Tuesday 10 May 2016

Why Everyone Should Have a Pen Pal

A long long time ago, in a far away land two young girls wrote letters to each other and became good friends.

Well, okay, it wasn't in a land that far away but it was more than thirty years ago. As an 11 year old girl living in England I signed up for a pen pal scheme through Jackie magazine. For those of you old enough to remember, Jackie was THE magazine for young British lasses to buy. It was a weekly magazine just for girls with features on pop bands, interviews with stars, fashion advice and of course a very extensive problem page feature. It sadly disappeared from newsagents in 1993.

Anyway, I digress, lost in the good old care free days of magazines with articles about Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and Duran Duran and teenage pimples. It was through Jackie magazine that I met my pen pal.

Her first letter to me was an insight into the mind of a pre-teen girl living in Chester, many miles away from me in Hertfordshire. Her mum made her wear Clarke shoes and in response to my revealing I was a Wham fan she told me in no uncertain terms that she believed George Michael probably didn't like girls..... You can imagine her glee when the media got hold of the story that he was indeed gay. My pen pal was way ahead of her time......

She also became a great friend. We exchanged letter after letter for many months, maybe it was years, I don't remember, before I went to Chester to meet her. She made the trek down south to stay with me and it became a summer holiday time habit.

She slotted into my circle of friends as if she'd always been there. We waded in streams. We went to parties. We talked into the early hours about life and Desmond Tutu (probably best not to ask questions).

We wrote to each other throughout our teenage years. We wrote about school, poop bands, boys, our friends, our problems, our parents and families. We shared secrets. We told things to each other our own friends didn't get to hear. That's the beauty of letter writing. It's the same reason journaling works wonders.

Leaving home to go to university didn't interrupt our friendship, though the number of letters did start to diminish. Letters dwindled further as we moved into our 20s and for a while we lost contact. We reconnected. We caught up. Emails replaced hand written letters. We visited each other again. And we were at each other's weddings. My family met up with her family whilst they were expats in Belgium.

She moved back to England and we lost contact again. We're connected on Facebook but life's turns have taken us in different directions. Maybe it's time to reconnect.

Whatever happens in the future, nothing can take the past away. Nothing can take the memories of those years in-between away.

There are so many reasons to have a pen pal: friendship, love, a culture exchange, to practice a second language, to open up your world. In a world where we are used to rushing out emails to people or connecting with loved ones through Skype or Face Time, sitting down with a pen in hand to think about words before you mark the page in front of you is more meaningful than ever.

Over to You: Did you have a pen pal as a child? Do your children have pen pals? I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts!

You can read more blog posts this week on the topic of pen pals from fellow bloggers from the Multicultural Kid Blogs community:


  1. Long, long ago (probably round about the same time you had a penfriend), I had 4 penfriends: 2 French penfriends, one in New Zealand and one in South Africa. I only ever met one of the French girls because the reason we were penfriends were that her family had looked after my grandad during WWII. My mother visited there when she was a teenager and my grandad took me there once I'd learned a bit of French. After that we took it in turns to visit each other once a year throughout secondary school. We continued to write for many years, at least once a year, and she came to my wedding with her sister and mother. Eventually we lost contact, though, unfortunately. I can't remember how I came across the other penfriends. I think we probably contacted each other through the monthly Guide magazine. I don't remember Jackie having a penfriend column, but like most of us back then, I definitely read the magazine. It's where I learned all my make-up skills. I think having international penfriends back then gave me a more international perspective. My family didn't go on foreign holidays and I'd hardly ever met anyone from abroad, so it was fascinating to learn what was going on in my penfriends' lives. The other French girl came from Annecy and used to send me beautiful calendars of the region, as did my New Zealand friend who sent me calendars of Rotorua and a tiki necklace that really made me want to travel there. Sadly, I've never been to either, nor South Africa, for that matter. My sister also had a SA penfriend, and I remember her being very excited about the celebrations when they got an 'independent' black Homeland. Nowadays, I never write proper letters any more, except for a family summary once a year to go in the Christmas cards. I think it's such a shame that the penfriend idea has more or less ground to a halt, especially when you're learning a foreign language. I definitely improved my French by writing letters and reading. My German was nowhere near as good because I never practised. I notice that my children easily make foreign contacts online through gaming, but everyone wants to practice their English so it doesn't help their foreign language skills. Plus you never have the thrill of opening an envelope.

    1. What a wonderful reason to be pen pals!!! That's something truly special to write to someone who had links with your grandad during the war.

      I think Jackie had a one off thing for a pen pal scheme - I certainly don't remember it being a regular thing so maybe that was it. Make up tips indeed... ah those were the days!!!!

      You have actually reminded me that I had a pen pal in Turkey at a certain point. Her dad worked on the ships but I have no idea how we came to write to each other. We met up on one occasion (again, no idea how that happened) and she brought a necklace with her with a big purple and white stone on it which I still have to this day.

      My dad wrote letters to me whilst I was at university, as did friends, and I think that was the last time I really received hand written news on a regular basis. The thrill of that envelope and getting up to date is something that email will never match!

      Thanks so much for sharing your pen pal 'history' - so nice to read your story!!!!