Airmail

Anyone remember the pale blue aerogramme? For my first posting – two years which turned out to be six and a half – that was my sole means of communication with mum and dad. We both wrote weekly, having agreed that even if there was nothing to report it was better to hear there was nothing than to hear nothing. I think I telephoned once, when the attempted coup was over and the mercenaries arrested, to reassure them, but otherwise it was letter by letter. This was of course before personal computers and long before e-mail. The office wrote too, which I must admit made things seem far less imperative, or now and again sent a telex.

Most of the time I had to post my letter a day or two before mum’s arrived, due to the plane schedules being at a weekend, and the conversations were out of sync, but for one glorious year British Airways got it right. Mum posted her letter in Wolverhampton on Monday and it caught the BA flight out of London on Tuesday evening. BA touched down in Mahe on Wednesday morning when our mail was offloaded, and then went on to Mauritius. The post office had the mail in the box by noon. My letter was mostly written by then, but I had time to react and respond to mum’s new letter, close it and hand it in at 2pm. BA came back from Mauritius at 5pm and collected the UK mail which arrived at Heathrow Thursday morning, and the letter was with my mum on Friday in time to be read over breakfast.

What a service!

Older residents of the island remember the pre-airport days when airmail came once a week from Mombasa by sea-plane. The plane landed in the inner harbour and cruised up to the back door of the post office to unload. Anyone expecting mail would have gathered during the morning at the cafe opposite, catching up on news and doing a little light business, and after about an hour the postmaster would stroll across the road and deliver the letters personally.

It is odd that we say a seaplane has landed. The French do it better – atterrissage and amerrissage.

Phil Crook