Postcards, like phone boxes and people actually knocking on your door for a chat, feel like methods of communication from a far-off and long-gone age. Who but the most sentimental traveller to a strange city or foreign land would bother to buy a rectangle of glossy card with a decades-old image on the front, queue for a stamp, then hunt out a postbox, when a text or tweet can do the job in an instant?
But there’s a touch of poetry in a holiday postcard, an almost social media-like requirement to convey maximum information in as few words as possible. And that’s what’s prompted the creation of a new Twitter account that, when you think about it, is the perfect medium to bring back these ghosts of holidays long forgotten for the digital age.
The account @PastPostcard is relatively new but has already garnered thousands of followers who appreciate the gentle intrusion of brief missives from the past into an increasingly frenetic world.
Here’s a sample, accompanied by a photograph of a grand old house, sunset painting its walls and lawns golden: “Have rediscovered how to crochet the knitting way a friend taught me but fingers & thumbs lost doing it properly.”
It’s the insight into other, unknowable lives that really intrigues, such as the card from Adelaide, Australia, that says, “Claire has new pink Cabbage Patch tracksuit & shoes to match”, and this cautiously upbeat missive from a Cumbrian and North Lancashire odyssey: “We are having a morning coach trip round Morecambe Bay. Les coping well.”
As is the British way, though, the poetry is leavened with a sense that family holidays are being endured as much as enjoyed
Behind the account is Tom Jackson of London who finds through the popularity of the account that he’s spending his free time “sitting at a desk surrounded by piles and piles of old postcards. I spend happy hours sifting through them to find one with a promising message, then send it off into the ether, no stamp required.”
Tom, who concedes he owns “far more postcards than I dare to admit” – he picks them up in antique shops or fairs – says that he was reading the message on an old card when he had his epiphany. “I really enjoyed the freshness and immediacy of the words that someone had written in Biro, probably on a beach or in a cafe somewhere sunny, 40 years ago. It struck me that millions of these little communications used to fly across the world and I thought it might be fun to preserve a few of the messages from them. Twitter fitted perfectly.
“Space is limited on the back of a postcard and while a huge number of cards just talk about the weather, on others the writing is really vivid. One of my favourites is a mountain view where the sender has started the card with the words, ‘We have seen such marvellous scenery, yet each day we find more wonder.’ Isn’t that perfect?”
As is the British way, though, the poetry is leavened with a sense that family holidays are being endured as much as enjoyed. You can feel the frustration dripping from the words on the back of a rural Welsh vista: “Settled into the cottage and enjoying it in spite of aggressive cat interlopers in the middle of the night.”
And just imagine the clenching of teeth that accompanied this one: “Arrived Tuesday. Weather murder. Going into China tomorrow, then Singapore.”
Despite the mini-dramas and sometimes wistful tone of some of the messages, they are ultimately life-affirming and optimistic, and I cannot help but feel cheered about the future whenever I see the one featuring an aerial shot of some dramatic, craggy coastline, with tiny kayakers navigating the swells, and the brief note that “Everything is even better than we remember from last year.”