Greater love hath no man…

The title of this post refers to a very well known line from John’s Gospel:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The surrounding lines provide a bit of context – it’s part of a statement made by Jesus, shortly before he goes in to the Garden of Gethsemane where he’ll be betrayed by Judas.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.”

The call to selflessness has become culturally associated with the military services, and the phrase is often used with regard to people who have died in the heat of battle, sacrificing themselves for the benefit of others around them.

But I also associate this line with a fictional story.

I enjoy the James Cagney gangster movies from the 1930s, particularly the two he did with Humphrey Bogart; ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’.  In the latter, Cagney plays a gangster, Rocky Sullivan, released from jail and owed money by Bogart’s character, Jim Frazier, who collaborated with Sullivan on a bank raid.  Sullivan took the rap, in return for the money to be paid to him after his release.  Sullivan also has a friend in the local Catholic pries, Jerry Connolly.  As boys, both Rocky and Jerry carried out a robbery together but only Rocky was caught, and sent to reform school, where it might be argued his criminal career began.  Jerry was a faster runner, and became a priest.

Jerry coaches a group of boys playing basketball, who rapidly become impressed with Rocky’s charm and bravado, and his courage and general approach to life. Jerry is concerned that this may lead the boys in to a life of crime.

To cut to the chase, Frazier double-crosses Rocky, and Rocky ends up in a gun fight in which he kills a policeman, which ultimately leads to Rocky being on death row, awaiting execution.

The boys are convinced that Rocky will die like he lived – a hero, going to the electric chair with swagger and bravado. Jerry goes to see Rocky and asks him to go to the chair ‘as a coward’, with the hope that the boys will lose all respect for him and not set out on a life of crime as they try to emulate their hero. Rocky refuses.

However, when he’s taken in to the execution chamber to be executed, he begs and weeps and fights against the guards. His courage and bravado are gone; he goes to his death in an undignified and cowardly manner, pleading for mercy. Jerry, who’s present in the role of Rocky’s priest, prays as the execution takes place.  The boys later read the headlines that Rocky died a coward, and ask Jerry whether it was true.  After a brief pause, he tells them that it was all true. The boys lose respect for Rocky; it’s hoped that they will steer away from crime.

Whether Rocky was acting the part of a coward, or whether he really did ‘break’ at the end isn’t revealed in the film. In later life, Cagney kept quiet about it as well. I saw this film first time around in my early teens, watching it one Sunday afternoon with my parents, and I couldn’t quite work out myself whether Rocky was acting or not.  I got the feeling that Jerry thought that Rocky had done the right thing, though – that moment of pause when the boys asked whether whether the newspaper story was true seems to suggest he was wondering whether to tell ‘the truth’ or the truth.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that Rocky DID do the good thing – he made whatever sacrifice he could at the end to help his friend. His life was already forfeit, so he gave up his character, his dignity, his courage; he gave up the rest of him, so to say.

As for Jerry, the older I’ve got the more I have to ask ‘Was it too great a thing to ask of Rocky? After all, but for your ability to run faster, you might have followed a similar life. You asked of him to give away the very thing that made Rocky, Rocky, in the eyes of the world. That was a great deal to ask. Was it too much to ask?’

I’ve not yet got an answer for that one.

Fiction allows us to explore complex morality at ‘low cost’ – this film has stayed with me for my whole adult life. I occasionally watch it when it’s on TV to see if I can gain some more insights; I know, it sounds daft trying to pick out morality from a film that’s almost 80 years old, but sometimes we need fiction to allow us to answer some of the big questions.

 

For a fuller description of the plot, take a look here.

 

Facebook makes you miserable…

I came across this item a few days ago – the hardly surprising revelation that lurking around on Facebook makes you miserable.  Although ‘lurking’ – looking at social media without interacting with anyone – is specifically mentioned, social media in general get’s a bit of a hammering.

