A robin on a pillar box topped with snow, in a country lane – a typical winter scene on a card signed by June and Roger, who I’ve never heard of. In an envelope addressed to a Mrs Ann Brown, who doesn’t live here any more and probably never did. The printed message is the vaguest of them all: Season’s Greetings.
A card arrived for Mrs B. last year too. It lay around for a while, before being cut in half. Throwing away re-usable pieces of paper is constitutionally impossible – so the blank parts of cards, sheets of A4 written on one side but not the other, unsolicited envelopes, old copies of The Times….will all have a second life, as surfaces for shopping lists, memos to self or chopping vegetables…
Some cards are kept whole and for years, if I’m fond of the sender. Like the one found in the loft last week, from last Christmas – the one that always arrived first, at the end of November and on the kind of paper that can barely stand up for itself. An annual irritation. The scene is a Victorian village, featuring a fireside in a cottage or coaching inn, with a quantity of glitter, as usual. The message inside is warm and genuine – and final. Written by the brother-in-law who died a few months ago.
The pile of cards sent and received gets smaller every year. ‘It’s only to be expected, at our age,’ a friend says darkly, who’s otherwise cheerful in December, because in popular demand. She can actually knit Santas and fir trees, complete with beards and baubles. I’ve bought far too many festive stamps, so someone will get a letter in July alive with reindeer and sleighs dashing through the snow…
Enough cards arrive to make a select display of stars over stables and camels on the endless journey to Bethlehem, with the odd exception, like a party of tipsy-looking nuns on skates – the favourite. Last year was all about angels and – unaccountably – rabbits. It’s a quaint custom, this circulation of cards through the post, when messages can now be exchanged in seconds. And yet, the choice of design and addition of a personal note – a voice on paper, in continuity – can make of the card something more. A gift.
Look at the mystery card again, more closely. Posted in Birmingham, but no clue there. I have no acquaintance in Birmingham. The second-class stamp is the jolly snowman variety – an image sure to cause wondrous offence in academic/alternative circles, because it shows a traditional family of snowpeople: Mum, Dad and two children, all in hats and scarves and all absolutely white. Reinforcing several stereotypes at once!
Thousands of items are wrongly delivered each year, but Postman Pat did his best for Mrs Brown. The house number is correct, but I live in a Road not a Drive and there is no Drive in this area. The postcode is incomplete. A scrawl inside hopes she is ‘keeping well’. June and Roger may never find out, but at least they’re trying to stay in touch, a bit surprised by the silence, while Ann is feeling forgotten, again.
I know! It’s getting late, but in a random universe, ’tis always the season to be silly…so I’ll reverse the two digit number and substitute ‘Street’ for Drive’. Then re-seal the envelope and pop the card, the robin and the snowmen into the real pillar box on the corner and send them on their merry way. A postal message in a paper bottle.