Cotswold Life

The love of letters

‘I gave Ge­of­frey my ad­dress and started to dream about the five strap­ping sons, with curls this time’

- Con­tact @sue_limb Shakespeare

Ihad a Ger­man pen friend once. His name was Gerd. Now he is a dis­ease of the oe­soph­a­gus. In fact, I suf­fer from GERD, my­self. In those far-off teenage days I also suf­fered from Gerd. Why wouldn’t he send me another let­ter? Was it some­thing to do with the pho­to­graph I’d sent?

It had been a promis­ing start. A let­ter ar­rived on glam­orous for­eign pa­per with an ex­cit­ing Ger­man stamp. In­side was a pho­to­graph of Gerd look­ing tor­mented in a field. This could be the start of some­thing big. I sent him a photo of me – the only one I had – look­ing like an earnest sheep with acne. Why wouldn’t he re­ply?

I’d al­ready dreamed of a fu­ture in which Gerd and I would meet in the field and gaze tor­ment­edly at each other. Af­ter that, mar­riage was in­evitable, and we were go­ing to have five strap­ping sons. But there were to be no more ex­cit­ing en­velopes with Ger­man stamps ly­ing on the door­mat. Gerd had gone off me.

Later in my teenage years I at­tended a mu­sic course at Cow­ley Manor, and kissed a Sec­ond Vi­olin with curly hair called Ge­of­frey. There were woods nearby, and we met there be­tween con­certi. It was only in­no­cent ver­ti­cal kiss­ing, mind you. We parted, I gave Ge­of­frey my ad­dress and started to dream about the five strap­ping sons, with curls this time.

Ge­of­frey’s let­ter ar­rived. I snatched it and ran to my bed­room. I tore it open, des­per­ate to see the love and kisses at the end. But what was this? Ge­of­frey could not spell! His hand­writ­ing was aw­ful. His gram­mar was de­fec­tive. He was quasi-il­lit­er­ate. Be­ing a fright­ful nerd, I went off him im­me­di­ately. I wrote back de­scrib­ing a sunset and urg­ing him to work for World Peace. That got rid of him.

Young peo­ple nowa­days can’t imag­ine the thrill of see­ing a hand­writ­ten let­ter ly­ing on your door­mat. When did you last get one? Email and tex­ting and mes­sag­ing is now the thing. Of course there are good en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons.

When I picked up Ge­of­frey’s en­ve­lope and my heart leapt with ex­cite­ment, I hadn’t re­alised that, for love letters to ar­rive, a tree had had to die.

But now that re­cy­cled pa­per is avail­able, couldn’t we pick up our Parker Pens (other brands may be avail­able, al­though, as the econ­omy dive-bombs, maybe not) – in­vest in a bot­tle of Quink (ditto) and see if we can still write by hand?

At pri­mary school we still wrote with pens we had to dip in inkwells. Things hadn’t changed much since the goose feather quills Shake­speare wielded to such amaz­ing ef­fect. At gram­mar school foun­tain pens were the height of fash­ion, and en­vi­able. You could choose vi­o­let ink, which sug­gested secret Sap­phism, or brown, which made your es­says look a bit Shake­speare-ish, but with­out the genius.

I had a boyfriend at Univer­sity, as we fool­ishly used to call it, be­fore younger gen­er­a­tions de­cided that to waste less time they would call it ‘Uni’. He was fe­ro­ciously clever, though in a rare mo­ment of stu­pid­ity he mar­ried me. But that’s another story. We are only con­cerned here, with his ink. It was green.

He was a prodi­gious swot and later be­came a pro­fes­sor. In the univer­sity ex­ams he wrote so ex­ten­sively, they had to bring him more pa­per. And a few weeks later, his tu­tor later tipped him the wink. “I can’t tell you the exam re­sults, Roy,” he said, “be­cause they aren’t of­fi­cially pub­lished un­til next week, but I can tell you that some­body us­ing green ink has got a Starred First.”

Ink, pa­per, pens… it’s a lost world, and I mourn it. There was scented pa­per if you were so in­clined. And hand­writ­ing! What brings us closer to the beat­ing heart and trem­bling hand of another hu­man be­ing? The blots, the scrib­bles, the lit­tle draw­ings in the mar­gins...

The post­man is no longer longed for. Now he is dreaded, bear­ing only bills and junk mail. Bring back let­ter writ­ing, I beg! I’m not sure who I am beg­ging – God, per­haps – but if only some­body would write me a let­ter, on pa­per, with a pen, it would make my day.

EDI­TOR’S NOTE: I will for­ward on letters from any­one wish­ing to cor­re­spond with Sue, in what­ever colour of ink.

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