lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.


Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .