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Letter Writing R.I.P….? by Sandra Harris

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thirteen stops cover

Sandra Harris

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I did a clear-out recently of a cupboard in my house that hadn’t been opened in twenty years because something else was blocking it. When I opened it, I felt a bit like Howard Carter, the British archaeologist and Egyptologist who, in 1922, became the lucky person to discover and excavate the fabulous treasures contained in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, all of which had remained untouched for thousands of years.

Not that there were any fabulous treasures contained within the shallow depths of this cupboard, mind you, but the sheer age of the contents boggled my mind nonetheless. Here’s my inventory of what was unearthed:

1. A telephone book from 1999-2000. These contained peoples’ landline/home telephone numbers, if you can believe that.

2. A Golden Pages telephone directory from the same year. These had all the phone numbers of Irish businesses and services in them, from Accountancy to Zipper Repair. An A to Z, in other words.

3. A couple of Independent Directories, also from this time-frame, containing the phone numbers of local businesses and such. You might get free coupons in these for a service you’d never normally need in a million years, like ten percent off a chimney sweeping brush or a free mini-tin of shoe polish if you left in two pairs of shoes to be mended at the same time.

4. An Argos catalogue from the year … you’ve guessed it … 1999-2000. I didn’t know Argos was even a thing in Ireland back then.

Anyway, I packed them all up good and tight, so none of the neighbours would see them and realise that I’d been hoarding (inadvertently, mind you, inadvertently) rubbish from two decades ago in my house, and took them immediately to the bins. I don’t need the ‘Nineties in my physical space or my head any more.

These things don’t exist any more in physical form (except for the Argos catalogue, but even then you can view all their stuff online if you prefer), or if they do, they’d be much reduced in size.

Everything’s done online now, and we all have our mobile phones, so no-one needs a landline any more. (Ours has been defunct since about 2016, I think.) And if you want a plumber, a carpenter or a stripper for a stag night, you seek them online.

I have an awkward confession to make here, by the way. You know the way the Golden Pages and home telephone directory would be left outside peoples’ front doors by someone working for the phone folks? If we didn’t get ours for some reason (I usually suspected kids, or the neighbours), I’d swipe one from outside the door of someone whose house looked derelict or unlived-in and I didn’t think anyone lived there who might be in need of a national school, a gynaecologist or an orthodontist any time soon. I know, I know. What a thing to do. Trust me, I’ve suffered agonies of conscience about it ever since.

Anyway, guess what else seems to have gone by the wayside in these modern times? You know the way I’ve got a book out at the moment, right? (THIRTEEN STOPS, published by Poolbeg Press, available from Amazon for Kindle and print copies on demand, lol!)

Well, the other day, I was packing up a copy of this very book to send to an old school chum in London, and I thought I’d include a short, friendly note to accompany it. How are you and how’s your partner and how’s the cat and any news from So-and-So? You know the kind of thing.

Off I toddled to the local stationery shop in search of those little blue notepads of lined writing paper (Basildon Bond? Belvedere Bond? Remember those?) that I recalled quite clearly from my childhood, only to be scornfully told by an assistant that ‘nobody writes letters any more…!’

Well, that’s not exactly a surprise, given that everyone nowadays contacts each other via phone texts, Whatsapp messages and social media doohickeys. What I wouldn’t give, though, for a nice handwritten letter from a friend to drop through my letterbox, just to balance out all the bills in white envelopes with the windows in them and the scary brown envelopes from the government with the harps on ’em!

You have to write a letter to get a letter, a little voice reminded me then. That little bollix known as my inner spoilsport. And of course it was right. I don’t know of a single person these days I could feasibly write a letter to.

All my communication is done by text or social media messages, and my Facebook friends would think it was a trifle odd if I started asking them for their home addresses so I could write letters to them. I’d actually die of shock and fright if anyone ever asked me for mine.

Like most of us probably did, I learned in school how to write a letter properly. Your own name and address on the top right-hand corner, the recipient’s details on the top left, then the Dear So-and-Sos underneath that, and so on and so forth.

Were we all just wasting our time on a soon-to-be-forgotten art? Will letter-writing go the same way as the Golden Pages, the home telephone or landline and the phone box at the top of the road? Just think how thrilled someone you know would be to get a thoughtfully-written letter from you through the post. (Especially if it’s someone you don’t normally write to, like your butcher or your dentist.) Think, as well, how thrilled the Post Office would be if people started buying stamps en masse and sending letters again.

It’s a very satisfying feeling, putting a letter you’ve penned yourself in an envelope, addressing the envelope, putting a stamp on it and posting it through the slit in the postbox, knowing that it will soon be wending its way to your chosen recipient. (Unless you’re sending a writing submission to a publisher’s, in which case it’s a slightly more nerve-wracking and soul-destroying experience.) Try it sometime and see how it feels. It could be the start of a revival of the lost art of letter-writing.

By the way, how did I resolve my no-writing-paper dilemma of the other day? Well, I sent the friend in London a Facebook message and told her she could download the book from Amazon straight onto her Kindle, what else?

By Sandra Harris. ©

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