Tuesday 14th May, 1963

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan and Carol

Many thanks for such a budget of news received this morning including one each – by the look of it – from the girls. Thank you Susan and Carol for them both. As you may guess we have been very busy to day packing up a parcel for someone at number 84. thought it had better be on way today otherwise it might miss the actual birthday. In it there should have been the doll, hair ribbon, two small sticks of Weston Rock (for Susan and Carol), the ‘Mercury’ and a ‘Wonderland’. It was packed up as securely as possible and we do hope it reached you in good condition and that Susan is pleased with the doll. We went into Weston yesterday (Monday) hence the Weston Rock – just something for them to taste. The birthday card will be posted on Wednesday and of course should reach you before Susan goes to school on Thursday.

Now for your letter. We guessed the girls had been busy hence no letters from them but they have made up for it this week. Not surprised you were unable to get out on Sunday for a run round – it was not very nice here again and goodness knows when we shall get some really good weather. This week the cold winds have continued and it is been miserable working outdoors but the time cannot be wasted as such intervals are not long between the showers when we are driven indoors altogether. Slugs seem to teem down here – the hard winter did them no harm. It is really amazing they should come through that particularly bad spell. The birds too are still at the lettuces and peas and I now keep some pea-guards over both crops until they are perhaps a bit too strong for attack. Yes the fruit blossoms still holding up and the cherries are just one mass of flower at the moment – the apples will be in full flower in a week. Sorry about yours – must wait until the trees have grown up out of the girls’ reach or until they get tired of it.

Note your comments re: eye specialist and ear doctor. No doubt you are right and it is a paying proposition for patients to be kept on the books for attention. A good idea really apart from the inconvenience you have of taking Susan (and Carol too I suppose later on) to see these people. Yes I should think she has got used to the glasses now and takes them as a matter of course which is a good thing.

A bit congested on the air then in the evenings but what can you expect when you see the number of people who are authorised to transmit and receive? What is the real answer to this? Query a more powerful set to block out the others or have a good many already thought of this one and acted accordingly? Sorry about the missing tip from Newmarket – might have been a bad one.

Your recollection of the Whittlesea home-made wireless set is more thorough than mine but now you mention various items they come back to me. as far as I can remember you are absolutely right in all your facts. I suppose the set has long since been broken up. John Saunders made the very first set we had and I expect you remember that one too. Your remarks about TV sets being affected by the power cuts back in the winter almost interesting. We are still waiting to hear from Bell as to the charge for putting our set right.

Did you get in the sweet peas Sunday? Ours are up in a box and waiting to be planted out but I shall not do this until the cold winds have ceased. This applies also to our runner beans – the cold will do a lot of damage to all growing crops.

Note you have been moving another lot of earth from West Ealing – every little helps. Yes Miss Sperrings enjoyed herself and I assume she is now on holiday – was due to be away about now. Tomorrow (Wednesday) Mr and Mrs Newman are coming from Bristol – as you know they were due a week or so ago but Mr Newman was taken ill hence the postponement. Hope it is a fine day as I do not think he is very well yet.

Glad to hear you are now forming your ideas for the extra room/conservatory. Did you hear any more from the Eastcote Timber Company? How far out will you have to start with the shuttering? Presumably there is plenty of rubble in the field but takes time to get it in. What about putting up a big Aunt Sally in the garden and inviting the local lads to try and hit it with stones?

You are right about the ground being lower between the new path and the hedge and I’ve not made up my mind yet how I shall deal with this. There is a fair amount of sun on the patch and if I lose some of the garden for building purposes it may come in useful as an additional plot but the level would have to be raised. Query get the earth from the garden which I shall lose before handing it over. Incidentally there has been no further development in regard to the land since I last wrote and it may be a long time now before we hear anything.

We thought you would have a laugh over Jeffries Jones’s car and the dog’s dinner – sorry sponge cake and eggs. Further information is that the dog was later sick but do not know if in house or outside.

I agree that I  did not see quarry being used as a dump after our arrival here but assured it was so used until about 1935. We notice the windows upstairs are now in position so good progress continues to be made.

Noted you have mentioned the proposal re: holidays to Mrs Baker and must leave matter with you now to follow-up as you both think necessary but you know we shall be very pleased for her to come down with you if you can persuade her.

Dandelions did you say. I could have picked enough to make wine but at the moment could not be bothered. The heads had to be picked off though to prevent them going to seed. On the long wide rough path between our garden and Mr Heel’s I put down some sodium chlorate and this has shrivelled everything up. I had another go at the grass late last week and it was really hard work. The grass is now down to a reasonable height and it will not be so tough again this season. It was the first time I had to replenish the tank with fuel to complete all the lawns so that will tell you how the mower was working.

So Susan will be joining the Brownies tomorrow. It will give her another outlook on things and probably get her interested and occupied. Now Daddy must take her photo in the uniform. Wonder how you got on at the Sunday School anniversary and what did Susan have to do? Perhaps she will tell us in her letter next week.

A trip to London Zoo eh? Is it in Regent’s Park? Again we hope the weather keeps fine for you. Assume you will go by coach with the party.

Glad to hear Peter has his car back and that it is in good condition.

Now for June’s letter. Having got so far with the driving lessons June I should make an effort to go on with them. The longer you leave it the less likely you will want to restart. It is better to feel as you do that you are nowhere near ready for the test than to be overconfident. It is the overconfident ones who come unstuck so often. We have one living next door to us here. He for the moment has given up trying and is still riding the motorbike. Anyhow you know best how you feel about it and although you may not do a lot of driving even when you have passed the test it is nice to know you can manage a car if necessary. It is however quite certain that the older you get the less interest you will have in trying to learn.

