Notes from West London

Air mail letters

Do you remember air mail letters? They were single sheets of paper that could be folded in three, stuck at the sides (thanks to three pre-gummed flaps at the  top of the page) and mailed to anywhere in the world. The paper was lightweight, white or light blue. The postage was pre-paid, so there was an image of a stamp rather than an actual stamp. After the sheet had been folded and stuck down you wrote the addressee’s details on the same side as the image of the stamp, and that was it. No need for an envelope, no need to work out the exact postage. It was ready to go.

Earlier this week I went to our local post office to see if they still sold such things. I used to send them to friends and family abroad in the 1980s, maybe even the 1990s, but certainly not since then. I thought that I’d surprise my brother with a single sheet of news (such as it is) from our neck of the woods. He lives in Spain, and we usually communicate via our phones, as you’d expect (Skype, and even WhatsApp which I have reluctantly returned to in the last couple of years).

He sent my daughter a birthday card earlier this month and included a letter which mentioned how much he enjoys receiving things in the post. It was the same kind of letter that he used to send me back in the 1980s: a single sheet of paper, covered on both sides. My replies, such as they were, would be on air mail letters. Then, as now, those few steps of finding air mail paper and an envelope, and working out the postage costs, were enough to delay the process of writing back.

My visit to the post office revealed that air mail letters are no longer available, and this piece from Wikipedia tells me that the Royal Mail here in the UK stopped producing them in 2012. It also tells me that they were called aerograms (or aerogrammes), a word that I was unfamiliar with.

These days the only time that most of my friends and family see examples of my handwriting is at Christmas. Most years I send out cards, to family in Ireland at least, and to college friends who live outside London, but will probably not do so this year. Tradition dictates that you do not send cards in the year of a family bereavement. Is that just an Irish thing, or is it something that only members of my family observe, like waiting until 6 January to take down all our decorations? Either way, I thought that I’d send alternative greetings to a handful of people overseas in the next month or so. The demise of the air mail letter means that I almost certainly will not.


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