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The Lost Art of The Letter

My first e-mail

Whilst rummaging in my closet recently, in amongst the stilettos and skeletons, I happened upon a shoe box emblazoned with a well known trainer brand name. Well, anyone who knows me will know that this set alarm bells ringing in the PFPT Fashion Police headquarters. What the chuff were flat shoes doing in amongst my 80+ pairs of 5 inchers?! I put on my hazmat suit and asbestos gloves and cautiously peeled open the lid. What lay waiting for me there wasn’t the ghastly sensible running shoe I had feared, but rather a nostalgic punch in the chops so violent, it almost knocked the lipstick right off my face! The box contained actual real life letters. Remember those?

It was like finding a veritable treasure trove of rare and beautiful gem stones. These simple pieces of dog eared paper in torn, crumpled envelopes, ripped open in haste to greedily get to the inky stories within, long forgotten but now triggering a rollercoaster of memories and sentiment from a youth clearly spent continuously running relays to the post box. How had I forgotten I had these? Then it hit me. I hadn’t just forgotten I had these, I had forgotten how to write these. Each one of these letters was so eagerly anticipated and gleefully received, each one stamped and addressed as part of some spittle enriched ritual and each one replied to with gusto, until suddenly, no more.

Some of these letters date back to when I was 12 years old (not THAT long ago, thank you!). Apparently I and my friends were prolific scribblers back then and I have to say, especially around the age of fourteen, we were hilarious (if you like jokes about virgins and farts). Obsessed with sex (that we weren’t getting) and boys (that we weren’t getting) and homework (that we were getting too much of) and even though we saw each other every single day, we spent our evenings writing comedic works of genius, complete with scratchy biro illustrations and magazine clippings. As well as school friends, I found beautifully penned friendships from people I’d met only once at a drama or art camp, that continued for years after our brief encounter, with all the dedication and loyalty of a butcher’s bloodhound.

I also unearthed love letters. Who knew that teenage boys could be so romantic, so eloquent, so charming?! I look at the male teen now, lurking on street corners with their sullen spotty faces and grunted vocabulary. How did one of these pestilent, inarticulate, vile little oiks produce works of poetry that could melt the heart of a bag of frozen peas? Ok, not all of it was poetry but at 15 years old, I was probably highly impressed by the fact a boy could put pen to paper in any shape or badly spelled form.

As I pawed over the contents of this abandoned treasure chest, relishing each hand written snapshot of a relationship gone by, I couldn’t help wonder, why did they suddenly stop? Where are all these people now and why does my postman, instead of hilarious exchanges from far flung places, or sincere sunset-inspired words of wooing, bring nothing but tax bills and pizza menus? It is with great sadness that I must now point a finger at my close friend, my dear ally and some might say, my greatest love addiction. The Internet!

Yes Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, I’m looking accusingly at you! Before you all showed up, the postman was a popular figure on the street and people actually made an effort to stay in touch. Now all you have to do is add someone as a contact on Facebook or Twitter and forget about them, knowing that you can update all 793 casual acquaintances regarding what you had on your toast this morning in one badly punctuated electronic fart.

As much as I adore e-mail, and I really do – I ping them out from the second I wake to when my fingers can’t ping any more and then one more for luck – I have, since the shoebox of postmarked delights came back into my life, realised that this is such a throw-away method of maintaining a pen pal (remember them? They were what you called someone you wrote to with an actual pen).

When you rattle out a hasty reply to your chum’s relationship dilemma on a smartphone screen whilst running for the train, or drop your true love a glib “c u l8r” in Ariel 10 while simultaneously talking to your mechanic on the phone, these are a very far cry from the specially crafted thoughts and emotions that flow from a pen, when time is taken out of the day to create someone an envelope of uniquely beautiful handwriting and doodles (complete with good, honest spellcheck-free spelling mistakes and do-overs), that says “you and you alone have my thoughts right now”. It’s hard to treasure an e-mail, but rediscovering the magic contained within a few simple leaves of fragile paper, upon which a cheap fountain pen has danced, well, that feeling is akin to finding the Mona Lisa there in the closet and remembering that Leonardo painted it just for you.

Never once in all my recent travels did it cross my mind to seek out a purveyor of postcards and stamps. Why, when all you need is a camera phone and some Wi-Fi, and let social media do the wish-you-were-here-ing for you? Convenient it may be but it’s also cold and heartless. There used to be something so exhilarating when the rattle of the letterbox was followed by the soft flutter and plop of a picture postcard from some far away place hitting the doormat. Ok, some of the postcards were from Benidorm and had pictures of breasts on them, but still, you got the impression that someone had taken a moment out of their fabulous holiday to sit at a café, sipping exotic drinks and swatting at mosquitos while finding time (and a working biro) to tell you personally they had sunburn and fling with a waiter called Pablo.

I’m ashamed to say that the last “letter” I wrote was typed in void-of-all-character Calibri 11, opened facelessly with “Dear Sir/Madam” and was a petty rant about the state of a packet of crisps I had found to be less than satisfactory. Compare this to the letter a 15 year old girl once penned me, posted in an empty yoghurt pot and with a joke for the postman scribbled along the side and it’s almost like a metaphor for lost youth and joie de vivre, and so I have decided to resurrect the lost art of the letter. I shall henceforth be celebrating ink-stained hands and investing in postage stamps and brightly coloured, scented stationery sets once more!

Now can someone please tell me, where do I plug in this pen?

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