I have, close to hand, about six hundred letters dating back to the Nineties – although fifty or so are from this year – and can guarantee there are several which have postage stamps no one cancelled on them. One which immediately comes to mind is a very large and ornate Australian issue with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on it, celebrating the Queen’s birthday this year. Pretty to look at, but absolutely useless otherwise: the German post office would spot a foreign stamp, especially such a prominent one, a mile off and ditch it back into my letterbox. I must say, I am exceptionally disappointed to hear that some mail room clerk tears the stamps through, such small mindedness, when they could be taken off the envelopes, without any damage, and given to one of the many charitable associations which collect used stamps and use them to pay for guide dog training and children’s welfare. I make a regular collection of stamps here and pass them on to those in need, and it costs me nothing but a second of my time to do. I shall look upon my toothpaste with mixed feelings in future.

There are worse things: Virginia and now Arkansas have begun taking all inmates’ mail and photocopying it. The inmate gets the copy, and the original, photographs, children’s sketches, cards, are all shredded. It makes no difference if what has been sent could have some personal or historical value, it goes through the shredder and that’s it. I can understand the reasoning behind it – it is, as you say, a drugs problem – but I find such things disheartening; how can one human being be so small as to do such a thing to the valuables, to the memories of another person? I appreciate the need to prevent drugs getting into the hands of the wrong people, they will, of course, find a new way to get their supplies, but there are better and less time-consuming, less expensive methods of prevention.

I do have social media, and I do use it, but not to the same extent as some people who, it seems, cannot pass a second of their lives without checking their smart phone and seeing if anyone has sent them a message, liked one of the photographs, or moved and shown life in any form. I use Twitter a lot, but mainly to keep up with the news and current events; I have my own server and host several web sites; I was once on Facebook, but deleted it as a waste of time along with several other network sites of similar style. I do not have too many friends, which is not a great problem as they are exceptionally good ones, and the idea of having virtual people behind me, who demand my time without ever appearing in real life, does nothing for me at all. I wonder how many of these photographs people shoot of themselves now, be it the infamous selfies or memories of their trip to Times Square, will still exist when grandchildren ask what they did when they were young. And which grandchild is really going to wish to scroll through thousands of self-portraits and precious little else?

I am also a great fan of photography, but tend to look further back in history to the times when a photographer needed to know what s/he was doing and when it was still something of an exclusive art form. I have a collection of carte de visite photographs which I have been allowing to steadily grow. The format is that of a small card, the size of a visiting card or a credit card (thus the name!), which was invented and patented in Paris by André Disdéri in 1854. It is basically an image on very thin photographic paper which is then stuck onto card. The cardboard frame of the photograph could be decorated, and eventually was used for one or two line advertisements of the photographer’s name and address, and, of course, the back could also be used for an advertisement and for good wishes, like on a postcard, from those visiting and leaving the cards to show they had called. Many families used to have albums filled with these photographs, since they were so easy to send to distant family members as well as give as presents and mementoes after, for example, an educational course taken as a group. Sadly very few had names or dates on them, because everyone knew who was in the photograph back then, and didn’t consider the future. Nowadays such albums or individual photographs are sold off or thrown out for pennies. They’re still useful, however, for following the lives and careers of the photographers themselves, who almost always had their names and addresses, sometimes also a date, and all the medals they had won doe their art, embossed on the card.

Taking photographs is not my thing, I simply do not have the eye for it. I have perhaps three hundred cameras which I have collected over the last ten years, but no real desire to take them out and use those which still work. And I am far too busy sorting out my collection of small photographic memorabilia, my books and writing my letters – as well as going out and doing things in the world – to really get involved in the practical side of things. And then there is the need to build bookshelves and renovate my house, so my garden and all those other things that someone needs to do in life which so often get pushed back and out of the way.

Isn’t it strange when you are suddenly classified as an older person? I still feel as if I am a teenager, aside from the usual aches and pains, and sometimes make plans as if I was still in my teenage years. Of course, I am well aware that my age cuts out many of the things a teenager would do, in theory, but that has never been of such an influence that I do not make plans, and often carry them out too. There is a small group of people here, and we loosely know one another, have worked together or are members of the same club, all of about the same age. The younger people around us tend to look and shake their heads, and then lose it when we start doing the things we do: an older friend of mine still runs marathons as I did in my youthful years; I walk marathons – or, better, when there is a bicycle rally here once as year, I walk the course with the bicyclists – staying out for a really good party until three or four in the morning is also a thing, and I have no problems watching the younger ones as they yawn, give their excuses, and wander off home. Just fun things, nothing serious.

It would be a different matter if I just escaped back out into the wilds of the countryside with a sleeping bag and a rough plan of where I wanted to end up some time in the future; I suspect those days really are behind me. The good thing about the internet and social media? You can be who you wish and as old as you wish to be, as long as no one is hurt in the process, why not?

