One reason I spend so much time wading through boxes of old postcards in junk shops is to snoop on holidays I can never take. On one side are pictured places that are no longer quite there, reproduced in colours that nature doesn’t recognise; on the other are semi-legible messages from holidaymakers 50 or 60 years ago.
“They say it was hot last week. Just our luck.”
As I flick through the thousands of postcards, I’m often struck by how many are from the Isle of Wight: the SRN6 hovercraft with its bulbous rubber skirt, the Needles set in a deep turquoise sea, the manicured thatch of the old villages at Shanklin and Godshill.
When lockdown is over and the coast is clear, the contact tracing-app forgotten, I’m heading straight for the island. I haven’t been there for 20 years but something is calling me. I’ve seen the faded postcards. I get the message. It won’t be an ambitious holiday, but it will feel right.
“We’ve nearly seen everything now, and then I suppose we’ll start again.”
I’ll be happy to take the chairlift at Alum Bay as we did, clutching a Norfolk terrier, on a family trip in 1998, and intend to enter fully into the spirit of Blackgang Chine, which must surely have outgrown its decorated rockery and large plastic dinosaur. If we plan it right and the weather holds, we can also look forward to doing absolutely nothing on the beach at Sandown.
Inevitably, my journey will be a postcard pilgrimage. Since the publisher J Salmon closed in 2018, WJ Nigh & Sons has inherited the title of the UK’s oldest postcard publisher. In 1903, William James Nigh was an Isle of Wight postman who saw just how much of his postbag was taken up with postcards and decided to get himself a slice, setting up his own company in his shed. By the 1950s, it was producing more than a million postcards a year.
As I write this, I’m missing the funeral, held on the Isle of Wight under lockdown, of my aunt, who died two weeks ago. In normal circumstances I would have been there. A long overdue post-Covid trip will also, importantly, give me a chance to pay my respects.
“What more could you wish for – except for another week.”
Tom Jackson’s latest book is Postcard From The Past (HarperCollins, £8.99). Follow him on Twitter @PastPostcard