Up in the loft, I have a box of postcards that were part of a constant postcard-exchange before the internet elbowed other forms of communication out of the way. Lots of us had stashes of postcards, bought at galleries, or vintage ones, or bought in bulk from remainder bins at stationers, or even home made. You didn't have to write anything important- a few lines of a passing thought, a funny thing someone said, an invitation. The address was part of it. A cheeky bloke sent one to me addressed to 'Helen McCookerybook, spinster'. John Peel was a postcard-sender, and I've still got a couple of them written in his cramped and tall handwriting that you had to tip up to read.
Once, a friend sent one to my parents' address when I'd gone there for a few days, saying 'Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you had to run back to your Mum and Dad's'. I went down to breakfast that morning to an 'atmosphere' and couldn't work out why, until I read the card. Postcards weren't private, were they?
Last year, Andy Barding, who runs a record shop on the Isle of Wight, started a postcard club so people could communicate with each other during lockdown. It was a really nice idea. I woke early this morning and thought about it, and about how great would be to communicate by postcard more instead of always using the internet. I used to put on shows, and always got postcards printed with an image on the front and details on the back. I found a cheapish place in Northern Ireland that did a really good job and factored that into the overall costs of everything, because I felt that it was a special thing to do. I put a lot of thought into the picture on the front because of this. They did what the internet does, but in a more personal way. For all that the internet is inclusive, some of that is an illusion: it's also (dare I say it) uncaring. Andy's project was a reminder that people exist in all our many dimensions, for there in the imprint of someone's handwriting was a reminder of flesh and blood, a signifier of touch, that sensation we were all mourning in our atmosphere of infection, illness and fear of death.
One or two people still send the odd postcard, and it's such a relief from the white paper window-envelopes (bank statements, bills, charity pleas and NHS appointments) and the brown paper admonishments (is this another parking fine?). Butter side up or butter side down, whether it's the coloured picture that catches your eye first or the scribbly writing, it's really exciting to receive a postcard. Part of it is the idea that someone has chosen the card, so it's like a little slice of their personality dropping through the letter box on to the door mat. It isn't an announcement to hundreds of people on social media that people acknowledge with a click. It is a personal communication that has involved a slow-world real-world sequence of events. Purchasing the card at a gallery or shop, having chosen to go there; storing the card until the right time to send it to the right person; writing a personal message and finding a postage stamp; a journey to (or past) a post box; and finally, the thought given to the person receiving it. It's all such a bother, isn't it? But what a charming bother.