This isn’t anything new, of course – I remember some years ago some studies being published that suggested that people got depressed when looking at the social media – particularly Facebook – feeds of their friends who always seemed to be telling us all about their wonderful lives featuring beautiful people in beautiful places doing exciting and fascinating things with and to each other.

Of course, most of these feeds were actually less than 100% accurate, with people cherry picking their lives to put up a good image, or even lying their pants off.  Whatever else, social media doesn’t seem to always induce truth-telling!

I’ve never been able to understand why people tell porkies on their social media feeds.  If you’re trying to impress people who know you more than a little, then surely those folks know when you’re stretching the truth.  And if you’re trying to impress people who don’t know you very well, why bother?

“Researchers warn of envy and a “deterioration of mood” from spending too long looking at other people’s social media stories, induced by “unrealistic social comparisons”.

The funny thing is that I KNOW all this, but even I fall prey to it.  If I’m feeling a bit down, a bit lost, a bit ‘Meh’ and I see someone on Facebook who appears to ‘have it all together’ I have to say that I get envious and I get that deterioration of mood. I know in my head that everyone has their own problems to deal with, and that a story or photo on Facebook is very much a snapshot of an instant in that person’s life, but it still sometimes gets to me.

I think I agree with the other findings of the researchers “Actively engaging in conversation and connecting with people on social media seems to be a much more positive experience,” It’s only when you start to engage with people that you do find out whether their lives are as ‘picture perfect’ as they appear to be or whether you just caught them on a very good day.  Or, who knows, whether they are lying narcissists after all.

There’s a couple of pictures of me out there where I appear to be (for me) in ‘party animal’ mode.  What folks don’t know (or many don’t know) is that those pictures were taken of me at a time in my life when I was under the hammer somewhat, and that ‘shit was going down’ in my life that I hadn’t seen fit to share on social media. I do wonder how many other pictures and posts we see from people who appear to be having a perfect life (compared to ours) are taken when things aren’t good at all?

There’s a book called ‘Survivors of Steel City’ about people in Sheffield, written by psychologist Geoff Beattie, and in it there’s a story of a guy who drove the top of the range cars, was seen in the top night-spots, dressed immaculately.  However, this was his ‘weekend persona’ – the rest of the time he live din a flat on a council estate, the car was hired, and the weekend club life was the total high-spot of his week.  I guess that that shows that there is nothing new under the sun – had social media been around back then we can only imagine his posts!

One solution to the angst produced by social media suggested by the researchers was to take a week off social media every now and agan.  I can say that this works; every now and again I take a time out and it resets my attitude and my online bull-shit detector.

In the meantime, can I interest you in some possibly faked up photos of me ski-ing down the Eiger accompanied by a multitude of bkini clad beautiful people?

 

 

 

And so in to 2017

My attitude towards New Year’s Eve this year was summed up rather well when I went to Asda this afternoon to buy ‘the boys’ – our 2 cats, Jarvis and Marvin – some cooked chicken. They like this as a treat, and whilst New Year’s Day lunch will feature roast beef, the boys just don’t like beef as much as chicken or turkey, so out to Asda I went.

I found myself in the checkout queue with a number of people carrying various bottles of champagne, sparkling white wine and Buck’s Fizz.  Me? Some chicken and a tub of Ovaltine.

New Year’s Eve has never been a big event at Pritchard Towers; typically it’s Jools Holland, drink the New Year in, then off to bed. This year it’s been reading, dozing, then suddenly noticing that it’s 2 minutes to midnight. Could we be bothered to drink the New Year in? Nope. But we did enjoy the thunderous roar of the fireworks around the neighbourhood – I decided that it was the New Year finishing off the Old Year in a fusilade of gun fire, with a final ‘kill shot’ coming from a large firework that shook the house.

No Jools Holland, no sparkly drinkies. This year we just didn’t feel up to it; I think we were just glad to get shut of 2016 as quickly as possible with as little palaver as possible.

