For the past few weeks I’ve been buying vintage postcards of Clissold Park off eBay.

1. October 27, 1908. Addressed to Mr Jones in High Wycombe. Dear Mrs Jones, Arrived safely, but it has been wet all the time, so have not been able to go out anywhere yet, except up the street. Give my love to Miss J, tell her I will send her a P.C. to-morrow. Yours, May

A hundred and four (104) years ago, postage for an inland postcard cost half a penny. May writes to Mrs Jones but addresses the postcard to Mr Jones. She sends the postcard on Tuesday, October the 27th. She is stuck indoors, mostly, because of the rain. There is some musicality to her writing: but and wet and yet and except, and the been and then been and street carry a rhyme through her message. Who is May to the Joneses? A lodger? The maid? A neighbour? The odd intimacy of writing a postcard – don’t we only send them to people close to us? – to someone you address formally. Would she call them Mr and Mrs Jones when she was in their company; does she call them that here because of the public nature of the postcard? What is the real message of the postcard, of all postcards? I am here? I am alive? I remember reading once something that Ursula Le Guin said – that telling a story is the impulse to say “I was here”. In May’s story there is a past and a present (I arrived, I went up the street in the rain) and a future (I will write to Miss Jones). There’s the news, some images, and a plan for the future. Nothing intimate has been offered, nothing that gives you any major insight into who May really is. But she chose the postcard. She opted for the picture of the sheltered avenue in the Park on a sunny? day. She wanted the picture – May, alone, in the rain – of the mother and her many children looking back at the viewer. The picture with one tree standing firmly in the front, facing the avenue that disappears into the distance.

2. 13 September, 1907. Addressed to Mr W. Blunden at the London County Asylum in Epsom. Making sure to point out that W. is a member of staff, not an inmate. Dear W. Many thanks for card. I am having a lovely time, & weather is still glorious. M and I went to Zoo on Wed: & then to Emmie’s in the evening & she came out with us so we had a nice time. Yesterday we walked around Finsbury Pk, & this one. M says you went by it with her once, then we met Harry outside his place. We are looking forward to Tuesday?, hope the weather will last over next week. Love from all Eva

The postmark is from Wood Green at 1.15pm. September the 13th was a Friday, two days after they’d been to the Zoo. W works in a mental asylum. Eva could be his sister. She is in London with M, a woman. M and W once walked past these parks, or just Clissold Park, perhaps. They all know Harry, and they all know Emmie. Do they all work at the London County Asylum? The weather’s good, they’re getting out, seeing people, there is the possibility that the sun will keep shining, at least until Tuesday. What’s happening on Tuesday? Will W be joining them? Eva, like May, makes sure not to go beyond the postcard’s bisecting line, though May falters a couple of times, but only by a fraction, the foot of the n, the tip of an r, and then her name, May, outside the margin. Eva writes her postcard using the bisecting line as the top. It’s easier to write like that, the boundaries of your allotted space clearer. She signs it with love. Love from all. All being… her and M and? Harry? Emmie?

The postcard she (they?) chose has a film-set quality to it, something eerie, and the lone figure standing at the edge of the water, and the two girls (are they girls?) on the bench just ahead of him (is it a him?). The edges of the postcard feel dark, as if someone might come out of the bushes any minute now and step onto the path. There’s also a quiet to it, the kind of calm a member of staff (or an inmate) in a mental asylum might need. The sky is turning pink-orange, though it feels more like dawn than dusk, the beginning of a day, an early-morning walk.

3. 27 January, 1904. 10.30am. Addressed to Mrs Crowder at 188 Boleyn Rd, Kingsland, NE. Aunt is unable to come out Thursday, as she thought Yours Lovingly Jill?

January 27th was a Wednesday. Jill is leaving it a bit late to let Mrs Crowder know. Or does she mean next Thursday? Does this telegramme-like message mean she had no phone, that she couldn’t afford a telegramme? The postcard’s sent from London EC to London NE. A fairly short walk. Boleyn Road seems to be all new buildings now. Was it bombed during the war? Why couldn’t Aunt come out? No explanation? Won’t Mrs Crowder want to know why? And then on the picture of the postcard Jill has written: What do you think of this? Does she really want to know? Or is her tone implying: Have you ever! A postcard of Clissold Park. Whatever next, Mrs Crowder! Does she expect an answer, and will Mrs Crowder send a detailed response of her thoughts about the sepia picture of a couple of boys sitting on the railings near the pond. Is this the path that is now the running path at the bottom-end of the park? Jill signs her message with love and belonging: Yours Lovingly.

2 thoughts on “Postcards: The Intimacy and The Inanity

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