Look at this. I got a letter the other day. A proper, handwritten letter – bursting with news – that someone had taken the time to sit down and write, put a stamp on, and take to a postbox. Isn’t it a thing of beauty? And isn’t it sad that it’s such a novelty to get one these days?
I used to write letters all the time. We moved house when I was seven or eight – well before email or texting was the norm – and the only way I could keep in touch with my three closest friends was by writing to them. I have no idea how we managed to keep it up so regularly, but we would write each other long letters at least fortnightly, sometimes weekly. We turned it into an art form; using pretty paper, coloured or scented pens, and lots of stickers or ink stamps around the edges. Occasionally we’d include photos of ourselves, and then as we got older we started swapping posters or magazine cuttings about our favourite bands and actors instead.
There was always such a huge sense of anticipation when I got home from school and saw that a letter had arrived. Having to wait a week or two for news heightened the sense of drama in our lives. So – even though the cliff-hanger from last week’s letter would only be ‘will this friend have plucked up the courage to tell the guy in the year above her that she fancies him?’ or ‘will that friend have found a dress for the disco?’ or ‘will the other friend have managed to get that stinky French essay in on time?’ – I was genuinely excited to open every letter and get an update.
While I am as active as anyone on social networks like Facebook, and love being able to keep up with my friends’ news so much more easily and immediately now, it still makes me a little sad to realise that the sense of anticipation I loved so much has been lost somewhat. Now when something happens you find out about it right away.
The other thing about email is that while it’s easier to keep records of entire conversations you’ve had with friends, you rarely go back and read them, and you rarely ‘stumble upon’ an old bit of correspondence like you do with handwritten letters. My paper filing system is non-existent, which means that while I’m searching through boxes for something dull like a bit of paper with my last meter reading on it, I’ll quite often chance upon an old letter which will bring back a flood of memories. Sometimes that can be quite a sad thing – I found a beautiful letter the other day from a close friend who has since passed away, and it left me feeling very nostalgic. Other times – like the other week when DorkyDad found a letter I had written to him just after we started dating – it can just lead to a right good laugh.
None of this is to say that I’ve given up letter writing entirely. I still write to a few family friends every month or two because they’re not on email but they like to be kept up to date with how DorkySon is doing. And I’m still very strict about doing thank you letters. We had it drummed into us as children that it’s so important to have manners and say a proper thank you for any gifts that you get at Christmas or on birthdays – and that’s something I’m continuing in bringing up DorkySon. He was sat down with a pile of coloured paper and paints on Boxing Day and instructed to do a thank you picture for everyone who had sent him something!
When I got my lovely handwritten letter through the door the other day, I was on my way to the train, so I took it with me and read it en route to London. Then I immediately got my phone out and started composing a reply by email. But when I’d signed off and I was about to hit send something stopped me. It didn’t seem right to respond to something that had obviously taken some time with something that I’d dashed off in ten minutes. So I trashed it.
I’m going to wait until I’ve got time to sit down and send a proper letter back. I’m going to write it by hand, on nice paper. Then I’ll whack a stamp on and carry it to the post box. Heck, I might even buy some sparkly stickers to put on the envelope! What do you mean that’s a bit much? Some strawberry scented pens? No?