A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Life lesson – never volunteer again to write a post for Vulpes Libris on the day after an election, especially when the broad overall theme is keeping calm in stressful circumstances. Still, here goes.
My chosen symbol of calm in a troubled world is the postcard. They are going out of fashion now, as it is so easy to take a photo on the phone and send it twice round the world with a witty commentary, to friends far and near, in the time you could lick the stamp to stick on an old fashioned postcard.
Yet I have such happy memories of postcards, with sending them and receiving them. Sending postcards belongs to a time when pleasure had to be eked out. Taking a carefully curated list of postcard recipients on holiday was rather like taking just half a dozen 35mm film canisters, with 24 exposures each. Both led to thoughtfulness and careful choice. If I wait a few minutes will the sun come out and shine on that view? Which postcard to send back to the office – the sea view, or the pier?
I’ve recently found a twitter feed that has taken me away from the stress factors of polls and campaign speeches and battle buses and election night specials: PostcardFromThe Past (Twitter handle @PastPostcard ). Its daily postcards have now been compiled into a book, called (obviously enough) Postcard from the Past. Collected by Tom Jackson, the postcards are real, tasteful, generally landscapes and seascapes. Each one is accompanied by just a few words from the message on the back.
Some are banal:
Hope the hamsters are being good
Dad says he’s glad everything is alright
Some sound like muffled cries for help:
I’m sick to death of beautiful countryside
ALL WITH US ON THE BUS ARE STRANGERS
I’ve just locked Chris out on the balcony. He’s going mad
And this one, from a composite scene of Mousehole, sounds like the outline plot of a novel yet to be written:
Water is freezing. Weather uninteresting. Hope you are the same. On no account reply to my last letter.
Anyhow, I just love it, and have found the book even more soothing than the Twitter feed (as I do not have to put on mask, gloves and hazard suit and wade through less than calming tweets to get to the little gems).
I was delighted to find this new companion to my old faithful calming postcard collection, Boring Postcards, collected and arranged by Martin Parr RA. In this book, a collection of the least likely subjects for postcards is presented without words. The cards are allowed to speak for themselves. There are views of empty motorways, nuclear power stations inside and out, post-war shopping precincts, the interiors of motorway services and modern hotels, shopping malls, and industrial and commercial buildings in some of the least alluring holiday spots imaginable (unless you can imagine holidaying in Bootle or Corby or Redditch). Strangely, these postcards to me have become less boring as the years go by. They now speak to me of my childhood and hope embodied in these postwar places that are now being swept away again. And as a closet fan of Brutalism I find many of these buildings and structures have their own savage beauty.
So, to soothe the soul in times when the world seems to be going crazy, I recommend postcards – tiny vignettes of beauty, or humour, or memory (one’s own or someone else’s). These collections of postcards work a little magic.
PostcardFromThePast @PastPostcard (accessed 9th June 2017)
Tom Jackson: Postcard From The Past. London: Fourth Estate, 2017. 151pp
Martin Parr RA: Boring Postcards. pbk ed. London: Phaidon, 2004. 176pp