Why does no one write letters anymore?


Nearly a week has passed since yet another idyllic few days in France, and I am yet to write a letter of thanks to my hosts for a sojourn that was, even by my own prodigiously gluttonous standards, hard to beat. The days passed like one long meal, punctuated by the odd (sometimes very) game of tennis, or a brief lollop in the swimming pool. Breakfasts were spent fighting over the myrtilles sauvages (is there a better jam?) and discussing what to eat for lunch. Lunch, in turn, consisted of wondrously smooth mousse de canard slathered on crusty loaves, beetroot and goats’ cheese salad, and the juiciest peaches. Then around 4, as the last of the salad was being mopped up and the cheese rinds gnawed at, talk would turn to supper. And on it went, in this perfect cycle of insatiability.

You will, then, understand my horror of taking so long to write after such a delightful week. I finally made it to a stationers by Old Street, in search of writing paper. I get a bit overexcited in stationers. All the pens, the paper, the funky notebooks and glossy diaries – it’s the sort of procrastinatory nonsense I’m such a sucker for, as if buying pens and notebooks makes you feel like you’ve actually done something constructive. With blinkers firmly on, I wandered up to the counter:

“I say, old boy,” I whispered conspiratorially (I often do this, when buying something as banal as writing paper – adds a bit of intrigue). “I say,” I continued, “could you point me in the direction of the letter-writing paper”.

“I’m sorry sir,” replied the shopkeeper amiably, “but we don’t sell that shit anymore.”

“I beg your parsnips!” I ejaculated. “What is the meaning of this?!”

“Well,” started the man, his wizened old face a strange amalgam of shame, amusement, and confusion, “no one writes letters anymore”.

“But you sell envelopes,” quoth I, aghast.

The man smiled.

“Seriously, are you joking?” I chuckled nervously. The oxymoron was beyond me at this particular moment of peturbation. You see, I’d been lamenting the slow death of the art of letter writing for some time now. So much so that a friend and I had resolved to write a letter once a week. I wrote two in a day and then, well, I went to France. Though I did write to my grandfather from there. So I guess that counts. Though it was a thank you letter. Quite a late one. Pattern emerging, I fear.

He was not joking, it turns out.

“Surely you could stock just some paper old bean, couldn’t you? It’s not like it goes off.”

He mumbled something about quota-filling, then something that sounded like an swear word. I made a swift exit and stomped back to my flat to send an email to someone about the experience.

And that, my friend, is just the problem. If e’er there were a stupid title for a blog post, it sits atop this one. No one writes letters anymore because of email. This was highlighted for me during a previous trip to France, when a 95-year-old madame enquired of my friend as to his profession. His French shaky, his acting skills less so, he mimed typing (he is, you see, a writer).

“Ah, tu es pianiste alors!” she exclaimed, enthused to have a musician in the house. Ah, the technological follies of old age.

I was struck by Ed’s reflex of miming writing as something that one does on a keyboard, not with pen and paper, and realised I do the same thing. It’s a little bewildering.

I’m not saying this must change. God knows the internet, email, and all that comes with it (bloggers, facebookers, stalkers, twitterers, pornographers) have made our lives easier. But they’ve also taken the soul out of correspondence. Do you remember the elation of receiving a hand-written letter? There are few things more special, few things that can, in such an understated manner, say ‘I care’. A revival is in order.

A plan is forming in my mind. A hand-written cookery book. How this might work, I’m not yet sure. In the meantime, do you think you have the discipline to write a letter a week, in which you have also written a recipe? If you email me your address, I’ll send you a recipe. Could be the start of a whole new kind of food chain. Who knows?

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