A cardboard chicken from Bristol, a massaging cat from São Paulo, Marmite-flavoured cheese from the Queen (in London, obvs), a postcard from Bogotá, a card from Texas, sweet treats from Down Under, a care package brimming with treats from Dublin and cancer-appropriate head gear ranging from beanie hats to Team GB sweatbands from around the UK… these are just a few of the things the postie has brought me in the past few months from my friends and family in their various corners of the globe.
Twenty years ago, I would write several letters a day to my various pen pals around the world, as well as writing my diary in a beautiful journal and sending colourful postcards to my relatives from whichever holiday destination I went to that year. (The postcards would always take a month to arrive and I’d usually have seen said relatives and told them all about the holiday before the small rectangular piece of foreign-stamped card arrived on their doorstep, but it was the thought that counted).
Even as little as 12 years ago, I was still putting pen to parchment and scribbling 10-page letters onto super-thin airmail paper to my friends, family and fellow gap-year students from my far-from-anywhere temporary home in the Northern Brazilian state of Tocantins. My letters would take an age to arrive and one of my fellow gap yearers, Chris, had to walk several miles to pick up his mail from the post office in a village somewhere in the middle of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state.
Despite the logistical problems of sending and receiving mail in such hard-to-reach corners of the world, Mum would endeavour to send me a chocolate advent calendar every Christmas without fail. (She would always succeed, but she also learnt that chocolate advent calendars do not necessarily fare well when left to melt in 40-degree Brazilian sun by incompetent postal staff). And I will never forget the time when Helen tried to send me a tin of Heinz Baked Beans in the mail from Yorkshire to São Paulo in 2007 – such a thoughtful gesture. Tragically, the beans were stopped by customs somewhere along the way and never reached me.
Fast forward to 2012 and most of my correspondence is done by email, Facebook and text message, and I write my diary mostly online via this blog.
What happened to good old-fashioned letter-writing?
I don’t need you to answer that question, of course. The combination of our hectic modern lives and the ease and speed of electronic communication is an obvious recipe for the demise of traditional letter writing. But few things beat the joy of re-reading letters received decades ago, or – better still – letters from a previous generation. Mum was having a pre-birthday clear-out the other week and found letters from her long-deceased grandmother – lengthy letters where every inch of each side of every sheet of paper was filled with meticulous, straight-lined handwriting. Now, I never met my great-grandmother, but just reading the words she wrote in perfectly matter-of-fact, no-holds-barred, conversational “Well I never, Christine” style, I felt like I was having a good old natter with her over a cup of tea. What a gift! The great grandchildren of my own generation will be lucky if they find an old mobile-phone sim card full of text messages that read “Wot a gr8 nite, m8!”
As much as an advocate as I am for any form of communication, be it email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging or proper, old-fashioned snail mail, I don’t want the art of letter writing to die out completely. I still love writing letters, plonking a stamp on and popping them in the big red postbox down the road. So, thank you to all those of you who’ve taken the time to write to me over the past few months (and years) – including the cat named Harvey in Cornwall who sent me an eloquently typed letter last week!
I’ll leave you with this shiny-headed photo of me sporting my new Team GB sweatband. Sweatbands are obviously entirely essential for bald headed people who are unable to do any exercise, not to mention the fact that they are the height of fashion these days.