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Thank Jackie for Kate

Kevin Bacon’s a good one to follow on Facebook. The actor posts from his ranch in America, recreating the Footloose dance in his barn, showing off a giant marrow from his garden, or making music with his family in their pig pen.

Facebook has endless humorous nostalgia pages. There’s now one called Fans of Jackie Magazine, for those who enjoyed the British magazine for teenage girls.

In 1980s Masterton, Jackie could be bought from the Lansdowne Bookshop – which also sold wool and other things. A little out of date after its long trip, the magazine’s pages held secrets, lies and advice.

I wrote to Jackie, asking them to publish my name and address for ‘a penpal’. In a mammoth financial boost to Britain’s Royal Mail service, they did.

There followed the unforgettable sight of my father walking back from the letterbox each morning with his fists – sometimes arms – full of letters inside pink, purple and blue envelopes. This went on for many months. Our poor postman. [Are you still out there?]

Those letters, some containing ‘gifts’ including fresh food, sat in rows on my bedroom floor. Posted from Scotland to Cornwall, I had the hopes, dreams and stationery sets of Britain’s teenage girls spread across the carpet.

I wrote back to as many as my right hand could manage, gradually whittling down to about 20 girls. By my 15th birthday, only one remained – Kate from South Wales.

The reason for Kate’s longevity was simple. Her letters made me laugh out loud. And that was even before I’d heard her Welsh accent. Each letter was a hilarious recounting of her ‘shenanigans’.

As a teenager in 80s Masterton, I was enthralled by Kate’s description of the boys she knew and her ‘package holidays’ to exotic places such as Greece. Greece! How could Welsh teenagers go on holiday to Greece and meet even more boys? She was so lucky.

I confess to making up a few aspects of my life to match Kate’s escapades. Still, I was very dull in comparison. Even Kate’s part-time job at the local rest home was gripping, the stories of her treasured elderly ladies – mainly called Gladys – were very funny.

My friends in New Zealand helped make cassette tapes to send to Welsh Kate, recordings of us mucking around, with our Kiwi accents. We told her we’d formed a band and had this huge hit song in New Zealand, when it was really Body and Soul by Jenny Morris.

Finally, in 1991, both aged 18, we met in person on a dark train platform in Wales. Kate spoke exactly as she wrote and I loved her. After a quick whirl around Cardiff’s finest shopping centre, she took me back to her town, to the pub, introduced me to pints of cider topped with blackcurrant cordial and we danced to early 90s house music.

Kate and I have now been friends for 38 years. During my time living in the UK and Ireland, we went on holiday together and stayed with each other. She’s still one of the funniest people I know and any contact with her lifts my mood.

All four of our parents have passed away.

I’ve been to Greece.

There are no hand-written letters between us these days because we text each other instantly on WhatsApp. But the Fans of Jackie Magazine Facebook page brings back memories of when its fantastical pages brought me the reality of Welsh Kate.

She has yet to visit New Zealand. Maybe in 2025, to celebrate 40 years since my father carried her first letter up the driveway in Masterton.

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