Having a cup of tea at his parents’ house in London, photographer Jason Wilde discovered a used envelope with a handwritten note on the back. This simple message from his mother Vera to his father John – with instructions for the evening’s dinner – was the catalyst for a decade-long project. Without Vera’s knowledge (but with the help of his dad), Wilde started collecting and photographing the handwritten notes. ‘I didn’t tell my mum because she’d have played to the crowd,’ Wilde has said, admitting that his mother’s upbringing and background led to her ‘seeing and seeking humour in most situations’.

From the doctor’s to the dentist’s to a trip to Romford to buy a wig, Vera’s everyday comings and goings are now the subject of a book Vera & John. Married for over 53-years, the couple have always lived together on the same Somers Town council estate and there’s an element of social history to the project that resonates with me. Vera worked in a couple of factories and then took on part-time cleaning work after having three children, while John (a northerner, born in Cumbria) worked for British Rail. Their story is not dissimilar to my parent’s working class backgrounds – and, as with my family, ‘what’s for dinner’ is always a prominent theme:

Vera & John contains 43 letters and provides a wonderful snapshot of the couple’s life together. Although John, 78, who was in on the project right from the start, is feeling quite pleased with himself; Wilde admits that Vera, 76, is still coming round to the idea. ‘She does have a great sense of fun but feels a little bashful about the book. It’s a cultural thing – neither of my parents like to be the centre of attention and mum’s especially self-conscious about her spelling and grammar. Every time she looks at a copy, she reads a note or two, gets embarrassed and laughs.’ Though, if she’s anything like my mum, I’m sure Vera Wilde is secretly delighted.

And even though they now have mobile phones, it’s still the back of the envelope for Vera & John.

Jason Wilde’s book Vera & John is available to buy HERE.



27 thoughts on “Vera & John: life and love on the back of an envelope

  1. This is heartwarming, reminds me of the shoe box collection of little notes from my children I call the memory box.
    The one my son left beside a heavily buttered slice of bread at age 7 – For you Mummy for all your hard work I love you xxx

  2. Lovely notes. My youngest daughter wrote me notes lots of times, I’ve found them recently in a drawer an re read them. They’re so sweet and invoke lovely memories.

  3. Oh my god, love this! Do you remember that book a few years ago by Sylvia Smith called Misadventures? Just little vignettes of her ordinary life but unintentionally funny. Lots of people were scandalised that these musings got published, but I loved it!

  4. Truly wonderful little slice of everyday life that we all play out at some point. What a book this will be – such heartwarming vignettes. I know what Vera means about grammar and being self conscious. I am a stickler for grammar but for some reason, my scribbled notes to my hubby do end up with awful mistakes as I hoof off out of the door in a rush. I particularly liked Vera’s note about how to hang the blind. Whenever I am not around to oversee some workmen ( I am in the UK for a few weeks at a time) and hubby is left to deal with things, it is always, always done wrong!

  5. how lovely, years ago my dad made the flippant comment that I should write down what we did and didn’t eat as he couldn’t keep track of it all, so I jotted down Eimear eats cabbage not bacon, Eithne eats bacon not cabbage, Ian (bro in law) hates garlic etc, and finished it with a jibe of ‘no-one eats unwashed potatoes’ (which was a naughty reference to a time when the potato water was grubby and he was in a hurry – I am now mildly embarrassed at how ungracious it was as my dad was doing all the cooking when we came over)- me and he did had a laugh though as I taped it to a cupboard door, and he later added to the end ‘dad eats his words’….. (now the list is the book mark in my cookbook)

  6. How wonderful to be allowed a little peep into other people’s lives. So very heartwarming and endearing.

  7. Don’t know what went wrong with my last post! Please delete if possible, Alyson!

    I actually wrote:
    This is gorgeous. Thanks for posting.

    My grandchildren made me a present and left it in the top-floor bedroom they use in our house. Here is the note they left:

    Dear Granny, Go up the stares [stairs]. Go up some more stares. Go into are [our] bedroom. Look impitwine [in between] the beds.

  8. It’s beautiful! Those personal messages and idiosyncrasies should be treasured. I always thought I’d write down my daughter’s odd childhood quips but she’s 14 now and I still haven’t done it. Hmmm, maybe this will galvanise me into action! Just lovely.

  9. Vera’s words reveal much sweetness. But her handwriting makes their years together more vivid than printed words ever could have.

  10. For some reason my first comment left only my address—would you mind deleting it??
    As for Vera & John—I think that written notes are becoming a lost art. And having them be on the back of envelopes is quite thrifty.
    I know my mom still writes reminders on the back of envelopes—but they are to herself–ha ha!

  11. My daughter, at about 7 years old, wrote ‘muck up’ on a box where she kept her make up. I loved it- and i think it says everything! !!

  12. I loved this. It is so sweet and the spelling mistakes just add to the charm. I have kept little notes my husband wrote to me many years ago. I used to take a packed lunch to work and he put little notes in (pretending to be from my teddy bear – i kid you not).

    I think the handwriting is fab too. I think it should be created as a font. I have heard of creative people taking day to day handwriting and using it as a type font. Everyone’s handwriting is unique after all.

  13. Can’t wait to read the book! What a relief in this time of so much dissention to have the pleasure of reading something that has warmth and charm.

  14. What a lovely idea for a book. Reminds me of the e-mails I receive from my 89 year old Mum, which are funny and show her sometimes exasperation with technology. I started saving them in a file..and when she was playing around with my i-pad she found them one day. She was a bit surprised that I was saving them. “But it’s no different than saving letters, Mum,” I said. Except, like Vera’s notes, somehow e-mail frees Mum up to sound like herself, which is way more entertaining than a letter.

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