Little comes close to receiving an unexpected letter. Well, it depends what type of letter of course. An angry note from your local library ordering you to return books which have been overdue for about 10 years doesn’t really have the same effect.
But in today’s digitalised society, where texts and online communication now dominate the way we interact with each other, writing and posting a letter seems like a distant childhood memory.
“hey you alright?” “yeah, be there in 5” “urgh last night, oh dear…”
These are a few snippets of my mobile message inbox, in which texts are a quick fire way to catch up and meet up. But what happened to actually thinking about what you are writing, to actually sitting down and properly putting mind to tea stained paper? (Just my preference).
This summer I met a lovely girl called Emily. She suggested that we should penpal, send each other letters and the odd parcel in order to stay in touch, as life is the catalyst to drifting from friends. Especially when you’re moving away for university.
Another inspiration for starting this exchange was my Grandma. Over Beryl’s legendary tea and biscuits, she divulged how she has been writing to someone in Texas for over 60 years. That’s almost three-quarters of her life. Apparently they have only met once for a couple of hours, but they talked and laughed every last minute like old friends. Because technically they are.
So the madness of Fresher’s week rolled around, I would write about it if my memory wasn’t as hazy… (not a clue why). It was during that post – freshers slump, the time where you realise you have to actually start doing work/cook yourself something more substantial than Uncle Ben’s, when I received my first letter and parcel from Emily. Its contents included the most amazing chocolate fudge, a small cross-stitch wall hanging and a wildflower tea leaf (which the tag instructed me to infuse in boiling water for 3 minutes).
I think the best part of this surprise was actually the letter. Firstly, Emily’s handwriting is the neatest I’ve ever seen – definitely chose my penpal well. Imagine trying to decipher something that looked like a spider having a rave in TimePiece every time you were sent a letter? Amongst the craziness of moving and partying and meeting 100s of new people, it was lovely to know that someone had taken the time to write and ask how I really was. There’s something much more personal about putting words into writing. And it was longer than a couple of sentences; the average facebook message.
When the boys in my flat walked in to the kitchen to find me on the floor, carefully tying together photos with string to send in my reply parcel, they were quick to label letter-sending as “such a girl thing”. I would argue that penpalling is actually for anyone. Yeah okay, the average male may not be particularly enthralled by a vintage ‘with love’ stamp or a leaf of wildflower tea, but this way of communicating is certainly not dead.
It’s time we start to think about what we’re writing and what we really want to know about our friends. It’s time to pick up the pen.
words and photos by Bex Ashford