A series of letters that lost their way

This card says nothing more than:




It was sent on 25th February 1988 from Leicester. Mandie is a bit of a regular yet I know little of her other than the basics; she attended Leicester Polytecnic during the period she writes to Richard and I assume she studied a fashion or design degree.

It was cards like this one that led me to believe Richard had been actively trying to collect postcards, others will state how they almost forgot to post one or they did indeed forget but hand deliver them at a later date to make up for it. 

I think this is one that got forgotten until returning to the UK as the image details on the reverse are in French. 

Mai 68

Photographe: Gilles CARON Gamma

Gilles Caron was a political photographer and reporter whose career was short (a mere three years) but prolific. Prior to photography he worked in horse racing and had served as a paratrooper in Algeria before being sent to jail for refusing to serve the operation he opposed. 

He did find himself on the front line soon after, only this time armed with his camera. Working for the Gamma agency, Caron covered major conflicts and this particular image is from the Paris Riots of 1968. Taken on Rue Saint-Jacques the image is now a symbol of the student revolution. It was only two years after this shot was taken that Caron went missing between Cambodia and Vietnam and was declared dead.

 ’Be Young and Shut Up’

The exact politics behind the Paris Riots is difficult to pin down but a police invasion of Sorbonne university sparked the first protest march and after a bout of police violence workers too joined in on the protests citing poor state salaries, centralisation and discrimination.

Soon there were 10 million workers; two thirds of the French workforce, all taking part in the very first wildcat strike. Wildcat strikes are those without the backing of any trade union and this 10 million strong force was the largest general strike ever, almost collapsing the De Gaulle government. 


Ultimately, the strike was a failure with the existing government calling for an election and emerging stronger than ever but the social impact on France was obvious and still remains to this day. The people of France embraced the idea of a more liberal culture regardless of the actual principles of the government. The term Mai 68 was coined and is used to this day to refer to a shift in principles.

I wonder whether Richard and Mandie were embracing their own anarchy when she chose this card. 


A series of letters that lost their way.

The image on this postcard comes from Latvia although the card itself was sent from Edinburgh, and it was posted 6th May 1986.

The content is succinct to say the least but, like many of the postcards in this collection, doesn’t fail to mention Scotland. One can only assume that Richard, for whom these cards were intended, is Scottish or went to university there.

Hi Rick,

Hope things are cool down there.

Café Royal ticking over nicely.

See you soon, take care

Mike Mc

I looked into the Café Royal, Edinburgh. A grand Victorian building, although not the original site, which has changed owners many times and escaped demolition and unsympathetic renovation almost as often. The café has its history and its ghost and I’m sure a thousand stories I could tell but it was looking into café culture that I became aware of the Kardomah Cafés and brings me back to Manchester, or at least in a round about way.

Upon arriving in Manchester during the 1950s to work for The Guardian, novelist Michael Frayn asked where in the city one could expect to find the artists’ quarter. He was answered with laughter. But proof that there was indeed a haven for artists’ back then has come to light and it can be found at the Venetian Gothic Memorial Hall on Albert Square. The layers of paint that had obscured it for years have now all but vanished and in the doorway of this listed building you can clearly see a sign for one of the Manchester branches of the Kardomah Café. 

The Kardomah Cafés originated in Edwardian times and garnered a reputation amongst the bohemiam as the place to be seen. In fact, it was so popular a place that the Welsh branch of Kardomah became the meeting point for Dylan Thomas and the eponymous ’Kardomah Gang’; a gathering of painters, writers, artists and musicians who met regularly in the Swansea café

There were possibly three in Manchester with one at Market Street (just by the equally as popular tripe hall of the UCP), Albert Square and the final one seems likely to have been located toward Portland Street. Opening from around 1929 onwards, our own little Lost Generation could be found here for it was in one of the Manchester Kardomah’s that William Turner and L S Lowry would meet to famously not talk about Lowry’s work. Lowry never would mention his paintings.

The cafés welcomed those who perhaps did not feel welcome elsewhere, be that down to sex, religion or ethnicity. Over the years the cafes kept up with the times and by the 1960s, just prior to their demise, they were the haunts of many young Mods. 

During the peak of their popularity the cafés were always busy and seen as an occasion, even a night out, customers would dress in best hats and gloves and eat herring roe on toast whilst listening to live jazz.

The plush interiors of the London and Manchester branches were the work of Sir Misha Black, who is perhaps more well known for designing the City of Westminster street signs, the 70s London Transport moquette and co-founding the Design Research Unit (a consultancy specialising in architecture, industrial design and graphics).