There is an old tradition, probably long since forgotten, that a single woman should take a slice of the bridal cake from the last wedding she attended, and place it under her pillow when she sleeps to reveal who her next partner will be. I’m not sure whether that works with the weekend cake. I’m not too sure I know anyone who would want to try it.

You have to imagine my town as being a collection of houses and shops with two or three industrial areas on the outskirts, astraddle the river, and perched in the middle of farming land. We don’t just have beekeepers, but also a strong tradition of beekeeping, and farming. I can walk across the bridge, still in town, and get fresh farm eggs from a small box outside the farmer’s house. I can walk out of the town for ten minutes, and buy fresh eggs, potatoes and vegetables from another farm. I can walk in another direction, considerably longer, about two miles, and there is a Bio Farm, with traditional crops. The bakers in the town are real bakers, and not shops which buy in: what you buy there has been made in a bakery, one of which is in the centre of town, others within two or three miles. There are quite a few smaller shops in town where you can buy all those village type things, including local produce, and then we have the normal supermarkets – four of the here, with a population of under five thousand in town – where everything else can be bought, including fresh regional products.

We have two ice cream parlours here, one run by a German one by an Italian family: they make their own ice cream. An Italian restaurant, a Greek restaurant, a pizza parlour, a burger bar, all fresh goods. We did have a Mexican and an Asian too, but they’ve moved on as time passed. Across the road from me is the local cinema, with a stage for theatre performances. In a few weeks we will be hosting the annual medieval market, for the twenty-fifth time, as well as some open air concerts and various fundraising events, flea markets, farm produce markets; basically a village type place which you might imagine in the middle of the English countryside just over one hundred years ago, but without the Morris dancers.

As to JPay and similar: I’ve put myself in there for those who wish to write by other means, and in case anything really important happens. I will still write normal, everyday, old-fashioned letters and those who write mails will have to be patient, but the offer is there for those wishing to use it. I’ve never used the mail system that you mentioned, and see no reason to; I have a certain feeling of distrust for it and for the owner of the site now that I have seen what he does. He allowed a photograph of me to be used by another member after I had complained and requested its removal, and removed my account while the person guilty of copyright theft was left in there. No apology whatsoever. And the web site, which so many people pay good money for, has many, many software problems, missing links, inaccurate information, it is only a matter of time before someone works their way into the inside, the administration, and destroys it. Which would be a shame, as it does seem to offer an exceptional service for those really looking for contact with the outside world, which no other site does at the moment. At least, not for inmates.

Your friend Derek has indeed given you an original statement with his comment on death and absurdity of life. Perhaps you should ask him whether he has ever read Sartre or Camus as they both discuss life and the absurdity of it all. The idea from Camus is that life is absurd and we should rebel against it, do whatever we can while we are here, as it makes no real difference in the big scheme of things. It makes, of course, a difference to us and the people around us, but philosophers tend to try and think on a grand scale if at all possible, and forget that there are smaller, more important aspects of life and the universe. If this was not the case, why would anyone want to stick around here, go through all the pains of life?

I had a small glance through what I have written to people and the number who have replied. For most people I suspect it would be quite daunting, and definitely disappointing. I have had about a third of those I wrote to reply, which I consider to be a very good result indeed. Only one is not incarcerated, and the male / female ratio is 50 / 50. I haven’t looked further than that, and see no real reason why I should: I enjoy writing letters as much as I enjoy receiving them, and as long as that works out, all is fine with the world. Although I must admit that those males who replied to me all seemed to be a little nervous at first, thinking that there was something more involved than just platonic letter writing. I suspect this is something to do with our history, with our upbringing: close friendships female / female are fine, but male to male must be on a certain  level, live and not virtual and involve sports and hunting or similar. The idea of someone replying to a profile which claimed philosophical interests who was not a female surprised some of them. One made it quite clear he had no male / male interest, explicitly, but has managed to jump over his own shadow and appreciate that I am probably the only person who is ever going to write to him. Men simply do not attract the same attention as women, a fact of life, and ten percent of the men on WAP claim to have received no mail at all, with men taking up three quarters of the whole. When women appear on the list of those not receiving mail, they stay there for about two days.

There has been a lot of talk about fake profiles, about advertising using purchased photographs, so from this point of view having real ones is a good move. I wouldn’t expect to see any form of remuneration, though, this is a for profit site more than anything else. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see any increase in people writing to you either: there are over ten thousand profiles on the site right now – as I write there are 10,589 – of which thirteen mark themselves as being transgender and 928 female. Not counting the several profiles which have been classified under the wrong gender by mistake, that’s still a lot of competition! Although: all publicity is good publicity, or something along those lines.

Physical exercise and mental exercise, neither one should be underestimated. I always enjoyed my library time, and still do now that I can sit in my own library, at home, and drink mugs of tea without a librarian complaining. At least I don’t need to walk through the rain to get to it although, glancing out of the window now, I see that the rain clouds have begun unleashing their cargo, and I need to walk with this to the post box across the road. My final piece of exercise for the day on the physical side; I have my night time reading ahead of me still, and peace and quiet to enjoy it too.