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