Sunday, 29 April 2018

Musings from a bygone age

When we pause to consider why participation in Letterboxing has stalled or declined in the recent decades, its easy to blame the Letterbox thief, or modern pressures on time and disposable income. The truth is, for many Letterboxers, the hobby has evolved too far from the Letterboxing they recall.

I have just purchased two books by Anne Swinscow which highlight my point. 'Dartmoor Letterboxes' and 'More Dartmoor Letterboxes' strangely never featured in my Dartmoor library.  These two volumes, lovingly scribed by the wife of Godfrey "God" Swinscow, provide a fascinating insight into Letterboxing circa 1984. As a snapshot - a moment in time - this pair make a fascinating museum piece. They go into detail of how modern Letterboxing happened, whilst offering humorous anecdotes, memories and stories of a pre-internet pastime.

Refreshingly, informally written, Anne has captured the playful, witty side of Letterboxing. For example, Chapter 5 of the first book is dedicated to Calveslake Tor's Visitor's book, which in the late 70s/early 80s encouraged all who signed in to write a few rhyming lines to form a Visitor's book full of prose. Chapters describe Letterboxers and their pet cats, and - curiously - pet hens going Letterboxing.  Throughout her work, Letterboxers are described by the author as clever, cunning, dedicated, fit and crucially engaged and involved in the direction of Letterboxing. The hobby is clearly young and nimble, repeatedly pushing boundaries. There is an excitement in the author's style which makes the reader wish they could join in today.

Both published books are punctuated by cartoons, poems and selections of vintage Letterbox stamp collages.  They offer the reader a great impression of where the hobby has been as I've described. They offer a vague clue of where it is now, albeit given the high's and lows in the intervening 33 years, the rules and the goal are still the same. Alas, there is no clear indication of where it is heading. Anne considers the "future" as the - then - infant Catalogue and Letterbox chatter over C.B. Radio.

When people cease this Letterboxing game, perhaps it is because they don't recognise the hobby of yesteryear. Much like comparing black and white images of tweed-clad Victorian gents and ladies posing at a Cranmere Pool cairn to today's images.  Having read Anne's books, the differences are all too obvious.  How will our technology-led version be viewed in the future, I wonder.

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