The chain was founded in Liverpool and predominantly based in the UK but a handful made their way to Paris, Sydney and even a fictional Kardomah can be seen in Brief Encounter as the location of the lovers’ tryst.

There’s a blog dedicated to the compilation of Kardomah memories, a sort of unofficial archive, so if you know more and would like to help out then you can find it here


A series of letters that lost their way.

The latest postcard is an image of Stirling Street in Alva, Scotland. 

Received at some point in 1993 the card reads as follows:

"Thought you might appreciate this postcard as you had not heard of Alva. This is the main street but we’re staying at an exclusive residence up on the hillside, not a sleeping bag in sight. 

Thank you for the birthday card - you cheeky monkey!

See you soon.

Love, Fiona & Tim”

Much like the recipient of the card, I too have never heard of Alva so I did some research to see what I could uncover and it turns out, despite it’s tiny population, it does have some similarities to Manchester. Chiefly, that its success lay in textile mills during the industrial age. But before all of that, there was mining, and the silver ore that was mined here finally gives me a chance to write about a South American town I’ve long been fascinated with.

During 1700s Alva itself, at the foot of the Ochil Hills, mined silver ore that was the purest ever found anywhere in Britain and at its peak the mine produced £4,000 a week. Some 6,344 miles away, and 150 years earlier than Alva’s silver boom, you’ll find Potosi, Bolivia. 

What’s so interesting about that place? Well, in brief:

  • It was once the richest city in the western hemisphere
  • It’s now the poorest state in the poorest country in South America
  • The altitude makes it one of the highest cities in the world
  • The silver mountain is not only packed with the skeletons of dead miners but it’s so ravaged it’s beginning to implode
  • Lastly, for almost sixty years no Spanish child born in Potosi survived more than two weeks 

Cerro de Potosi, the mountain from which the silver is mined, is more commonly known as Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) but does have another pseudonym and that is ‘The mountain that eats men’. The wealth that came from the city is said to have single handedly funded the Spanish conquest of the Americas and as such it became the home of the Spanish Royal Mint. The mint mark ‘PTSI’ was imposed one letter on top of the other and the image it created is said to be the origin of the dollar sign we use today, and the city is featured as a symbol for riches in Don Quixote. 

So what about the man eating mountain. Well, recent calculations suggest as many as 8 million Indian labourers and African slaves have died in the mountain. The brutal labour was often the cause of death, and African slaves were used in place of mules as they lived longer than the meagre few months a mule could survive in the Cerro Rico. However, it’s most likely that the biggest killer of men was the mercury poisoning. 

The highest altitude of the city is 15,827 feet above sea level and it’s this factor which caused the children of the European inhabitants to die within two weeks of birth for fifty-three years. Eventually, expectant mothers learned to move to lower ground and would spend their pregnancy and first year of their child’s life living in more tolerable temperatures and gradually acclimatising their children. 

Recently a 3,767 sq ft crater opened up at the base of the mountain and this implosion isn’t likely to be a one off. Cerro Rico has been mined to nothing and it’s caving in on itself. But yet, miners to this day, men and children work down there.

The mountain is still feeding and the life expectancy of a Potosi miner is no more than forty years.


A series of letters that lost their way.

It’s World Book Day today so rather than the post which I normally write about, today it’s a lost book.

I love Bookcrossing, futile as my attempts may be in getting the rest of Manchester logging on to get involved, I still love the simple act of leaving a book for a stranger to discover and take home. If they do log on to let me know of their discovery then that’s made both of our days a little nicer. From time to time I request a book swap and one book came all the way from Hawaii in return for a few British stamps. The parcel I received was totally covered in Mickey Mouse stamps and the book came with me on holiday to Sweden and was left in wait of a new owner in the bedroom of an old borstal near Tannum.  But that’s not the book I want to tell you about.

I’d wanted to read The L-Shaped Room for a while and decided to see if any members had a copy they’d be willing to exchange. A few weeks later and I had a copy waiting on the welcome mat. It had come from Northampton and I was to be the third recipient of the book so far, at least by internet ruling anyway. In actual fact the book had a few more owners than that, which was apparent from the brown, 70s style cover and the mildew smell that wafted from the yellowed pages.

Inside the book there was a sticker with all the details of how to log on and register that the book had been found, but I could see that there was another sticker just visible through this one. Not being able to resist I started to peel it back to see what lay beneath. I was pleased to find a Kidderminster Girls’ School logo and a message declaring that the book was to be awarded to a pupil for all of her good work. It was dated 1975 and signed by the acting headmistress.