I come to New Year’s Eve with a small collection of superstitions from my childhood.

I was very popular as a ‘first footer’ as an older child – I had dark hair (which apparently is good) and would be shooed out of the house just before midnight, armed with a piece of shortbread and a piece of coal. After the stroke of midnight, I’d be welcomed in to the house and the shortbread and coal were to signify that no one in the house would be hungry or cold in the coming year.

It was also important to go in to the New Year with no clothes drying around the house, and no pots waiting to be washed or washing in the washing machine.  The idea was that the state of the house would give an indication as to what things would be like in the coming year.  A sort of ‘start as you intend to go on’.

Both of these superstitions suggested some sort of ‘sympathetic magic’ in which what happened at New Year influenced the year to come, and if that’s the case my 2017 will be a mixed bag indeed. The first thing drunk in 2017 has been a cup of tea, the first thing done was to then put a hot water bottle in the bed. I then fed the cats, cleared up a small turd left in the bathroom by Jarvis, finished writing my intercessionary prayers for Evening Prayers tomorrow evening, and wrote this blog post.

On this basis, my 2017 will be based around tea, hot water bottles, cat-care, God and writing.

I could do worse.

Happy New Year!

Memories of a Sunday afternoon

Since I turned 50, I’ve occasionally found my thoughts turning back towards my childhood and adolescence. I’ve no idea why – my parents are both dead, I’m estranged from my biological family and have no childhood friends around to make me think of those times.  Maybe I’m being a good Jungian and ‘looking inward’, or maybe I’m just finding out what nostalgia is all about.  Who knows.

One thing that has kept popping back in to my mind over the last few years – and I have no idea why – was 4-30pm, Sunday afternoons. After dinner (we ate at about 3pm on Sundays) my mum would be tidying around and my dad would go for a lie down. I would be playing / experimenting / reading in my hobby-room (I grabbed the small box room) and once my dad was ensconced in his bedroom he’d turn on his radio (the Ekco set I mentioned ages ago in this post) and out would come the sound of the opening music for the Radio 2 program ‘Sing Something Simple’.  30 minutes of vocal harmonies with piano and accordion accompaniment.  Rather than try and explain it, I point you to this site where the show is described.

I didn’t like it much then – it was a staple of my childhood and teenage years, and for me the saving grace was that after it the chart show was broadcast – and I have seen the show described as ‘audio chloroform’. But, my father would hum along, and even now I can remember the songs and so it must have insinuated itself in to my head.

Sunday afternoon was an odd time for me – I guess an odd time for any schoolchild – it’s the last bit of freedom before you go back to school on Monday.  ‘Sing Something Simple’ was sort of the start of Sunday evening – after that program would come the chart show, which I’d listen to whilst doing whatever tinkering I was doing, but I have to say that I don’t recollect the chart programmes as much as the Cliff Adams Singers these days!

Somewhere during the chart show would appear Sunday Tea – usually sandwiches, cake, etc. spread out on the living room table.  You’d get what you wanted and sit in the living room eating up.

After the chart show – around 7pm – would be Sunday Evening Bath time. Again, odd memories.  Sometime in my childhood / teens I started reading in the bath, but the main thing I remember from my baths as a child was the long handled scrubbing brush (backs for the use of) which was in the form of a pale green, plastic, long tailed fish.  And there was a ‘thing’ that contained the soap, flannel, scrubbing brush, whatever that rested on the edges of the bath tub across the bath itself.  I think it also ended up containing toy boats when I was REALLY small.

And after bath it was get dry in front of the fire….and funnily enough, I don’t remember much after that.

The human memory is a funnily selective thing. Folks assure me that ‘it’s all in there somewhere’ but I really would like to fill in some of the gaps!

Today me, tomorrow you

A few weeks ago I wrote this Blog Post around the theme of Today You, Tomorrow Me, a ‘pay it forward’ sentiment summed up in the attitude of someone doing a favour for someone on the ground of ‘Today you need help, tomorrow it could be me needing help’.