Regarding holiday abroad next year if (and it must be a big if) we sell part of our land we wonder what you have in mind. Perhaps you have nothing in mind at the moment but just wondering if we would be that interested. Well now Mum and I would not want much running about and would much rather take things quietly. On the other hand yourself and Alec are years younger and would probably wish to get out and about and make the most of the time. Alternately it may be that you would not feel like moving about too much after reaching the destination point but would rather stay put. The girls would not want anything except the sea and sand and plenty to eat. I have often wished to have a cruise in the Mediterranean but I do not think Mum is all that keen for a long sea trip. Anyhow June it is an interesting idea and although it must be a long time to look forward to if you have any particular places in mind please tell us all about them. Having regard to the girls being at school now presumably anything arranged would have to be at the end of August or early September. Our passports would have to be renewed but that is a minor matter.

Very sorry Susan is worrying you June – she is full of energy and must use this up somehow. As mentioned above perhaps the Brownies will give her another outlook on things and keep her busy.

Nearly forgot – thanks for the printed pamphlet enclosed with your letter Alec. Makes nice reading but it looks as though they are only too glad to clutch at a straw like a drowning man. Any aftermath from Butcher’s visit?

Had a card this week from Ted Caple who was on holiday in Malta. He flew out from London Airport and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Also had a card from Mr Palmer this morning – he and Mrs Palmer are gone on holiday with an old age pensioners’ party to Dunoon. I hope it is warmer up there than here. And I hope they get better weather to than we had several years ago.

Also enclosed in parcel this morning a small piece of vinyl–something floor covering which we got at Weston yesterday and laid in position in the afternoon. Similar stuff to that Mrs Baker has in her bathroom. It is only made in four feet widths and our bathroom is four feet four inches so had to join in one place. Look very nice.

No more now. All our love to you both and lots of kisses for the girls. Mum and Dad

P.S. Sorry Susan’s birthday card was accidentally posted on Tuesday. Mum and Dad. 


QSL cards part 2: the collection

As we discussed previously, some time in the 1960s Alec developed an interest in the hobby of amateur (‘ham’) radio. It is not known how or where this started, but I have a distinct recollection of him borrowing a reel-to-reel rape recorder – possibly from Eric Benn, the next-door neighbour – and using it to study Morse code for the first stage of the competency test in order to gain a license.

QSL cards were part of the process from the very beginning, used to record communications between hams wherever they might be in the world – and at first, of course, the distances were limited by the available equipment; for example, Alec’s earliest conversations were via the medium of Morse and it was only much later that he was able to graduate to using voice – which, as far as I recall, probably also needed an additional test and license.

Using their contemporaneous call logs (which have also survived, in Alec’s case,) operators would write up cards to send to their counterparts; these were collected in by the local radio club and sent off to RSGB headquarters where something like a Sorting Office must have been in operation. Returning QSL cards would be received by the local clubs and distributed to members at their meetings, and this presumably was a large part of the service provided by the RSGB.

At any rate, having found a large box of radio logs and QSL cards – collected by Alec and one of his friends – in the loft of the house Alec and June shared before his death, we turned these over to his grandson Robin. Robin, we should add, is very much a ‘chip off the old block’; in later life Alec’s ham radio hobby morphed into a love for computers, which Robin also inherited. He has therefore plotted all the cards in the collection onto this map, and would like to make the following point:

[A]ll the locations are approximate – sometimes the QSL cards gave the exact address, in which case I have tried to find the right street, but other times they just give the town or city name, so I have used a bit of artistic license!

He also points out that the collection tails off in the mid-1980s and should therefore be considered to represent roughly a twenty year sample. The 1980s were the time that Alec became infatuated with computers, so that could mark the swansong of his interest in ham radio – but there could also be other factors at play, and lacking better information we do not care to speculate any further.

Meanwhile, we will also add – with some sadness – that Alec never did succeed in achieving the Holy Grail of radio contact, a sought-after encounter with King Hussein of Jordan who was at the top of every ham’s wish-list. Nevertheless he made a pretty good collection of contacts around the world, some of whom subsequently turned into lifelong friends.

Robin has ambitions of analysing the log books as well, at some future date, but as he is currently working all hours trying to maintain his teaching commitments under less than ideal conditions we suggest that nobody should hold their breath. ‘Too much data, too little time’ is one of the heart-cries of the amateur family historian; there will never be an end to the subject matter, only a limit to the amount that any human being can process in a given lifetime. We’re doing our best, of course, but it can never possibly be enough.

QSL cards

Alec’s hobby of amateur (ham) radio hasn’t made much of an appearance here yet because he didn’t take it up until the 1960s, and then it spent some considerable time evolving. However – as there is a gap in the correspondence here – this seems a reasonable time to introduce the subject of QSL cards.

As Wikipedia tells us, a QSL card is sent from one amateur radio operator to another to confirm their communication. At one time these had a standard format, but over the years – as printing methods improved and materials became cheaper – they became more personalised. Alec must have sent out thousands – via the RSGB and/or his local club – over the years, and in due course received thousands in return. After his death a large box of QSL cards – roughly divided by geographical region – remained in the family’s possession until it was eventually passed on, together with his log books, to his only grandson Robin. (Robin is occasionally to be found on fora at sourceforge.net, and elsewhere online, using the screen name g3rrk.)

The original – standard – design. 73s are ‘best wishes’ and OM is ‘old man’.
After moving to Yorkshire in 1967, Alec joined the Scarborough Radio Club and clearly ordered his QSL cards through them.
And when you move to Budleigh Salterton and have a daughter with a vaguely entrepreneurial nature, you go 100% home-made.

There were probably other variants, too, but these are the only known examples to have survived.