To the internet!

It was to my delight that I found the pupil with relative ease and I sent a message to let her know that I had her book, some 35 years after she was awarded with it. And she responded:

What a wonderful email to get. I believe that more years than I care to count I was given The L-Shaped Room, I really enjoyed it, hope you did too. There was a very good movie made too, might take some serious searching as the movie was made many years ago. I live in Vancouver, BC so doubt you want to go to the trouble of returning it, but thank you so much for the offer. I hadn’t heard of the website but have now checked it out and I’d love to be able to track my book!

In other book news, I’m in the process of moving and clearing out all of the belongings superfluous to my needs – which is most of them. I’ve listed what I can on Twitter to give away to my followers and today saw me hand delivering some beautiful Taschen books to a lovely man who informed me that I would recognise him because he was dressed like a bear on a school trip. And he did! So happy World Book Day to people and bears the world over.


A series of letters that lost their way

My camera, probably my favourite possession after my post collection, has been broken for a long time now and until I’m earning a regular wage that’s not likely to change. So, until I have use of one at the weekend and can get more images for you I’m going to be breaking away from Richard’s postcards momentarily.

This is a letter that came to my house just over a year ago, addressed to a girl I can’t seem to locate; one who has never lived here nor is she traceable online.

I have copied verbatim the contents of the letter but I have omitted and/or changed names because, I’ll be honest, I don’t want former residents of Strangeways paying me a visit.

I think it’s a very sweet letter and I’m sad that it never reached its recipient. For the record I did fully intend to return this but a combination of forgetfulness and worrying if no reply at all would be less crushing than a return to sender led to me keeping this in my collection.

If you’re reading out there, lovebirds of Strangeways, I’m eternally sorry if I have stood in the way of Cupid.

Be warned! The punctuation is minimal here so it’s not an easy read!

hi ya darling wot u saying hey I got your adress of Ronnie the other day did he tell you Im gunna write you a script ye manz hearing how 
ur looking pukka is that Right ye if you want to see wot I look like just go on my facebook how old r u n e way sexy who do u chill whith and that from up them sidez ye when you write back to me send man couple sexy photos ov u init babe don’t be shy wat colour are u are u a sweet sexy brownie do you work and that or go collage or do anything how do u no Ronnie have u none him for time ye.

Wat did you do for christmas did ya get loadz ov presents or wot LoL - are u white or a brownie let man NO.

Ye when you get this script make sure you write back to me and send man some photos don’t forget I want to see wot ur looking like.

Ye who do u live whith ur mum have u got any brothers or sisters or is it just love man should be getting out soon so if your on it we can link init I’ve got go run trial next month these so [?] are trying to stich man up for suttin I haven’t even done there cheeky bastards.

Ye you going out for new years eve or you just staying about getting drunk if I was out there man like me could ov took u out for chrimbo and new years you on this ting or you a shy girl sexy i’m gunna leave this one short and sweet ye so when you get this make sure yo write back and send couple photos as well ye don’t forget.

Ye babe speak soon I’m waiteing for ya so get back to me darling

See ya sexy



I struggled to find any relevant photographs I already had for this piece so it was purely down to the balance between pun and punishment that led me to decide on this shot I took in the South of France.

It references Jean-Marie Le Pen, who recently handed control of the French National Front Party to his daughter. Here’s a jolly little anecdote from his retirement party. 

I live in hope (and a little bit in fear) that I don’t feature on a National Front supporters website as a result.


dA series of letters that lost their way


"That cow Siobhan got the window seat"

This defaced Air 2000 postcard always makes me smile. The image doesn’t make me think of flying to a far off land, rather it makes me think of the airfix models you could buy from duty free and of the plane spotters gathered together on the roof of the airport with their radios that tuned in to air traffic control. My dad wasn’t quite a plane spotter but we did have the models around the house (I think we had this particular model on top of a speaker in the lounge) and he did take me to loiter behind people who had those radios. I’m sure he would have liked a radio of his own someday but this stealth listening had two selling points, it was effortless and it was free.

The three days out that my dad and I most regularly enjoyed were Manchester Airport, World Museum Liverpool and Liverpool Central Library.

At the museum I’d spend most of my time in the bug house, being an Egyptian princess and floating in space (the museum is the home of the only planetarium in the North West). I remember I would save my pocket money for these trips and on the drive over there would have to make up my mind to spend it in the museum gift shop or to hold out and call in at a bookshop on the way home. I chose the gift shop three times and I bought a birdspotting guide for children, a jar of fool’s gold and some replica Roman coins. I took the coins into school, convinced that they were real and fully expected Mr Gaffney to rush them to the lab for analysis (obviously, carbon dating resources were much more readily available to primary school staff in the 80s). More recently I was pleased to discover that my nephew had found my bird spotting guide and had stashed it under his seat to take home with him.