Well, me being me started thinking about this from the other perspective, that of ‘Today it’s me needing help, tomorrow it might be you’.

I appreciate that that sounds rather selfish; it’s the sort of thing that you might say when trying to emotionally blackmail someone in to doing you a favour – “Hey, give me a hand, you never know when you might need a hand yourself!”  Also, to be honest, it does sound a bit like a cross between a threat and a bribe!

But at the same time there is an honesty about it, and a forthrightness that we’re often reluctant to acknowledge.  Sometimes, we DO need help and find it hard to ask for it. Perhaps asking for it on a ‘tit for tat’ is not something you can do with a total stranger, but perhaps it’s the way we need to be with friends and family, rather than the “I need help, I hope folks offer it because I’ll feel terrible asking for it, and they might turn me down.”

In the last decade there have been times when I’ve been desperate enough to seek help from friends. A couple have helped me out (you know who you are, folks) and several haven’t (you also know who you are) and it has affected our relationship in various ways – strengthening it in some cases, weakening it in others, changing the power dynamic.

But what about total strangers? It’s one thing for someone offering you help when you need it, but would that same stranger have responded positively had YOU asked first? I’m not sure.

Asking for help from the stranger would at least take out the guesswork, but it also comes over as if you’re begging or pan-handling – which at one level I suppose I would be.  The argument of ‘you never know when you might need a hand yourself’ only really applies if you’re likely to cross path with the person again often enough to be around when they need you, OR if the stranger has a belief in some sort of Karma or ‘reward for good deeds’.

I guess it MIGHT work if the stranger is particularly kind, or has a religious belief that encourages selfless helping.  It might also help if the person was on the verge of offering assistance and needed a little push to get them over nervousness or shyness. It might also work if the stranger gets a kick out of helping folks, or if they feel that they can get something form you quite quickly if they help you out.

This is an experiment that I’m not sure I’d have the guts to try; I think that in many cases, rather than ask a total stranger for assistance I’d try and get things sorted myself or just ‘grin and bear’ the problem.

Maybe it’s a British thing….

Want, wear, read, need?

This is a post about Christmas presents. The timing and planning is somewhat off – I intended to write this about 3 weeks ago.  If you’re still contemplating buying Christmas gifts now, either swiftly go to Amazon or run away from the computer and find your local stores…

In this article on the BBC website, a ‘rule of thumb’ is suggested for the giving of presents at Christmas – a so called ‘Four Gift Rule’ that suggests that the gifts should be :

  • Something that recipient wants
  • Something the recipient needs
  • Something for the recipient to wear
  • Something for the recipient to read

I’m not at all convinced about this.  I’m pretty skint most of the time, but I do enjoy buying what are hopefully thoughtful gifts for the people I love the most.  Typically the ‘gift count’ is around four per child, and one or two per adult, with a pre-set budget (pre-set by my bank manager).  So, keeping to the number of gifts isn’t a problem, but the the suggested gift types leave a lot to be desired.

That’s not to say I might not get someone gifts in these categories, but it’s not at the front of my mind when I’m shopping.  Here are my issues…

Want – sounds great in principle. Until you realise that you have no idea what the big ‘wants’ are in people’s lives.  I want, for example, a big house with dark skies for astronomy and outbuildings for a workshop. It’s not going to happen. I have a rough idea what my niece wanted the last time we went shopping with her; her interests probably changed about 1 day later.

However…she did express a couple of wants that we were able to buy her.

Need – come on. If I need something, I’m not going to wait until Christmas on the off-chance that someone may buy me what I need. A few weeks ago my biggest need was a new thermostat for the immersion heater; oddly enough I decided not to put it on my Christmas list as staying clean for over a month without hot water might have proved hard.

