I’ll let you into a secret. When I start to write I have no idea where it will end. I love that. Similarly when I start a letter that’s how it begins – with no idea what to say but just a good feeling for the recipient. Like you.
Although we still call it a letter-box very few of us come home to a handwritten letter on our mat, which is a great shame as it’s such a special thrill. Opening the door after a long, tiring day to find a handwritten letter waiting for you from a friend is just the best.
I’ve been a pen-pal with my German friend Waltraut for over 40 years. She and I are the same age and although finally connected by social media recently we both still prefer to sit down and write to each other properly. Consequently it’s a deep-boned friendship.
However Waltraut and I have only met a couple of times when I have flown to her home in Germany as she cannot fly. In the summer of 1943 her mother hid under the stairs as the RAF flattened Hamburg with wave after wave of Lancaster bombers. The drone of their Rolls Royce Merlin engines bringing death cemented a deep-seated fear into her which she then passed onto her daughter.
Germany and England were and remain very different but my friendship with Waltrault has removed this enmity and replaced it with understanding. The pen is mightier than the bomb.
The instrument you choose to write and pass on your thoughts with is as important as the paper you choose to write on as is the time you set aside to do it and the place you sit down to compose. Emails are easy. Physical writing takes much more.
Waltraut adorns her letters to me with colourful stickers. She is very creative in needlework, cookery and in her writing. The effort we make for each other span the decades and speaks in spades to me about the person she is and the divide we have bridged between our two countries. In return I try to choose a special stamp for my letters to her before I make the short journey to the letterbox. On the 16th March the Royal Mail released a rather special issue of stamps. I’ll let you guess which one I chose.
When Barak Obama was US President he would take ten letters from American citizens to bed with him each night and respond to them. I say letters but suspect they were emails – and here is the problem.
The way we communicate is so much easier – but it’s lost the personal touch.
Consequentially those in power get massively more and so employ teams of folk to deal. This means your chance of getting a personal response is now zero.
In 1997 I wrote to Princess Diana. I asked her to sign a hardback book of her dresses which were being auctioned for charity. The letter back from Kensington Palace came from a Mrs Colin MacMillan. Here is part of her reply to me,
“A large number of similar requests are received each day and as the Princess cannot agree to them all, it would be unfair to help with some and not others. I am sorry to send you this disappointing reply”.
It was typed and signed. I got fobbed off but at least I had been personally acknowledged which meant the world to me.
Today those applying for jobs currently find their applications mostly responded to by a machine or just ignored.
We live in an era of instant communication. We expect it on our phones and laptops. Everything is downloaded and uploaded and many prefer to live in a virtual world. After 2020 who would blame them? Well er me.
I like an ink pen and quality writing paper. I practise before writing on it as it’s expensive to make a mistake on. I get in the mood. I think before putting pen to paper. If you’re on Twitter you probably don’t.
How many times have we read about the damage caused and the reputations lost by folk on social media? This is because it’s easy to instantly send. If you write a letter on paper you can reflect on it. No-one reflects anymore. Plus no-one seems to care about the people they’re writing to. This is wrong.
Writing should be about making things better. Since ancient times we have written to explain and to share emotion, experience and love in the hope it will will lift the lives of others.
The best way to do this is to write on paper. To the people you care about.
Writing is about showing you have something positive to share. But doing it on social media is what everyone else does. So why not be different? If you’re lucky enough to go on holiday, amaze your friends with a postcard.
In the UK we have the Royal Mail. They have been under the cosh in the last year but remain the go-to delivery operator and my choice every time.
Write a letter. Put it in the post-box to your friend or relation. When they light up with reaction, suggest they do the same to others.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a handwritten letter in 2021 I’d like you to step up to the mark and respond in kind.
Don’t forget the stamp.