Thursday, June 21, 2012


Letters have featured, one way or another, in a couple of recent posts. And the theme of letters is further reinforced by my starting, today, to read Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters - a special gift from DKM.

So, on the (almost) eve of my departure for Europe, I've decided to stay with letters for a little longer. When I lived and travelled in the UK, Europe and Israel in 1979/80 I wrote home as much as possible. For me it was a conversation with my family, a way of reflecting on the days' events and, ultimately, a tangible (if until now un-revisited) record of new experiences and adventures. The letters were written from all sorts of odd places and in sometimes difficult and trying circumstances ... but never did I consider not writing. My family kept the letters.

Thirty years before, in 1949, my 34 year-old mother had sailed from New Zealand to a Great Britain that was still rationed and still recovering from the devastation and privation of the Second World War. In 1950, she and her Australian friend Joan Darby hitch-hiked for six weeks in Europe, including in Germany and Austria, still at that time occupied by the allied forces. And in her two years away my mother wrote many letters home - letters which I still have.

The other night I started to read the letters sent at the beginning of the European oddysey - when my Mum and Joan were in Belgium and The Netherlands. The writing is difficult to read, the ink and pencil faded and I could only read so much at a time because I found them very moving in places ... but I thought what a wonderful privilege, to be able to share in these journeys 62 years later.

In many ways it is easier to document travels today, using facebook, blogs and other digital media. But these handwritten letters (both my mother's and mine), lovingly crafted for family and friends, enrich my pending journey with their slightly tatty but very tangible presence.


  1. Brilliant !! I can see you with a magnifying glass and glass of wine by your fire .. so interesting ... and the stamps ? $$ ?? ;o}<

  2. hehe - you're right about the wine and the fire PG :-)

  3. How lovely that you have them and that you are taking the time to read them! I wonder how many family histories are languishing in letterboxes in attics all over the world. And how sad to think we of the digital age will leave so few of those kinds of letters for our future generations. Something compelling there is about pouring through the writings of people no longer around to fill in the details. A worthy pursuit. Have you found anything that surprised you yet?

    I discovered in a journal of my mother's a reference to something she would never ever put in writing. You can imagine how that buried mystery has been a topic of conversation with my siblings!

  4. There is something both special and strange about glimpses of parents in their 'other' lives. Our relationships with them and the ways we see them are so defined by that parental 'role'...

    How amazing to have your mother's journal(s).

    Surprises? Not so much surprises, perhaps little insights... One thing that intrigues me is the hitch-hiking. It is such a fraught area in NZ because of the number of deaths of young women hitch-hikers over the years. In post-war Europe Mum and Joan seemed to meet with great kindness and to gain so much local knowledge from their drivers. Ironically (given that Europe had been one big battlefield five years previously) the world seems to have been a safer place.

  5. Women hitch hiking! Can't imagine that now. My dad used to tell hitch hiking tales too.

  6. So with the upcoming trip .. with there be 'hard copy' evidence for future references of the upcoming generations ?

  7. I'll send you a p/c PG! I guess there won't be. There'll be some sort of electronic record but nothing much on 'paper'. Unlikely to be anything worth storing for posterity!! But it does raise the point of how families preserve important electronic records for future generations. I'm not sure that we've fully thought that one through yet as we still come to terms with using the technology...

    Are you in GB again before I leave? Am thinking I am still to hear about The Hague!!

  8. Yes I will probably be over next week. Yes electronic message saving is risky .. but I know little of it so not sure how long it might last. Will see you soon. :)

  9. Not long to go now AJ. I'm so excited for you...and envious!! :) Yes please to a postcard :)))