But…the other day my cat Jarvis’s electrically heated sleeping mat conked out. It gives him GREAT respite from his aches and pains (he’s 21) and so Jarvis NEEDED that mat.  So, kind daddy blew part of his Christmas gift from work on a new heated pad.

Wear – one word here. Socks. Yes, buy me socks. And hankies. Please, please, buy me socks and hankies.  This is a serious request. What was awful as a child becomes a thoughtful gift when in your 50s.

Read – great in principle but there are a couple of issues here.  If you don’t know the reading habits of the recipient – and again, it’s not a given that you will because some of my reading habits are less obvious to friends than they could be, buying books can be a nightmare.  And if you DO know their reading habits, you still have the issue of determining ‘Have they got this book?’

I have, however, bought God-children a book each which I think they will like.

Now, the objections I give above can be dealt with:

  • I should get to know and stay in touch with my relatives and friends better, then I would gain a great knowledge of their interests.  And dress sizes, shoe sizes, reading interests, etc.
  • I can ask them what they want – rather removes the surprise element but it’s a no-nonsense, pragmatic solution.
  • I can give them a list of possible presents, ask them to remove the ones they DON’T want, then select the gifts from the ones they leave. Rather civil-servant like, but workable.

Alternatively….why don’t I just give money for the ‘big’ presents? Or gift cards?  A year or so back I gave a £50 note to someone for their birthday – nice, sharp, crinkle free from the bank. Don’t know what it was spent on but it looked good! I used to think that this was something of a thoughtless approach, but now I don’t know. Give money or gift cards, let them buy what they need / want / can wear and want to read.

And you can still spoil them rotten with a few little extras.

Or, maybe you can give those you love something that money can’t buy. You. Your time, your interest in them. Be there for them when they need you or want you.

Merry Christmas.

Adulting….

In recent years I’ve heard the word ‘adulting’ used to describe various types of behaviour.  I have to say that when I first heard it, I thought it was being used in a joking manner, but it appears that some folks use it seriously.

According to the ‘urban dictionary’ website, the verb ‘To Adult’ has the following meaning : “to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.”

Of course, there were adults doing stuff before the last couple of years – we just got on with it rather than made up words to describe it.  Adulting is a concept that seems to be popular with Millennials – apparently 20 and 30 somethings are finding the whole business of life in the 21st Century a bit of a pain.  I can see that there are issues around these days that I didn’t have when I was in my 20s – the main one being that buying your own house these days is a harder proposition than when we bought ours – but for crying out loud, when you get someone in their 20s or 30s saying ‘I’m not good at adulting’ or being proud of their ‘adulting skills’ because they’ve cooked a meal, we have a major problem.

I have a ‘thing’ about how some people seem to be increasingly infantilised, particularly people in their 20s and 30s, and this sort of nonsense seems to fit the bill.  Again – I empathise with the challenges in life today, but come on folks – it’s always been hard and you’re not being asked to charge up a beach under machine gun fire. You’re being asked to cook food; I was 10 when I first cooked tea for myself, my mum and my dad.

I’ve previously written on the concept of ‘The Competent Man (or woman)‘ on this blog, and so was slightly hopeful when I came across this article in the Guardian recently, about an organisation called ‘The Adulting School’ based in the US.  I took a look at their ‘Adulting IQ’ and found that there were some interesting suggestions in there of what constitutes being an adult today – it’s here.

One has to say that it’s American and that it almost certainly isn’t aimed at soemone of my generation.  To put it in context I was born 15 years after the end of World War 2; it was less than a decade since the end of rationing in the UK, and my parents were of an older generation who’d lived through depressions and general strikes as well as WW2. I guess I learnt from the experts.

But it’s a very serious problem; many of these people who’re having problems with Adulting will have kids; the chances are, therefore, that the next generation will have fewer adulting skills of teh sort I learnt from my mum and dad by absorption – how to wire a plug, cook food, darn socks, plant stuff in the garden, basic plumbing, budgeting, etc.

