When was the last time you filled your fountain pen with “Quink” and penned a letter? Remember when Basildon Bond, Parker pens and rice-paper thin blue airmails were an important part of our past?
Since the rapid rise of technology, we’ve traded this long-standing cultural practice for instant communication: emails, texts and a never ending diet of social media exchanges. We’ve got used to the obvious benefits: speed, instant responses and lively debate in “real time.”
However, as many of us will have discovered, there is a dark side to progress. This came home to me when I found myself embroiled in an e-argument with my impulsive and feisty thirty-year adult daughter. Ashamed to say, I found myself on the defensive, and it didn’t end well. Steam was rising from my keyboard!
I would have much rather picked up the phone to have a proper two- way conversation, but that doesn’t seem to be the done thing these days.
It was then I rediscovered the lost art of letter writing. Not on a keyboard, but by hand. I feel strongly that messages in a letter have more impact, and are longer lasting than the modern methods we now take for granted.
I’ve always been a fan of beautiful stationery, so I paid a visit to a popular shop in my town in search of a writing set - colourful paper and matching envelopes. A couple of hours later, and many pounds poorer, I transported my treasured goodies home. ( I bought four sets!)
Once spread out on the dining table, I couldn’t stop looking at them: butterflies, orchids, dragons, thatched cottages, and gorgeous designs from around the globe.
I picked out a pretty Chinese one of pale cherry blossom, and slipped the ruled page underneath to keep my unpractised hand from sloping. Then, I filled my father’s old pen from a bottle of ink that is at least forty years old. It had once belonged to his father.
I practised my rusty cursive script on some scrap paper, after consulting my new book on handwriting, and was ready to start. I’ve been a touch typist for fifty years, so you can imagine the strain on my wrist after just a few minutes.
A lot goes into writing a letter, as I discovered. Firstly, it’s thinking about what to write. Once you’ve committed the words to paper, there’s no erase button or white-out paste to get rid of errors, which is why I wrote a first draft and let it rest for a day. This is a great way to reflect on what you really want to say, and whether the tone is appropriate.
Then, it’s the physical act of writing out your thoughts. If you’ve not written in long hand for a while, you might find the strain running up your arm and across your shoulders, so take your time.
I broke up my text with a couple of small illustrations and a special message for my infant grandson. Not a word was mentioned about the upsetting argument.
When I was happy with it, I wrote out the envelope, indenting and adding commas in the correct place. Finally I stuck on the stamp, and took a walk to the nearest post box. Hearing my letter slide down to rest on a pile of others, I felt a huge weight lift.
I hoped it would give my daughter some pleasure to savour a taste of my past. Maybe she’d put it in her memory box. One day, I might show her my love letters, all Sealed With A Loving Kiss. (SWALK), the envelopes sprinkled inside with talcum powder.
Writing a letter by hand means being present in the moment. It’s good for our mental wellbeing, and exercises those wrist and hand muscles. It provides our families and friends with little keepsakes.
I have all the airmail letters my mother’s sisters used to send her from America. She died thirty years ago, but occasionally I sit down in my room and read some of them, and the replies. It helps to keep their memories alive and to remind me of where I came from.
There’s something sacred about communicating in the way generations before us did. E-messages might be efficient, but they can never replace this sentimental aspect of our history. Our heart-felt feelings committed to beautiful paper remain tangible and personal for as long as we choose to keep them.
Why not write a letter to someone today? For an elderly and/or lonely person, it might be the highlight of their week, and I bet they won’t be expecting it.