving me with only two others, and all my conversations on ‘phone conversation now. But hell, I’m lucky. I am warm, well-fed, healthy, have a garden, a lovely home so what have i to moan about. Thanks for putting it all back in perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Forgot to add, I too, had lots of penfriends from early teens to early marriage. Two of the men I met, nearly married one of them, 3 of the women I met and two I am still friends with.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Letter writing can be a form of safe intimacy, expressing yourself in a way you hope your reader appreciates and responds to. I enjoy writing letters. Mostly I type them because I can type a lot faster than I can write. I also enjoy sending birthday cards to friends and family, each with a personalized note. I am told that writing longhand is the best way to do emotional writing because it uses a different skill set and requires one to slow one’s mind to the pace of one’s hand. My son’s hobby is fountain pens, and I enjoy writing with a fountain pen in my best cursive. But my new hobby is French cooking, and I’m getting pretty good, even if I say so myself. Enjoy what comes next in your life. (Sorry for the long comment.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your comments Roger – the longer the better! I also am a fan of fountain pens. I was writing Christmas cards with a feather quill and ink pot last night, now my fingers are all black! Back to the fountain pen for me. If you ever fancy a UK penpal let me know 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love pen-paling! Though the pandemic has caused some disruptions to my postal service, so that sucks. I used to have quite a few pen pals from the US (am Malaysian myself), and I truly love the charms of snail mail. Awesome of you to have so many wonderful people to share stories with!

    Liked by 1 person

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