I’d be the first to admit that there are new skills that the Millenials and more recent generations have that they acquire ‘osmotically’ – using technology…er….yes. That’s about it.

Maybe I need to start a UK branch of The Adulting School…..

The mysterious chicken….

I’m blessed with having a number of caring friends who often surprise me with their generosity. Recent gifts have included fleece’s, scarves, choocolate by the barrow load and…well…a raw chicken.

Yesterday I returned from the day job to be greeted by my wife who said ‘There is a very strange parcel in the kitchen for us.’  And sure enough, there was.  A chicken from the supermarket with a cryptic note attached.

Now, I’m OK with weird stuff. I like to think of myself as being a connoisseur of weird.  But a gift of a chicken is something that whilst generous is rather odd! My wife mentioned that it had been left with a neighbour, and at this point I decided that a visit to see the neighbour might be a good and sensible thing to do.

The game of ‘take in the parcel for the neighbours’ is frequently played in the neighbourhood.  On a really busy day we can get a good version of ‘Pass the Parcel’ going, where I take in a parcel for the house next door, the house opposite takes in a parcel for me, and the recipient of the original parcel end up taking a third parcel in for the house opposite.  But a raw chicken must be a first.

My neighbours had taken it rather well; I think their son was perhaps a little ‘WTF’ about it, but from the description I think I know who my anonymous benefactress was. I shall respect their desire for anonymity, but am more than happy to equip them with a shopping list if they wish to make a regular thing of this generosity. 🙂

Having ascertained that my neighbours weren’t too traumatised – fortunately they aren’t vegetarians and are used to me being a little odd – I returned home to pop the chicken back in the refrigerator to await it’s fate.

Strange things go through your head at this point; they were soon dispatched as being silly, but a few days ago I read an article which detailed some of the many dozens – if not hundreds – of attempts by the CIA to bump off the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Everything from the bog standard bombs and bullets through to the poisoned cigars. Momentarily I started wondering whether I’d upset anyone enough to make them want to wipe me out with a dodgy chicken?  Or is it an exploding chicken? Maybe, like, Sir Francis Bacon, I would meet my maker via the assistance of a chicken?

As I write this, the chicken is cooking. To our anonymous donor, thank you; the chicken smells delightful.  Jarvis the cat is wandering around sniffing – he may be 21 years old with declining mental faculties but his sense of smell is pretty darn awesome. The chicken will be eaten with chips, and maybe some garlic bread left over form last night’s pasta.

And should I die…I rely on my friends to hunt down the mysterious chicken donor of Old Sheffield Town.

 

Small fires in jam jars

By the time I got interested in radio and electronics – when I was about 10 years old, in the early 1970s, most new radios and TVs weren’t using valves anymore; you’d still find old stuff in junk stores (or in the homes of older relatives) that were stuffed with valves, and TV sets still had them, but except in specialist applications valves were becoming increasingly rare in domestic electronics.

I remember reading an article in  a magazine that referred to valves as ‘small fires in jam-jars’ – and to be honest, if you took a look at a powered up and working valve radio you would see the warm orange or yellow glow from some of the valves – indeed suggesting that in the bottom of the glass tube was a small fire.  The amount of heat generate also gave that impression as well!

Of course, this wasn’t the case – the orange glow came not from a small fire but from a heated wire – but the phrase stuck with me,  and still makes me smile whenever I recollect it.

So, what bought about this trip down memory lane? The other day I purchased a small electronic amplifier module for a project off of eBay – the sort of thing that I could easily build myself but when I could buy it ready made for a couple of quid it seemed churlish not to. As for the project, it’s a ‘watch this space’ thing!  When I powered it up to test it I hooked the output up to a loudspeaker that I had screwed to a piece of plywood, and that’s when the trip down memory lane kicked in.

