The morning mail never just plops onto Marjorie Edwards’ doormat, it lands with a definite thud! On average, she receives 20 letters a day, containing pages of news from friends across the world. Occasionally, one of them contains a tea bag so she can sit down and enjoy a nice cuppa and a ‘chat’ with the sender.
“That’s always a nice gesture,” says Marjorie (66) who runs Rainbows Penpal Club which has 500 members and is believed to be the biggest in the UK. From her home in Swanage, Dorset, the retired secretary has been connecting people via Rainbows since 1987 and she loves nothing more than hearing their personal stories.
She says: “One lady in Northampton wrote to a German friend for many years and then had the joy of meeting her when the Berlin Wall came down. Another lady wrote to a man in prison, visited him, fell in love and married him when he was eventually released.
“A lady in Liverpool, who was well into her senior years, chased a penfriend dream all the way to Australia, only to find that the dream turned sour when she arrived – so she came straight home again!”
Their tales all make fascinating reading for Marjorie, who was only seven years old when she wrote her first letter to her bestfriend, Jane, who was moving away from her native London. Even though Jane never replied, it didn’t put Marjorie off putting pen to paper again. At ten, she found her first international penfriend, Nina, in Denmark and they still write to each other. Originally their letters were full of news about school, hobbies and music whereas now they are more about catching up on what their children and grandchildren are doing and where they have been on holiday.
At secondary school, Marjorie made two French pen friends via the French teacher. Bitten by the bug, she joined several penpal clubs. “Pocket money went on club fees, pretty stationery, stamps and blue airmail letters. Our postman knew me rather well!”
Her current postman also knows her well. In fact, she’s so well-known that letters addressed simply to Marjorie Edwards, Swanage, have found their way to the home she shares with husband Richard.
Marjorie has written and received literally thousands of letters to and from club members. She has met over 300 penfriends face-to-face and travelled some 75,000 miles around the world to countries including America and Canada. A trip to Australia to meet a penfriend who had cancer proved particularly emotional. She says: “I made it just in time as she sadly died four months after my visit.”
Marjorie started the club after a holiday to France when she picked up a French magazine and wrote a letter asking for penpals. More than 200 people replied. She didn’t want to let them down so, through a letter to a women’s magazine, she appealed for British women to write to them and received a flood of willing penpals. Later, she launched a quarterly magazine with letters, puzzles, recipes and stories which she produces and distributes herself to members.
“Sometimes I write to my current penpals by hand but other times it’s quicker to type on the computer and print it out on pretty paper,” Marjorie says. “Modern technology has its place. Sometimes I use email for quick communication, but not for a proper letter, and Rainbows has a Facebook page.
“Lots of people still love writing letters and not just women either, there are several male members. Good letters are a lifeline and a window on the outside world for many members who are widowed or housebound. But many more are housewives, mums, grans, or professional people of all ages who love to share news of their families, outings, travels and hobbies with other like-minded people.”
Marjorie is currently collecting stories to be published in a book she is compiling called, Write Around The World. If you found a penpal through her club which has resulted in a fascinating friendship, contact her at: Rainbows, PO Box 5534, Swanage BH19 2ZN or email email@example.com
Stationery helps connect us with the past
Despite the digital age, sales of stationery continue to soar. From moleskin notebooks to greetings cards, writing paper and matching envelopes, it seems we can’t get enough of the write stuff, proving that, despite rumours of its demise, the pen is still more potent than the keyboard. Diaries and letters connect us to our own personal history. Such keepsakes are very precious, particularly ones written by a departed loved one.
And thank you for your letters…
A recent article we featured on letter writing prompted some lovely letters from readers. Thank you to all who wrote. Here are just a few snippets from some:
While reading your piece on letter writing, I thought how much I enjoy writing and receiving mail (not junk). I have over 20 pen-pals. Of course there’s the cost of postage, but I still think it’s worthwhile in terms of the pleasure it gives.
Georgina Joss, Norfolk
I recently received a wonderful letter which I will keep forever from my 19-year-old grandson thanking me for all the years he spent with me when I looked after him while his parents worked. Betty Wheeler, Doncaster
I am nearly 82 years old and have had the ‘penpaling’ hobby since I was 15. I’ve met some nice people over the years both at home and abroad. Emailing is alright but as my sister-in-law said recently, it’s not like a real letter or a phone call. Margaret Espley, West Midlands
I’ve always enjoyed writing and receiving letters. One reason is because you can read (and re-read) in your own time. K Cooke, Warwickshire
The art of letter writing is alive and well in Cyprus! I love sending handmade cards and letters to my family and friends in the UK. Margaret King, Larnaca
There are more incredible real life stories in Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday