After my discovery of Adanaland earlier this year, I have been ruminating upon the forgotten pleasures of the mail. It is a simple concept really; that as we have become accustomed to the immediate availability of just about anything via the web, and our ordinary existence becoming ever more virtual and automated, our expectations of the ‘old mail’ have dropped accordingly. Certainly, my mail generally consists of credit card offers, loans and other myriad variations on the theme of ‘spend what you don’t have,’ flyers for kebab shops and flat roofing contractors and those little bags for you to fill up with unwanted items for dubious charities which are to be left by the roadside and never collected. Then there’s the occasional missive from the local authorities, a message from my bank (always to inform me that they will be making changes to my account for my benefit, which inevitably means making it more difficult to get at) and the parish newsletter. Oh, the parish newsletter. I guess it’s much the same for others too.
A little while ago I posted about Adanaland; a mythical place where letterpress and the post still matter. Shortly after that post, I received something that has brought about some changes to my life.
When I received my pack from The Hedgehog Press, my children greeted me at the door when I arrived home from work and exclaimed that something interesting had come for me. (Please don’t imagine a saccharine 1950’s middle class scene with bright-eyed children waiting at the door just as a well-dressed spouse removes a succulent roast from the oven – “Hi Honey, I’m home! – I usually just get a grunt from the teenager glued to Facebook and smile from the youngest if Spongebob is on an ad break!) I was then propelled into the kitchen where I was presented with a medium-sized brown envelope, with neat writing and numerous stamps and markings:
I was urged to open it immediately, even before I had removed my shoes and coat. And as I pulled out a plethora, yes – a plethora, of printed materials, both kids said “is that it?” and “what is it?” Mrs. Lestaret had not shown any interest in it anyway, and even less once it was established I didn’t have to pay for it. Me? I was smiling.
A little later that evening, with a glass of something medicinal (ahem) I scrutinised every little piece in the envelope. I read every line of text, pored over every little image, considered all of the processes and techniques that went into this envelope of inconsequential printed matter. Here is in all its glory: Click on the images for detail…
I have shown these to a number of other people – all of whom smiled, big, innocent grins of pleasure. Simple pleasures; granted, but everyone reacted the same. All of them said something along the lines of ” I would love to get this kind of stuff unannounced in the mail” and delved back into the envelope to retrieve a favourite piece again. I have looked at it several times more, and never failed to smile. I vowed to create something to send out that would perhaps give others some small pleasure.
Originally, I went into massive letterpress mode – the Hedgehog Press, and indeed all of Adanaland relies on this quaint and labour intensive process of reproduction – and assembled ten packs of ‘stuff.’ They are propped up in the top right hand corner of a shelf above my computer screen. I can see then out of the corner of my eye as I type this, mocking me, saying “you know we are nowhere near as good as you would like us to be. “ They are right, of course. I churned them out just to have stuff to send. I am not posting them here. They don’t make me smile. I decided to put this project to one side, and give it some honest thought, and let ideas and inspiration germinate and bring it back to life. It has, but in a different way.
With a more considered review of what came through the letterbox over the last few months I have been able to ascertain some information:
What arrives in the mail at Lestaret Towers (for both me and my wife) is about 60% corporate marketing – banks, credit cards, loans etc, along with ‘special’ offers on cars, replacement windows and private healthcare etc. We also get a lot of charity mail, usually requests for donations, more donations or increases on the donations we already make. I’m not against this stuff – don’t get me wrong – this type of stuff has probably kept the Royal Mail from imploding for years, and provided a healthy financial reward for many marketing and design companies in the process. It’s just that it has become so, er, well, depressing.
Then there is the local stuff – flyers, promos and offers from local businesses, all trying to make a living and doing whatever they can bring in the cash.
Then there is the real crap. Stuff mailed by hand, poorly conceived, cheaply produced and uncared for – photocopied flyers for pointless services (dustbin freshening, anyone?) and dubious tradesmen (qualifeid tradsmen. All work garunteed.) Mail order catalogues for the mentally unstable and financially fatuous, and ad-rags for those who really enjoy one and a half pages of local promotional shite wrapped with 18 other pages of crappy classified advertising, poorly disguised as a newspaper.
Ok, ok, I know this sounds like I’m really ‘going off on one,’ but I am working towards something here, just bear with me a little longer.
Then there’s Ebay and Amazon. You know that feeling don’t you? When you’ve waited a week and not received anything, and become complacent about the mail again (c’mon, it can’t just be me who orders stuff late at night and is disappointed when it doesn’t arrive the next day – I call it the IIGE – Internet Instant Gratification Effect – and how many of you out there haven’t secretly thought that it should be as instant to arrive as it is to buy online!) These companies have made absolute fortunes and have allowed non-privatised mail services (and private services) to continue as our economies implode, and I salute them here. Genuinely. I buy from both (and others – this is no commercial endorsement) and enjoy the brown corrugated Amazon offerings just as much as the home-made, over or under packaged stuff sent by ordinary folk via Ebay. That’s still nice stuff in the mail, but it is still stuff you’re expecting.
As I was looking around the web for others as dissatisfied as me I found a lot of references to something called IUOMA and looked into it a little further. It stands for International Union Of Mail Artists and is a community of people who enjoy sending and receiving visually interesting stuff through the mail; mail art.
The idea is very simple. You make something (small, postable) and send it to another member. They will send you something back from them. There is, of course, a lot of groups, factions and sub-divisions, each with their own preferences, themes or objectives, but all of them linked by this simple premise – make/post/receive. I signed up immediately.
I visited the site for a few days, read some of the forum threads, looked through the groups and a few individuals who were posting images of things that appealed to me. I also got a number of welcome messages from other members, looking to encourage and reassure, offering to exchange. I decided to give it a go – for a twelve month period – and record everything I send out and everything I receive in return. That should liven up my mail experience I think!
So far I have sent out five mailings, each a batch of four or five and I have just completed the next batch and already planning another… the next post will reveal all, and show some of my new, improved satisfaction mail!
I have just received the most appropriate comment in response to this post:
This has made my day. No, month – definitely! Thank you Alan, you should be available on prescription!