Like many people I’m very responsive to smells, and the smell of the electronics and the plywood took me back over 40 years to the garden shed where my dad had allowed me to set up some miscellaneous electronic bits and pieces, including a massive 12″ loudspeaker mounted in a plywood cabinet that was almost as tall as me.

The particular memory invoked was one of the earliest I have around electronics, and is actually a very strong memory. I was building a small amplifier to allow me to use the big loudspeaker to hear the output from a crystal set I’d built, and the design I was using for the amplifier was from an electronics kit I’d been bought at Christmas. A peculiarity of the design (caused by the number of components in the kit being limited) was that a particular electrical resistance in the amplifier was provided by a small electric light bulb.  I remember wiring things up, connecting the loudspeaker, then the battery, and being greeted by a hum in the loudspeaker. I was doing this on a late autumn evening – I think it was a Sunday – and in the twilight in the shed I was delighted to see the filament of the light-bulb glowing – my own ‘small fire in a jam jar’!

What was interesting was that once I managed to tune in a radio station on the crystal set, and wound up the volume on the amplifier as far as it would go, the brightness of the bulb filament would vary in sympathy with the music or voice coming form the loudspeaker.

I remember staying in the darkening shed, the last sunlight of the day coming in through the window, until my mother called me in.  There was the smell of the plywood, the slight frying smell of electronic components being pushed to the limit (and usually with my enthusiasm exceeding my design ability somewhat beyond), and that tiny flickering glow from the bulb.

I have other memories of building kit – some very vivid as well – but this one was an almost a religious experience in terms of the way it’s stuck with me.

Valve gear seems to be coming back in to vogue – you can buy kits for radios that use valves, and I’m sorely tempted to try one out.  I doubt that it will have the impact of that first experience with my non-valve ‘fire in a jam jar’ but I think it might be fun.

 

 

 

Stamped out….

When I was a kid in the 1960s – even through my teenage years – one of the things that often seemed to start getting publicised at this time of year was the charitable stamp collection.

The idea was that you’d be asked to save the stamps that came your way on letters, cards, parcels, etc. and send them to a collection point whereupon they’d be used in some way for charity fund raising.  I think the programme ‘Blue Peter’ did it, but I might be wrong.  I never worked out how money was made; I doubt very much that they went through the stamps to see if there was a rare ‘Inverted Queen’s Head First Class’ or whatever the valuable stamps of the day were.

Being an occasional stamp collector myself (I still have the albums and a large box of first day covers, etc. sitting in a box here at Pritchard Towers – burglars note, nothing worthy of stealing) I would actually go through the letters and cards that came my way and get anything unusual for my own collection.  This was particularly the case in my teens, by which time I was getting letters and cards from overseas as a result of my interest in short wave listening and amateur radio.

I seem to remember the collections still being made when I’d entered the workforce and through the 80s and early 1990s, but I don’t recollect the collections being made from the mid-1990s onwards.  I guess that a combination of cheaper overseas phone calls, faxes and then email basically stopped the need for there being large numbers of bits of ‘snail mail’ – and also franking became available to more and more smaller companies, so that even where letters WERE sent they often came with franked postage rather than stamps.

I guess that it’s one of the interesting ‘spin off’ effects of the advances in communications technology that came particularly with email.  These days, any ‘snail mail’ that comes with stamps on is usually from family members who don’t have access to the office franking machine.  When a non-franked letter arrives these days with unknown writing – or even better, a typed address – it really is something to be pondered on.  It’s occasionally spam mail, but sometimes it’s a letter from someone who prefers to use snail mail – this time of the year usually gives us a particularly good haul of letters and cards from family and friends that we’ve lost touch with a little.

I’m beginning to wonder whether I should try and write a few letters to people, and pop them in an envelope with a stamp on, before the whole concept of ‘snail mail’ disappears forever.  Maybe ‘slow mail’ , where we take care with the preparation of the letter and even submit it to a delivery process that takes days to reach the destination – might become a way of communicating that shows you care a little more than just whizzing off an email or a text message.