Nerd blood runs deep.

At the library, just next door, my dad would look through old newspaper headlines on those big microfilm machines you sat almost encased by, sheltered from onlookers by its metal hood. I don’t know what he was looking for during all those hours we’d spend there, general nostalgia I suspect, but the mystery fueled my imagination and I always fancied he was a detective. I didn’t ask any questions but I did make notes about his activities in my dossier.

But back to the airport. In the summertime this was our most popular haunt. We’d wander around the great lounge marvelling at those huge Venetian glass chandeliers that hung so majestically amidst the shops in the departure lounge (one of which is now housed at St Helens World of Glass and there’s a nice video about them here. Number two is at MOSI but remains in storage to this day having never been displayed, and a third is reported to be in bits in Tatton Hall. Four is a mystery!). We’d look at the travel gadgets on sale and leaf through the albums in the music shop and every once in a while I’d be allowed a new Usborne Puzzle Adventure book. After this tour we’d head over to the runway.


(photo courtesy of Flickr user Pagan555)

Now, as I recall, we went to the roof of the airport but my memory isn’t great and this might not even be feasible. It was outdoors, elevated and saturated with middle aged men. I do remember times when we would drive away from the airport altogether, to a lovely viewing point out in the countryside; it seems bizarre to me now that it was always so crowded with families watching aeroplanes take off and land with all the interest and amazement you’d reserve for a space launch.

So this postcard brings back good memories for me, even though it was never meant to end up in my hands.

The card was sent from San Antonio, dated 30th July 1994 and the back reads:


Hi Richard,

Sat in Manchester airport at some ungodly hour with two secret plane spotters! What the hell, we’re on our way to getting totally wasted, so I can live with it!

The plane’s about to take off, better get the two lushes out of the duty free!

See you soon

love Heather


A series of letters that lost their way

Finding a letter on the welcome mat when you come home is a delight that no electronic counterpart could hope to rival. It’s exciting and personal, no matter how pithy and it’s travelled across many hands and miles before it finds you.

The mail I write about here evokes a little more than the usual excitement, it’s intriguing and voyeuristic and has even more hands and miles behind it.

This is misplaced mail.

A few years ago I set up a blog dedicated to documenting mail that had, one way or another, ended up in my hands. I was a little bamboozled by the format of the blog site I’d opted for and, as such, it was lost in the ‘ethernet’. 

What had piqued my desire for such a blog had started after a house party one summer. We’d cleared the attic a few weeks prior to the party, I’d left the burly men to it and assumed all we had up there (with us being fairly recent tenants) were old paint tins and the usual bric-a-brac previous owners leave behind. To my dismay ‘leaving the burly men to it’ equated to a garden full of junk rather than an attic full of it and there it sat, in the rain, until the morning after the party when a friend headed outside to clear his head.

He came back inside brandishing a postcard

Look what I found in your garden. Who’s Richard?

My friend had spotted a big bag of documents in amongst the junk heap and this funny little card, the image of a stoic donkey and three children in Flamenco costume, was peeking out from between the clasps of the bag. 

It reads:

To Ricardo,

Have a mean kick-ass, quiff shekking, muff diving, flange hunting, feltching, bum shots, birthday.

All the breasts

love Dave

 We opened the bag of papers up but what wasn’t mottled with mould was of little use or meaning (old bank statements and the like) then at the bottom of the bag we found a further stack of postcards.

All of the cards seem to date from 1986 onwards, and they end around 1994.

Assuming the recipient in question was the previous tenant, and having no forwarding address, I began to post the cards to what I believed to be his work place (thanks, Google!). I intended this to be a sweet sentiment; a little package of memories landing on his desk from time to time and brightening his day. Now, I don’t know whether I came to the conclusion that it might in fact be a little creepy or maybe I just couldn’t bear to part with any more of them but, one way or another, I stopped sending the postcards back.

I did send some on to friends (pictured) but of those that remain I’ll upload them from time to time and share some of the other misplaced mail that comes in to my life, much to my interminable joy!

Some of the postcards I parted with including ’The Lass O’Gowrie’ (one of two Olympic Bid postcards I have for Manchester), ‘Surf’s Up Shark’ and ‘Scottish Midges at Work’.