THE GENTLE ART OF CORRESPONDENCE

I miss letters. Not the typed correspondence that arrives from the bank or insurance company but proper, handwritten letters. The sort of letters that you delay opening until you have a cup of tea and a quiet moment. I can’t remember the last time I had one and that makes me sad.

Before computers and mobile phones and Facebook I wrote letters – lots of them. We moved house a lot when I was young so there was always someone to write to but letters really came into their own when my friends and I left home to go to university. It hardly seems credible now that we had no other way of keeping in touch. When I try to explain it to my children they glaze over with a total lack of comprehension. But it’s true. There was no phone in my student flat. The phone was in the corridor outside and the chance of actually receiving a call on it was slim. Firstly it had to be free, a rare event. Then someone who was passing had to answer it if it rang. Then they had to know you and which flat you were in and finally they had to be public spirited enough to run down the corridor, knock on the flat door and try to locate you by which time the person on the other end’s 10p would have run out.

So we wrote letters. I had reams and reams of paper in vivd colours with matching envelopes and I used to squash my words up small so that I could impart the largest amount of information possible to the recipient. I must have spent hours writing them. They were full of news, gossip, how I was feeling and plans for what we would do when next we met. My friends included sketches to illustrate their words. I even received a poem or two. I would complete my missives daily and then stuff the folded paper into the straining envelope and post them on my way to lectures.

And in return I received letters. I got one most days, a just reward for the amount of effort that I put into keeping in touch. I would save them until I got home and then shut myself in my student cell and devour them. They entertained me and gave me strength when times were hard. Many of them had smudged ink where either the writer or I had wept on them, such was the level of emotion that my teenage self invested in them. Letters, slow, labourious and deliberate, allowed me to grow into my new life without constant interruption but whilst still keeping a weather eye on what had gone before.

Life is very different now. If I want I can communicate with friends old and new all day long. My children have phones with them constantly. It is the work of a moment to send them a two line text. And there are emails, rattled off with little thought and disregarded within moments of receipt. But it’s hardly the same.

So I think I might write some letters just because… I shall invest in some thick, smooth paper and write about what has caught my attention, what is worrying me, what I dream of. You might even get one of these missives if I still have a snail mail address for you. Sometimes in life more is called for than just a click.

4 thoughts on “THE GENTLE ART OF CORRESPONDENCE

  1. Hi Imogen, Just eating my lunch to your blog rather than just FB for a change and I've been meaning to come back to this topic since I first glimpsed it on said social network…
    I miss letters too! And the saddest thing for me is that most of the old friends I used to exchange them with from schooldays don't do facebook so somehow that has meant our communication has dwindled to scribbled notes in Xmas cards once a year! It's not enough… I might try and resurrect the real thing too.
    I also recall you saying something along the lines of it being a shame you never got to read your own end of the letters again – well, it can happen sometimes! When my parents died they had never thrown any letters away so I had a massive task sorting through them and deciding which ones to throw and which to keep (I know – some wonder why I didn't just bin the lot without a second glance but I couldn't and they were fascinating!). I eventually returned some to my cousins – one's they'd written to their Aunt & Uncle when they were very young or first off at Uni – and even some that their Mum had written to my Mum when she was pregnant with them! They loved it! Not sure how my 84 year old Auntie Reba felt about reading letters she wrote to her sister nearly 70 years ago but anyway…
    I also returned to my 84 year old Uncle some postcards he sent to his parents as a very young man…
    Love, Caroline (Pearce) xx

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