Writing letters

When did you last write a letter? You know, get some paper, a spare envelope and a nice pen, and sit undisturbed, to write something to a friend , or relative. I appreciate that stamps are expensive these days, at least in the UK, though still a small price to pay for the value of personal contact, with some effort behind it. If you have ever received a letter, was it a good feeling? A nice change from circulars, bills, and charity requests, I bet. To imagine that someone actually bothered to think enough of you, to take the time out from a busy life, to contact you personally.

We live life electronically these days. Internet shopping, .com groceries, texts, e mails, and tweets. Facebook is the new and preferred method of keeping in touch, for an entire generation. An e mail or text can be sent to numerous recipients at once, saving you time, and trouble of course; but is it remotely personal, and does it really have value? I manage to write quite a lot of letters. I have certain friends that I only correspond with, and never communicate with using anything remotely impersonal, like e mail, or text. There are others that I have frankly given up on, as they never reply, unless by e mail, and they are just not ‘into’ the written word on paper anymore. Despite writing thousands of words on this blog, and sending numerous e mails in the course of a week, I believe that I never write better, or more from the heart, than I do when committing things to paper.

I don’t have good handwriting, and never managed to improve it, or to learn italics, or adopt a written ‘font’, as some do. However, it is usually legible, and hopefully more meaningful, than anything sent electronically, or by telephone. When I have it, I like to use decent paper stock, and where possible, write on one side only. I no longer have a working fountain pen, though I have decided to get a new one next year. The filling from the ink bottle, the smell of the fresh paper, and the checking of the address in a book, all rituals that indicate I am about to do something special.

In this age of computerised communication, we still send birthday cards, Christmas cards, and cards for special occasions, like passing exams, or an anniversary. So, why have we stopped writing letters? It cannot be just because of the sky-high price of stamps, the less than perfect postal service, or the effort to buy paper and envelopes. Ironically, it has never been easier to get these items, as they are easily purchased in all supermarkets, and most convenience shops. Pens, at least the ballpoint variety, have never been cheaper, or more readily available. In most ‘pound shops’, they can be had in bulk, for that very sum. No, it is just too much effort, like so many things discarded for that reason, in this modern life.

I have corresponded with a friend, on a weekly basis, since 1985. I have not actually seen her for almost ten years, and we rarely speak on the telephone. She lives about 200 miles away, not far by some standards, but for various reasons, we never seem to get around to meeting. Yet still, we know about every event in each others lives, significant or trivial, thanks to our exchange of letters. Before the widespread use of computers gained popularity, I also wrote to another old friend on a regular basis. When he left England to work in Canada, and was living there for some years, we kept in touch by letter, so never lost a single element of our friendship. Since he returned, to live near London, we are probably in contact more than ever before, though by e mail, not so much by letter. I miss this, and may well revive our old tradition, despite his legendary, appalling handwriting!

Since beginning this blog, I cannot fail to notice the immense volume of communication that goes on in the world today. I have even e mailed people, suggesting that they read my efforts, as a means of keeping in touch with my life in Norfolk, and what I am thinking and doing. I should not have done that. I should have written to them, even if they didn’t reply. I have let myself down. I am using the blog to stay in touch, and that is just more impersonal, trouble-free communication, of the kind that I criticise in others.

So, I am asking you all to put away your keyboards for one day. Get a pen, some paper, and envelopes, and write a letter to someone important to you. I guarantee that it will make you feel better about yourself. There will be no spell-check, or auto-correct; no suggested alternative words, or online thesaurus. You will have to think about it, and cross out anything you have done wrong, or didn’t like. The recipient will value it, even if they don’t think that now, and they might even keep it, and if you are very lucky, compose a reply.