Words by Gary Carter
A CARRBROOK woman is toasting a 50th anniversary that has no danger of getting lost in the post – writing to her Swedish penfriend.
Christine Pedder was just 11 years old when she first wrote to Christina Hallstrom after she sent a letter to ‘an unknown girl at an unknown school in England’.
Now after sending her reply in November 1968, the two remain in touch regularly to the point where her foreign visitors came over to Stalybridge once again.
Christine said: “We’ve experienced a lot together through letters.
“We’ve lost people close to us and had children, now I’ve got grandchildren – but we still document what’s going on in letters.
“Yes, there’s mobile phones, text messages, e-mails, Skype, FaceTime and the like but we’ve gone out of our way to make sure we still write letters to each other.
“The only time we use messages or things like that is for things like travel arrangements to and from Sweden.”
She recalled: “The first letter arrived at school and we were told to take down the details and write back if we wanted to.
“I thought Sweden was different to France or Germany and I didn’t know anything about the place until I started writing to Christina.”
Christine, who lives on Carrbrook Crescent, was attracted to writing back to Christina when she lived in the Moston area of Manchester and attended North Manchester High School for Girls because it was somewhere different.
Christina was encouraged to get an English penfriend by a teacher and encouraged to write by her father, Bengt Hallstrom, because he wanted her to learn English.
After starting writing in 1968, they first met in 1976 with an interesting introduction.
Christina said: “I’d always written to Kenyon Lane, but Christine had just moved to a new house and I didn’t really know where to go.
“I’d gone to London, then to Manchester, then asked a bus driver to take me to Kenyon Lane but Christine wasn’t there.
“My friend and I were giving up but we asked some other children if they knew a girl my age who lives around here? One of the boys said ‘you should try that door’.
“I did and Christine’s father had the shock of his life.
“But when we first met each other, we just took things for granted. Even though I had just met Christine, it felt like home.”
“I was at Belle Vue speedway at the time,” explained Christine.
“This was the time before mobile phones and my dad didn’t even have a landline.
“All of a sudden, a call went out at the speedway. ‘Could Christine Pedder please contact the control room?’ I went and thought something had happened to dad.
“I was told to ring my sister Joan and she said, ‘Christina’s here!’
“Joan was actually meant to go on holiday to Torquay the next day and had her car packed, but she cancelled that and we went on several days out around the country instead.”
This May, Christina, husband Jimmy and sons Anders and Johan were in Carrbrook for the wedding of Christine’s son, Daniel.
It takes the number of trips to the UK into double figures but as ever, the main way of communication is by letter.
When Christine turned 60, Christina surprised her by sending the first letter and envelope as well as images of their trips to this country and Sweden.
But when things are so easily available in this day and age, why do 61-year-old Christine, a former teacher at Mossley Hollins high school, still insist on the old-fashioned way of communicating?
Christina, a 60-year-old nurse at a clinic in Stockholm, said: “I just think it’s more personal.
“I still got excited when I receive a letter and can tell it’s Christine’s handwriting, which I can recognise.
“I started to study English aged 10 in Sweden and it was my teacher who said, ‘I think you have to have a penpal to learn the English language better’.
“It was a long time between sending my letter and receiving the first reply from Christine, so long that I almost forgot I’d written it!
“My dad always read English books and encouraged me to.
“I’ve always kept the first letter in a special place, an old cupboard at home.
“It’s been great as we’re both the same kind of person.”