I’ve just finished a stint on RR. The topic was writing. It nearly tipped me over the edge. This isn’t about that though. There were lots of nominations about letter writing and sending. I always listen to possible tracks at least twice if I can, and pay attention to the lyrics. A couple of the songs had great titles or lines that triggered a thought fox (my latest favourite phrase).
The title of Wilco’s song A Box Full of Letters reminded me of my own box of letters (also has a great hook though, that I can completely relate to “I just can’t find the time, To write my mind, The way I want it to read).
PJ Harvey’s typically sexy The Letter can be interpreted in a couple of ways I reckon, but on face value it was this line that took me back to my letter writing days “Who is left that
Writes these days?” – she’s referring to letters of course.
I went away to school. It was a necessity due to my father’s job which moved us around a lot. I went at 11 in 1983 and after my A levels worked as an Au Pair in Munich for 9 months and went straight to university after that. So from the age of 11, I’ve pretty much only gone home during academic holidays. As a result, letters formed a huge part of my life. I wrote a letter several times a week; to my parents, to my grandparents, to cousins, to my brother (who was at an all boys school). When I came home in the holidays, I would spend a lot of time writing to my friends, widely dispersed around the UK and all in the same boat – back at home where we knew very few other kids…
When my parents moved to their current house, they insisted the 3 of us finally remove all our crap from their loft, they didn’t want to cart it yet again. Amongst my detritus were all of the letters I had ever received, bound by sender in colourful ribbons. The addresses on the envelopes tracing the many places I’d lived over the years. There was no way I could store all of them myself. My mother and I began a day of wading through and re-reading her letters to me. They formed a fascinating personal and social history of banalities, family news and stories that place the letters in time. I remember one where she described in great detail the number and types of shops that had closed on our high street and the rising cost of essential items. It was the 1980s.
I culled so many of these letters, but I wanted to keep the essential ones. There were some in the pile from people I didn’t remember. There were letters from old boyfriends that made me blush. There were letters about not very much, but knowing someone had taken the time to write always made me feel important. I remember long summer holidays desperately waiting for the post, and then the 2nd post (remember that?).
The upshot is, I went into my eaves storage this morning. There amongst the old paint pots and dust sheets sat my current box of letters. The ones I saved from my mother’s fire. I couldn’t quite get it out unfortunately.
I also found a mini trunk I’d forgotten about, where there were more letters and postcards. I also found 3 excruciating volumes of diaries I wrote in my A Level years. The pink one pictured is stuffed with more letters and notes handed between school desks – the precursor to snapchat.
I think letter writing is a dying art. What do we need letters for nowadays when we can get hold of each other 24/7? I miss the thrill of receiving real mail. About 6 or 7 years ago I invested in a fountain pen and started writing to my mother again. We would still speak on the phone, see each other, text regularly, but the letters were about random stuff that had happened that day – funny things I’d forgotten about by the time I spoke to her next; a disastrous attempt to dye my hair, the colour of my new nail polish, how brilliant it was that I could pick sweetcorn at the local PYO farm. I didn’t tell her any family news – it was all about me. She would respond similarly and it became a way of reconnecting with her on a level we had somehow lost over the years. It lasted for some time, until we felt we didn’t need it any more. Give it a go and surprise someone – writing a note is a joyous thing.
So anyway – back to those songs that were nominated. Here’s the letters list: