When you want to send a letter to someone – do you put the stamp in the top righthand corner, and with an air of finality, thump it with your fist, saying to yourself, “right, that’s done, I’ll post it tomorrow and they’ll get it the day after that”?? Well, maybe you shouldn’t take it all for granted.
When I returned from my trip to Argentina last year, I did the usual thing that untidy travellers do – dragged out the presents to distribute, the knickknacks to show off, the dirty clothes to be washed… and then abandoned my half unpacked suitcase in the spare room, to the delight of my cats who are evermore on the hunt for new and exciting places to sleep.
Next I wrote my thank you letters and e-mails - and there were many, for so many people had been extraordinarily kind and accommodating. After that I checked my photographs (for “checked” read “straightened”, and thank you to Photoshop), printed off pictures and consulted my list – oh yes, I’m one of those nerdy list makers – to see who had asked me for a copy of the original book whose translation I had been promoting, who wanted prints of my pictures, who had requested information I didn’t have at the time, and so on.
In due course, and in stages over the following weeks, I had various parcels to post to different locations in Argentina. One Monday morning in mid December two of them started their arduous journey to different addresses in Patagonia, the first of which contained several stoutly wrapped bars of bitter chocolate laced with strong chilli (…I know, me neither…) requested by a 15 year-old friend, Tomi, who couldn’t believe such a thing existed and was keen to try it; the second was a padded envelope for Carlos Espinosa, the journalist who had helped me set up my trip, containing a DVD with several hundred pictures taken during my visit, and a Spanish translation of one of the ‘Just William’ books by Richmal Crompton, the series written between the wars about the adventures of an impish English boy aged 11 and his gang. This richly comical saga for all ages had been Carlos’ favourite as a boy, and I was delighted to have found one of them on the internet.
My two parcels disappeared into the maw of the international postal office system and perhaps got to Buenos Aires when this country’s revered institution was having a particularly bad week, or perhaps one of its workers denied time off at Christmas – but when the new year came and went with no sign of them I started to worry that the jaundiced employee was both a chocoholic and a bookworm.
On 13th January Carlos e-mailed me to say he had received two (!) parcels from me: one contained the book, with a written note advising that a second parcel containing photos was on its way, and the other, much larger, was very torn and shrink-wrapped, with a polite note from the national post office, part of which said:
All the fun of the fair
The consignment delivered herewith has been damaged by other parties and was received by us from its country of origin in its present damaged condition. Conscious that your post is important and should be received in good condition, we have proceeded to shrink-wrap its original packaging and contents…."
This damaged envelope had my handwriting all over the outside, and nestling inside were items totally unknown to me: (1) a Christmas card addressed to one “Kitty”, wishing her a merry Christmas and happy new year in very shaky Spanish, “with kisses and hugs from Ken and Jean”, and (2) a calendar entitled “Scotland’s Artists 2010”. There was no sign of the DVD in either package. A couple of days later I posted off to him another padded envelope with a second DVD with my pictures, this time with his address all over the disk in indelible print.
Stick with me, because the story gets even weirder.
Ten days later on 24th January an envelope was popped through my door in Bristol by the postman, along with other post – it was a padded envelope, completely unsealed, containing the missing DVD, and was addressed to me in a neatly typed label, from Shanghai, China.
Carlos was as mystified as I was, but the thick plottened: On 15th February his son was sitting in the garden and a Renault 18 car drove up. The driver got out and called across to him “Is this the Espinosa household?” On being told that it was he handed him an envelope and said “this appeared at my house”, upon which he got back in his car and disappeared. Not knowing the preceding goings on he didn’t think to ask him anything else. The envelope contained my second replacement DVD and a card from me sending my best regards to Kitty…
So why did the previous DVD get sent to China, and who knew my address to send it to me in England??? Oh (sigh) never mind.
Meanwhile, back to the first parcel to Tomi, which contained the chocolate with chilli –
By mid January, a month after posting, it still hadn’t arrived. I realised that if the first one had been purloined, chances were that the second one would be too, but I decided to risk sending another, speculating with grim amusement on the unpleasant surprise the post office worker would have received on taking a bite out of the chilli-infused, ultra bitter chocolate. The second parcel I sent was even more heavily padded – enough in fact for it to look quite consistent when I wrote in clear black print on the outside that the package contained “Zapatos Viejos” – old shoes...
Well folks, the jaundiced one turned out to be me and not post office workers on either side of the pond, because Tomi received both parcels together, and had a wonderful time alternately devouring the chocolate and gasping for glasses of water, not to mention the fabulous street-cred he gained when he shared some of it out with his friends.
So it all got somewhere in the end, probably thanks to the goodwill of persons unknown in both Patagonia and China. The well-travelled DVD wasn’t giving up its secrets, and fearing a Chinese sense of humour that might have introduced a virus into the DVD, I threw it away anyway.
Carlos was for once saved the monthly tedium of the usual long queue at the bank when he went to pay his utility bills thanks to Richmal Crompton’s “Las Travesuras de William” which I had sent him, and didn’t mind in the least the strange looks he got, not even when he attracted the attention of the security guard who demanded to know what was making him laugh. Carlos volunteered to read him a particularly funny paragraph, but was disappointed when the offer was sternly refused. Ah well, their loss.
From now on I would like to introduce a sort of signature to my posts, the idea for which I have got from a gentleman called Matías Vieira, whose blog Patagonia, Chile, el Mundo, (http://matiasvieira.blogspot.com/), contains many beautiful photographs taken by him, of Patagonia and other travels. He lives in Punta Arenas, Southern Chile, and though his text is in Spanish, the content is mainly photographic, and of a very high quality at that. He always finishes his posts with an old photograph or postcard taken from his family archives, and they are a fascinating window into the past.
While mentioning Chile, I would also like to express all my sympathy for and solidarity with the Chileans who have been hit by a very severe earthquake this weekend. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
I’ve recently purchased a second-hand Nikon scanner which is designed for scanning slides and negative film. I’m no tecchie, and the setting up phase has been horrible, but I’m there at last, and for the past week have been enjoying scanning 20 years worth of slides. It’s been like meeting up with old friends again, and has reminded me of why I always referred to it as my “belovèd hobby”. Of course the non-digital pictures were less sharp, and sharpening images electronically doesn’t always work. On the plus side I can crop them to a more pleasing composition. What I would like to do, in future without all this verbiage, is to include a couple of non-digital images at the end of my posts, with explanations if required.
– from Lonicera’s non-digital archive
– from Lonicera’s non-digital archive
All the fun of the fair