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Pen pals Carole Keeble and Elsa Byørnstad meet to mark 50 years of correspondence

By Marijke Hall

When young schoolgirl Carole Munday was asked if she wanted a Norwegian pen friend she jumped at the chance.

Picking the only person whose name she could pronounce, the 14-year-old put pen to paper and wrote her first letter to Elsa Byørnstad, also 14, in Norway.

Fifty years on and the women are still writing to each other and, despite the digital revolution, they continue to write by hand instead of email.

Elsa Bjornstad and Carole Keeble have been in touch for 50 years. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Elsa Bjornstad and Carole Keeble have been in touch for 50 years. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

Now married and called Carole Keeble, the 64-year-old, of Grimthorpe Avenue in Whitstable, has celebrated the milestone with a special visit from her pen-pal.

The pair enjoyed a cake baked by Mrs Keeble’s daughter which represented their long-standing friendship with Norwegian and Union flags side by side.

She said even though they live thousands of miles apart they have been through momentous life events with each other’s support and have become very good friends.

“So much has happened in that time – we both got married, we both had children,” she said.

“I know her family now and she knows mine.

“We’ve always got on – we’re so different but still get on.”

Despite striking up a firm friendship it was two decades until they eventually met.

“We didn’t see each other for 20 years, we were just writing,” Mrs Keeble said.

“Then she wrote saying she wanted to come over to London so she visited with her daughter. My arms have come up in goose bumps just talking about it. After all that time it was lovely to see her.”

The cake marking 50 years of correspondence. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
The cake marking 50 years of correspondence. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

Mrs Keeble, who has three children and eight grandchildren, has been to Norway numerous times too and the friends now see each other every two years.

“We worry about time running out so now we try to see each other more,” she said.

During the 50 years the friends have been there for each other through good and bad times, including the recent divorce of Elsa and her husband.

Mrs Keeble described their long friendship as amazing and said she expected it to continue for many more years.

But she admitted her Norwegian is no better, despite the constant letter writing.

The pair held a party to celebrate. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
The pair held a party to celebrate. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

“At the beginning I had a Norwegian dictionary and Elsa used to help me out by writing translations at the bottom of her letters.

“But she speaks such good English that I don’t write in Norwegian. It does make her laugh.

“They say some funny things (in English) though.

“We were out with them in Norway and it started to rain and they said ‘I think we’re going to need a parachute’.

“We wondered where they were taking us until we realised they meant an umbrella.”

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