Saturday, 17 January 2009


I received a letter in the post this week. Not unusual you might think, everyday the ritual of paper moving across the country, inserted through boxes at the beginning and at the end of the journey. Once the paper diaspora hits the home, its opened  ( or not!) filed ( or not!) and thrown away. A lot of the stuff is just picked up and taken straight to the bin. 

Most of the stuff that comes through the letter box is official in some way,  a statement or a manipulative request to buy something or support a cause. Christmas time is a big exception when cards plop on to the hall floor, but generally though they may be personalised they are not really personal.

I don't write letters much, there have been times in the past where I have been a regular correspondent as I maintained contact with people away from  me for a time, but from preference and habit I prefer phone, email or actually seeing people. And I enjoyed that process, developing  an accurate  eye for episodes and events and an ear for thoughts to convey later to the person not present.

I remember once my Mother and Grandmother being less than impressed when a relative in America wrote a letter and they typed it. He had signed the bottom, but that didn't satisfy, for them at the time the rules were simple, personal written, impersonal typed.  
The content didn't matter the form did and they were hurt by this.   Form does still matter in lots of things, in the sense that it always has an impact of some kind and people choose how they communicate. Even if its a habitual way and the choice is no longer immediate, its become habit for a reason. Somewhere it suits.  

Some people think that the written word is about the visual. I don't think it is really. I think the written word has more similarities to the radio than the television for instance, provided you are literate. The written word is a direct communication channel straight into the mind, and the mind does the rest, including creating the images and the feelings. 

The last proper letters I wrote ( up until this Christmas),  personal ones, that werent long notes in Birthday, Christmas or Condolence cards, was whilst in hospital. I'd been incarcerated and incapacitated there for what felt like forever. People came  (those I let see me that way) cards and notes-  in fact I got lots of mail whilst in hospital and in messages delivered in the old fashioned way, by word of mouth but the essences of the people in all the messages. I had learned to sit up again that week, without help, finally technique and strength combined and I could do it maybe 3 or 4 times a day.   I worked hard at eating and keeping some of the food down that day, so that eventually I felt strong enough to write them. They took me hours, most of the work was in my head thinking what I needed to say, because I knew that the writing of them was going to do me in  for a few days. It would be a task of physical endurance, so the thinking needed to have happened. Eventually after lights out I could face the attempt. Even whilst ill my nocturnal rhythms meant I'd have a bit of an energy burst to get the words down on the paper. I didn't recognise my writing really, small, feeble - if I was ever going to have faith in graphology that would have been the moment, my writing I felt reflected my physical well being,  at that time still a long way behind par. I handed them in, like homework to the nurse on night duty early in the morning and slept uninterrupted ( for a change!!) for several hours.

I've been using email for a very very long time working in universities early on and in IT meant I had access to it and lots of the people I knew did too. I loved it. I still do. I still love the magic that someone perhaps in another country has a thought and sends it and its immediacy. I am not a user of twitter, not sure if I will take that up, maybe I will, but those I communicate with in various other forms, usually get a small flavour of a bit of whats going on in me by viewing what I am saying.

This weeks letter was in response to one I sent at Christmas.  Last year at yet another funeral we commented again to those we have long held, deep affection connections with,  that we are sick of meeting at funerals. I was reminded that I am poor when it comes to Christmas cards and letters. So I broke the pattern and at Christmas I wrote two specific Christmas cards and one proper   letter to an old family friend of my Mum and Dad,  and this week I received a reply.

Obviously the contents are not for here, but I remembered just how much I enjoy receiving PROPER letters, that there is a qualitative difference between  a letter and any other form of communication. My piano teacher occasionally used me as a postgirl. She was  of my Grandmother's generation, indeed they had been at school together. She corresponded regularly with a friend of hers, that lived on a road  I could walk past on the way home from the lesson. Mostly the letters went in the post but if I was to carry out the task, she would in front of me write on the top of the letter "by the kind hand of Sarah"  . Strangely even though I had no idea what was in the letter and the person concerned knew nothing about me -  we never met- I knew that that was all part of the ritual of writing, sending and receiving of letters; the  choice of mechanism. 

This is a tradition I have taken, if I ask someone to deliver in the same way for me, I will in front of them write the same message on the letter, inserting their name. Very occasionally at work I have received personally delivered letters from someone of an older generation and seen the same words there, "by hand" sometimes with the name sometimes not. It adds a charm to the process.

The letter itself was long and typed, with a paragraph apologising for its typed nature explaining that his writing was no longer the best and I thought back to my Mother and Grandmother's response and knew he too had the same values - hence his felt need to explain. 

This tradition I have not taken. The thought that someone had spent time to compose and carefully without error type such a letter and then post it, meant more to me than how it had been written.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are not alone in catching up with this sentiment. This form-It is an antique of the future.

It is many emotions, and touches many senses.

The feel of quality stationery, the sight of Royal Mail stamps- themselves, artwork.The sensation
of licking a stamp,surely soon to be gone.

I even a have favourite post box, and prefer to use a Victorian one where possible.

You will feel yourself searching for excuses to indulge in posting.

I dream of being inited to stay at a country seat and find myself having occaision to use the wooden letter boxin the hall- knowing it will find it's way to the villlage Post Office

Email or Post is the same as Television or Wireless for me.

Read the history of the penny black,especially the kirkcudbright cover to fuel your desire.

Meanwhile get writing.